The NRA Has A Money Advantage In More Ways Than One

12/29/2016 05:01 pm ET
Gun enthusiasts look over Benelli USA guns at the National Rifle Association's (NRA) annual meetings & exhibits show in L
John Sommers II / Reuters
Gun enthusiasts look over Benelli USA guns at the National Rifle Association's (NRA) annual meetings & exhibits show in Louisville, Kentucky, May 21, 2016.

If you listen to the media’s spin on the NRA, the first thing they always tell you is that the success of the gun lobby is due to the amount of cash they spread around.  And while it’s true that they give substantial amounts of money to this candidate and that, and they spent a ton of dough on television ads supporting he-whose-name-shall-not-be-mentioned, the fact is that the NRA’s real success on the legislative playing field is due not to what is spent, but what is not.  

At the federal level, most of the NRA’s lobbying activity consists of shooting down gun bills promoted by the other side.  And the funny thing about increasing gun regulations, such as expanding background checks to cover private sales, for example, is that someone has to foot the bill. The gun owner who wants to give a gun to his son or sell it to a neighbor or friend has to pay a gun dealer to do the requisite paperwork and background check; the FBI will have to hire more staff to respond to the increased volume of NICS calls; the ATF will want to increase the number of agents because the dealers whose stores they inspect will have many more transactions on their books.

Like it or not, most schemes to regulate anything, not just guns, live or die based on the ability of the relevant government agencies to ensure through enforcement that the new regulations are being followed and kept.  When Nixon dropped the speed limit to 55 mph in 1974, it was estimated that gasoline consumption declined by a whole, big 1 percent because most states ignored the rule and drivers were rarely, if ever ticketed for exceeding the new limit on speed.  But guns are already a highly-regulated industry, so additional regulations would be enforced.

The real political clout of the NRA is felt at the state level because this is where the entire licensing procedure for gun ownership takes place. Thirteen states require a pre-purchase permit requirement for hand guns, long guns or both which means finding the time and money to process such transactions; carrying a concealed weapon is now legal everywhere but requires some kind of permit in 44 of the 50 states. Again, the issuing authority for these licenses needs to spend money to get the job done.

Take a look at laws which the NRA is promoting at the state level, again and again such laws would cost nothing at all. Texas is now the eighth state to allow students to bring concealed guns onto college campuses, a law that might make a college administrator decide to hire some more security, but it won’t be at the taxpayer’s expense. Back in 2014 Georgia passed a ‘guns everywhere’ law which opened bars, restaurants, churches and just about every other public place to those hardy souls who just can’t walk around without their guns. Did this law require an uptick in the state budget bottom line? Not one bit.

A recent study from three researchers at the Harvard Business School tracked state legislative responses to mass shootings from 1999 through 2014. What they found was that after a mass shooting, laws that loosened gun restrictions increased in Republican-controlled state governments by 75 percent, no comparable activity for tightening gun restrictions in states with blue governments was found.  I’m not sure that I entirely buy their research because Connecticut, New York and Maryland all passed restrictive gun laws after Sandy Hook, but all three laws mandated new regulations which could only become effective with enforcement at every turn.

Going forward, Gun-sense Nation will have to tread carefully when it comes to advocating new gun regulations which bear any cost. Because we are clearly entering a time when ‘tax relief’ and ‘downsizing government’ will be the orders of the day. And since most laws cost money to enforce, this puts Gun-nut Nation in the driver’s seat because they don’t want any gun laws at all.

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