Protesters who gathered in front of the headquarters of the National Rifle Association on Monday shared a message with the pro-gun lobbying group that has reverberated loudly and plainly from all quarters of the US populace since Friday's massacre in Newtown, Connecticut: 'Shame on you!'
With that message delivered, the protesters had one single demand: 'Stand down and let us pass gun control.'
“We’re here because, quite frankly, the NRA has blood on its hands,” said Josh Nelson from CREDO Action, which helped organize the hastily assembled protest in downtown Washington, DC.
As the Washington Post reported, those in attendance "carried signs that said 'I support the Second Amendment — I also support a ban on assault weapons' and 'Arms are for hugging: Gun control now.'"
The question now—with the NRA in media-silent mode, pro-gun legislators (if only momentarily and imperfectly) quiet, and public agreement soaring on the issue—is whether action, not words, will be delivered in the coming days or if the familiar pattern of "slow-walking" an assault weapons ban or other meaningful reform will set in as the horror of Friday's incident begins to fade from national headlines.
As CREDO said in a prepared statement:
This is a rare moment where change is possible. We need to prove ourselves worthy of this moment. In his address to the nation, President Obama vowed "to take meaningful action." We will hold him accountable for sending legislation to Capitol Hill to address the crisis of gun violence in this country. But Congress, which for decades has bowed to self-interest when called to courage on the issue of guns, is not likely to pass any bill proposed by the White House if we don't stand up and force the NRA to stand down.
As journalist Bill Moyers said pointedly this summer in the aftermath of the massacre in Aurora, Colorado: “The NRA is the enabler of death–paranoid, delusional and as venomous as a scorpion. With the weak-kneed acquiescence of our politicians, the National Rifle Association has turned the Second Amendment of the Constitution into a cruel and deadly hoax."
“The National Rifle Association is a powerful lobby that purports to represent gun owners,” said Becky Bond, political director of CREDO. “But in reality, it represents the deadly interests of arms dealers and gun manufacturers. It’s time for the NRA’s top lobbyists to stand down and stop trying to prevent Congress from enacting sensible gun control laws that could save lives.”
As ABC News reports, the NRA spent more than $15 million in 2012 on direct lobbying in Washington and by donating to various political campaigns in 2012. Their political campaign arm, the America Political Victory Fund (coordinated with the affiliated Gun Owners of America), raised and spent over $13 million on campaigns this year. And its lobbying division, focused directly on helping pro-gun laws while squelching gun safety efforts, spent well over $2 million. According to ABC:
that includes $1.845 million spent on lobbying expenditures by the parent group and $360,000 by the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, which identifies itself as the "lobbying arm of the NRA." This money went to promoting bills like S. 570, which would stop the government from tracking purchases of multiple rifles, and to condemning a piece of legislation introduced in the wake of the Aurora, Colo., theater shooting that would have essentially banned online ammunition sales. That bill never made it to a vote.
Dana Milbank writes in Tuesday's Washington Post:
Will Obama push for more gun-control laws?
“I would simply point you to what the president said last night about moving forward in coming weeks,” the spokesman said.
Will he join the effort to reinstate the assault-weapons ban?
“You’ll hear from him, I think, as he said last night, in the coming weeks, to speak more specifically about what he thinks we can do.”
Will he perhaps make it a focus of his second inaugural address?
“I don’t have any more details to give you about how or when the president will address this issue in coming weeks,” Carney said, “except to cite what he said yesterday about doing so in coming weeks.”
There’s only one problem with the “coming weeks” approach to gun control: The weeks almost never come. It’s nice to be deliberative and thoughtful, and it’s particularly difficult to act quickly now, a week before Christmas and with the “fiscal cliff” talks consuming the political world. But in the case of gun control, a pattern has become persistent: A tragedy sparks an outcry for common-sense gun laws and gun groups are set back on their heels, but by the time Congress gets around to taking action, the National Rifle Association has regained its legislative stranglehold.
And Michale Lipsky, writing the Policy Shop blog for Demos, says that those desirous of both immediate and meaningful gun reforms should be on the lookout for calls for national dialogue or announcements for a "commission" on the subject. In his piece, Be Wary of a Gun Safety Commission After Newtown, Lipsky compares the possible call for a gun control commission to those held in the wake of racial strife and urban unrest in earlier decades.
Delaying responses and not doing much of anything was the typical American response to the racial violence of the 1960s, as well as the riots in Harlem in 1935. In our book, Commission Politics: the Processing of Racial Crisis in America, David J. Olson and I concluded that the primary function of riot commissions was to satisfy pressing public demands to do something about the riots while justifying the postponement of action until enough time had passed that the previously prevailing balance of interests could be restored.
I am reminded of these conclusions as politicians cautiously pick their way through the admittedly complex politics of curbing gun violence.
For those clamoring for action on new and sensible gun regulations, it seems that what should be most of concern is the continued suggestion that the real action will take place "not now"... but soon.
As Robert Freeman writes at Common Dreams today regarding the terrifying events at Sandy Hook Elementary School last week: "We can be horrified at the Newtown massacre. We can be outraged. We can be indignant. But we can no longer honestly be surprised."