Rick Cohen: Gun rights non-profits talk our politicians into inaction

Despite large numbers of gun deaths, politicians do little, largely thanks to the activities of non-profit, pro-gun organisaitons, writes our US correspondent

Rick Cohen
Rick Cohen

There are two kinds of gun violence in the US. One is mass shooting incidents: in October, for example, 10 people were killed and seven wounded at a community college in Roseburg, Oregon; in June, the white supremacist Dylann Storm Roof killed nine parishioners in a black church in Charleston, South Carolina; in July, five were killed and three wounded at a military recruiting centre in Chattanooga, Tennessee; the list goes on.

The other is the slow-moving kind - multiple people killed by multiple shooters. There were 351 shootings in Chicago in September, resulting in 57 deaths, including two successive weekends when 50 people were shot. In September last year, there were 228 shootings in Chicago, with 46 deaths, up from 216 in 2013, with 43 deaths. There were 178 shootings in 2012.

After each mass shooting, President Obama makes a plaintive statement about the proliferation of guns. He gave Vice President Biden the task of getting Congress to enact new restrictions on guns, which now apparently outnumber the US population: more than 300 million firearms are in the hands of your typical next-door neighbour.

So what's the non-profit aspect? It's that the Obama/Biden initiative led to no action, partly because of the financial and lobbying prowess of non-profit, pro-gun organisations, notably the National Rifle Association. Its argument is that the second amendment to the constitution guarantees citizens the right to bear arms. The NRA's annual revenue from memberships, corporate contributions and programme service fees was close to $350m in 2013. Six other non-profits that promote and protect gun ownership have a combined income of $100m.

Nothing in the array of pro-gun control non-profits compares: the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence is the biggest, with an income of $4.2m, and five other gun-control groups bring in no more than $4.6m between them.

Not surprisingly, the gun rights groups put big dollars into lobbying politicians and federal agencies, including $15.3m in 2013 and $12m in 2014, when some of the worst mass shootings occurred. The Center for Responsive Politics says organisations supporting gun control put only $2.2m into federal lobbying in 2013 and $1.9m in 2014. The gun-control non-profits are, so to speak, outgunned by the NRA and its ideological allies. Gun rights money clearly talks politicians into inaction.

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