How NRA-gripped lawmakers are stifling gun safety laws | RNA
In Texas, where firearms are already an integral part of the cultural landscape, a powerful political force is helping to stifle regulations aimed at limiting access to high-powered firearms.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) is one of America’s most powerful lobby groups, spending nearly $5 million last year to expand gun rights while limiting restrictions on who can have a gun and how they can carry it.
Today, the NRA is once again at the center of a heated American gun debate after an 18-year-old with two guns he bought legally walked into an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas , killing 19 children and two adults.
It was Tuesday. Today, the NRA will host 55,000 members at its annual meeting in Houston, just hours from Uvalde. Attendees will browse exhibits of gun accessories and hear from Republican politicians like Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, and former US President Donald Trump.
A majority of Americans – 54% according to a CBS News poll before the shooting in Uvlade this week — want tougher gun control laws, but that majority is highly partisan. Only 27% of Republicans say the same.
Among Texans, that margin is even thinner. In a 2019 University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll after mass shootings in El Paso and Midland-Odessa, only 51% of registered voters in Texas said they wanted tougher gun control laws.
The majority of gun owners are responsible for their guns, says Nicole Golden, executive director of the state’s only organization advocating for policies to reduce gun violence. Texas Gun Sense was founded in 2007 by survivors of a mass shooting at Virginia Tech, and expanded in 2013, following the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
Now, Golden’s bipartisan group is focused on finding common ground with gun owners to support initiatives at the national and local levels. They are working with the Texas Department of Public Safety, for example, on a campaign to promote safe gun storage to keep firearms locked up and away from others.
“I don’t think the problem is hopeless,” Golden said. “You have to redefine what success looks like. You can’t give up because I don’t think giving up is an option.
She said this week, like after other mass shootings, her organization saw an influx of new interest from Texans. Many gun owners, she said, recognize that the epidemic of gun violence in the United States needs some sort of change. After a 2018 mass shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, that killed 10 worshipers, Abbott suggested new regulations, including “red flag” laws that would allow courts to take away someone’s guns. he poses a threat to himself or others.
Golden said she was excited to work with the governor on the issue, but it quickly failed to garner attention in the state capitol.
“We’ve seen those things fail, and this time there’s been no interest in dealing with gun laws,” Golden said. “It often feels like banging your head against the wall or screaming into a void.”
Jthere is no doubt that texas has a historical obsession with guns dating back to being a frontier state where white settlers used guns to take land from native groups and used them to fight the Mexican government and then the US government when the state seceded during the American Civil War.
“We have this long tradition of guns,” said Jerry Patterson, a former Texas land commissioner and NRA member who helped push for concealed carry in the state after a mass restaurant shooting. Luby’s in 1991.
But that tradition isn’t just a Texas-specific phenomenon, says Harel Shapira, a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Austin who studies gun culture in America. He says that from an early age, owning guns is part of the identity of many people across the country. Families go hunting together. Fathers teach their children to shoot and be safe with guns.
“Firearms are a source of death, but also a source of [cultural] life in America,” Shapira said. Regulations can determine who can buy or use guns, he said, “but the issue of American gun culture is a bigger issue.”
He said that over the past few decades, gun rights have become a right-wing political issue. If you want to win as a Republican, he said, you have to embrace pro-gun rhetoric. Additionally, this gun culture means that when mass shootings create a call to regulate guns, gun owners often have an emotional reaction.
“It’s very personal, it’s very visceral, it’s very emotional,” Shapira said. “They see it as an assassination of their personality.”
This culture has helped build support for groups like the NRA in Texas. There are 5 million members nationwide, but the group says 400,000 of them are in Texas. The NRA did not respond to questions from the Guardian about its support in the state.
Last year, the organization cited financial difficulties in a bid to leave its New York headquarters to reorganize in the friendlier political climate of Texas.
This reorganization offer was part of a bankruptcy lawsuit related to an effort by the New York Attorney General to put the group out of business, according to the Associated Press. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the NRA has laid off dozens of employees while its executives used group funds as their own piggy bank, including a $17 million post-employment deal for NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre.
Yet these issues, Patterson said, won’t change how the NRA or politicians think about gun access in America. He said that in Texas and across the United States, primary election politics forces candidates to take extreme positions on all sorts of issues, like gun rights. Not all gun owners may approve of extreme measures, he said, but the rhetoric that brings primary voters to the polls is swinging right in Republican races.
“There are a lot of people on the gun control side who aren’t as excited about things as they seem to be,” Patterson said. “But they still vote because elections are decided in the primary.”
The NRA’s recent financial troubles haven’t stopped the group from spending $786,052 in the 2020 election cycle. The group has already spent $217,596 in 2022 — paid exclusively to Republican candidates.
Three of the five lawmakers who have benefited the most from gun rights groups like the NRA are Texans, according to OpenSecrets, a non-profit organization that tracks US political spending. Cruz received the most – $442,333 since joining the US Congress in 2012. The other Texas senator, John Cornyn, received $238,875 during his tenure in the US Senate. Pete Sessions, Congressman from Waco, Texas, received $202,926 in donations from the NRA and similar groups.
These donations were lower in 2020 as the organization began to face some of its mostly self-inflicted financial hurdles. Cornyn received $9,900 from the NRA in the last election cycle. Cruz was not re-elected at that time and received no donations, according to OpenSecrets.
Uvalde’s representative in the United States House is Tony Gonzales, who said earlier this week that he wasn’t interested in discussing gun politics so soon after, 19 children were killed in his district. The NRA donated $4,950 to his campaign during the 2020 election cycle.
Abbott, the governor of Texas, is one of the most gun-friendly governors in the United States. Even after mass tragedies like Uvalde, he signed laws making guns increasingly accessible in the state. Last year, after signing a law allowing most Texans to carry a gun without a license, he boasted that the measure “instilled freedom in the Lone Star State.”
He is eligible for re-election this year. The NRA donated $2,500 to his campaign during his last run in 2018.
Much of the rhetoric used by these and other conservatives after mass shootings like Uvalde is based on a playbook partially developed by the NRA more than two decades ago. Shortly after the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, the NRA was to hold its annual convention in nearby Denver.
According a secret tape released by NPR last year, the group’s leaders have come together to consider a response, focusing on depoliticizing the tragedy and convincing lawmakers to delay action until the immediate storm of bad press has passed. It’s a playbook the band has returned to again and again as more and more Americans have been killed by gun violence.
After so many mass shootings — more than 200 in the United States already this year — the answers on both sides of the question have become predictable, Patterson said. He, like many political observers, doubts that real change will come from the aftermath of the horrors at Uvalde.
“We should be doing what makes a difference,” Patterson said. “I’m afraid we’re going to do the same shit we did before. These are the snaps, the stickers, and that’s all that’s going to happen this time.