Skimming through my Facebook feed this morning, I found myself stuck on one link in particular. I'd seen it posted at least a dozen times in the past two days; you've probably seen it, too. It's a Huffington Post story titled, "All 74 School Shootings Since Newtown, In One Depressing Map."
I read and re-read my friend's all-too-familiar commentary accompanying the article: "When is this madness going to stop? How many more shootings will it take?"
Now, I'm an action-taker. When I see something I don't like, I try to fix it, a trait my former boss termed being "solutions-oriented." Until a week ago, I worked at Change.org, where I saw thousands of people tackle seemingly insurmountable problems and, through creative online petitioning, win. What's more, I'm close friends with smart, professional campaigners who've stood up to powerful vested interests and, despite all odds, passed beautiful legislation, defeated dangerous Congressional candidates, and even won Supreme Court battles. Suffice it to say, I believe in the power of people.
But this is a tough one.
Don't get me wrong. I think it's possible to stop school shootings, or at least dramatically reduce them. Simply put, we need more gun control. (And no, that doesn't require destroying the Second Amendment, whatever the Heritage Foundation says.)
But the sad reality is that we're not going to get more gun control until we've fixed a deeper, more pervasive problem: political corruption. I'm not talking about "money exchanged under the table" corruption, but rather what Harvard Professor Larry Lessig terms "dependence corruption" -- the totally legal dependence that our elected officials have upon the powerful interests that make (and, crucially, break) their campaigns.
This is the cold, hard reality: Any member of Congress who supports gun control legislation today faces a tidal wave of NRA money aimed squarely at kicking them out of office. In the 2012 federal election cycle, the NRA spent nearly $20 million to defeat politicians -- both Democrats and Republicans -- who voted in favor of gun regulations, and to elect politicians who championed unfettered access to guns.
Take the case of Debra Maggart, a Republican state representative from Tennessee, who refused to support a bill that, according to the New York Times, "would have allowed people to keep guns locked in their cars on private property without the property owner's consent." In the next Republican primary, the NRA shelled out around $100,000 to soundly defeat her.
And the NRA's influence doesn't stop with elected officials, as the Atlantic reported last year. "For years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have not been allowed to research gun violence. The criminal-justice system's records of guns used in crime are likewise compromised by congressional action. A restriction known as the Tiahrt Amendment blocks law-enforcement access to tools like gun traces, gun-purchaser information, and aggregate gun data. The amendment also rids gun dealers of requirements to report inventory data on missing guns. The NRA even has lobbyists at the United Nations who scuttle attempts at transparency on global weapons transfers."
With the NRA able to exert such massive influence, it's no wonder that our elected officials -- many of them well-meaning public servants -- regularly vote against gun regulation.
So back to that big question: What can we do about it? Let's start by ruling out a few options. We can't just keep posting on Facebook. That won't stop school shootings. And we can't expect petitions to President Obama or the Democratic Party to do the trick; they don't have the power to overcome Republican opposition, and as NRA funding records demonstrate, there are certainly pro-gun Democrats serving in Congress who're likely to block reform efforts, too.
What we need is to end the corruption that allows the NRA to successfully push its extreme agenda. (And yes, it is extreme, given that according to a 2013 Johns Hopkins poll, "89 percent of Americans support closing the so-called gun show loophole by requiring background checks for all firearms sale; 69 percent support banning the sale of semiautomatic assault weapons; while 68 percent support banning the sale of large-capacity ammunition magazines.")
We need campaign finance reform. We need to close the revolving door between regulatory agencies and big-money corporations and organizations like the NRA. We need to end secret money by making organizations file spending disclosure reports with the FEC within 24 hours. (Incidentally, the NRA's executive director, Chris Cox, wrote a letter to US senators opposing the DISCLOSE Act of 2012, which would have done just that.)
Luckily for us, there's a bill that does all that and more. It's called the American Anti-Corruption Act, and it's coming before Congress soon. For this bill to pass, it needs a powerful movement of Americans standing behind it. You can add your name as a citizen co-sponsor of the Act here.
But adding your name is just the first step. To really ramp up the pressure, I urge you to consider joining Professor Lessig's new Mayday SuperPAC, which aims to elect candidates who'll fight corruption and defeat those who won't. Think of it as the SuperPAC to end all SuperPACs. (And if you're wondering how big money can be used to defeat, well, big money, check out Lessig's great FAQ here.)
I'm the first to admit it: This isn't just an uphill battle. It's a battle on the steepest hill in America, and thinking through everything it'll take to win can be overwhelming.
But I'll have two younger siblings in college this coming fall. I don't know what I'd do if anything happened to them. And I'm not about to let the NRA put their and countless other kids' lives in danger in a corrupt, undemocratic power-grab.
If you also care about a kid who goes to school, please invest the effort into fixing our broken political system. It's the only real chance we have of reforming our gun laws and protecting the people we love.
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