How ALEC Thwarts Honest Debate About Gun Violence
The first response of any country to violence of the sort seen in Connecticut must be one of horror.
President Obama showed that sorrow when he wiped his tears, like those so many Americans shed Friday.
But there is nothing more absurd than the suggestion that it is wrong to raise political concerns at a moment such as this.
It is in a moment such as this that responsible nations examine themselves, their cultures, their laws.
Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich is right when he says, “There is an undercurrent of violence in our society that is becoming more powerful.” He is right, as well, when he says, “We must reject violence and take an organized approach to averting violence.”
This is about more than guns. It is about healthcare, particularly mental health care. It is about media.
And it is about the quality of our discourse—what we allow ourselves to discuss, and how we discuss it.
California Congressman George Miller says: “We must come together as a nation to honestly discuss how to prevent people intent on carrying out these savage attacks from so easily obtaining guns and ammunition. The nation is ready for this conversation. More importantly, though, the safety of children and all Americans demands we have it.”
So why don’t we have that discussion?
It is easy to blame the National Rifle Association.
But it’s important to go beyond “easy” and understand that the NRA never walks alone. Reasonable people may have reasonable differences about how, when, where and whether to address the concerns Miller raises with regard to sales of assault weapons and ammunition. But no one should be comfortable with those who seek to silence the discourse and control against public responses to violence.
In this regard, the NRA has a powerful ally at the level of government, where the most meaningful interventions against violence can and frequently must be made.
The American Legislative Exchange Council, the Koch Brothers–guided group that aligns corporations with conservative legislators who will introduce the “model legislation” crafted by those corporations, has been in the forefront not just of averting sensible gun control but of trying to shut down public debate about gun control.
ALEC is known, of course, for its advocacy on behalf of the so-called “stand your ground,” or “shoot first,” or “kill at will” laws that became so much of an issue in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin slaying in Florida.
But, as the Center for Media and Democracy’s “ALEC Exposed” project has revealed, the group has a long history of seeking to undermine meaningful public discourse with regard to violence. ALEC does not merely oppose gun control, it seeks to prevent communities, states and the nation from even discussing gun control.
The group has, for instance, promoted:
A “Resolution on Semi-Automatic Firearms” that expresses opposition to proposals by local, state and federal governments to restrict the sale of semi-automatic weapons, known as assault weapons.
A “Defense of Free Market and Public Safety Resolution” that discourages efforts by law enforcement agencies to use their purchasing power to buy police and policing weapons only from gun manufacturers that improve gun safety to protect children. The same resolution discourages efforts to identify and limit public contracting with gun dealers that are not notorious for selling weapons used in crimes.
A unanimous 2011 endorsement by ALEC’s “Public Safety and Elections Task Force” of a proposal to expressly bar cities from banning machine guns.
Again and again in recent years, ALEC has worked not just to promote the economic agenda of weapons manufacturers and weapons dealers—including major retailers that sell guns and ammunition—but to undermine political debates about that agenda.
Many corporations exited ALEC as the role of the group in promoting “stand your ground” laws was exposed after the Trayvon Martin shooting. But many more, including ExxonMobil Corporation, GlaxoSmithKline, Koch Industries Inc., Pfizer Inc., PhRMA, Reynolds American Inc., United Parcel Service, AT&T and State Farm Insurance Companies—among others—remain ALEC members and sponsors.
These corporations may want to separate themselves from the crudest of ALEC’s anti-democratic initiatives. But they make ALEC possible, and strong, as do the better part of 2,000 legislators who remain aligned with the group.
When we seek to understand why we don’t have the discussion—and the action—that we should about violence, the place to begin is with those who seek to preempt debates and to limit the ability of communities, states and the federal government to respond to the cries of horrified and sorrowful Americans for a real response to individual incidents and patterns of violence that break our hearts.
© 2012 The Nation