Wednesday, July 05, 2006


NRA Belief in 1st Amendment Aids Gun Trafficking
by State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA
Thu Oct 05, 2006 at 11:06:37 PM PDT
The National Rifle Association is well-known for its belief in the 2nd Amendment, which it has sold rather successfully--if not really accurately--as guaranteeing a right of gun ownership.
But the NRA's real powerbase lies in its exploitation of the 1st Amendment. There is probably no cause in America with adherents who are as willing to speak out over and over again.
Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Tom Ferrick emailed me and other legislators today to ask how we had voted in the straw vote the Pennsylvania House had in the Committee of the Whole on the one gun a month proposal to curb gun trafficking. I emailed Ferrick back that I had voted for it, although it had lost 2 to 1, largely on the votes of Pennsylvania's many rural legislators. I have an A+ rating from the Brady Center and a failing or near-failing rating from the National Rifle Association. Their world of happy go lucky hunters is radically different from the urban world of daily murders with handguns that I live in.
If I had a lot of money, I would be tempted to run ads with the following theme: Remember the constitutional amendment providing criminal penalties for Bush opponents who contacted their legislators? IT NEVER PASSED. Let your elected officials know what you think!
Of course, there is no such thing as a proposed amendment banning Bush opponents from contacting their legislators. But, judging from the mail and phone calls going to legislative offices, there might as well have been. Decade after decade, in constituency after constituency, the right wing feels empowered to express its views while the vast majority of people do not.
The blogosphere is helping change all this, but not fast enough for my tastes. The social movement that the Daily Kos represents has to increase the sense of personal efficacy among its members if progressives are going to win on a lot of issues.
The Pennsylvania legislature is typical of many legislative bodies around the country. Any cause that organizes its members to contact us has at the very least a genuine fighting chance of winning.
Because of a few thousand liquor store clerks and managers with unparalleled networking skills, Pennsylvania has successfully resisted corporate and media pressure to scrap its state liquor stores.
Because gay community leaders have discovered that Pennsylvania legislators pay attention to people who pay attention to them, Pennsylvania has not constitutionally banned gay marriage.
Because union and minimum wage activists started organizing in districts where powerful legislators initially opposed minimum wage increases, the Pennsylvania legislature accepted my goal of a $7.15 minimum wage in 2007--a figure 39% higher than the previously effectove federal figure.
It is possible to resist right-wing pressure and achieve progressive goals. Those of us in the Daily Kos community know that. Hopefully, more and more of our allies will come to see that as well in the future.
The National Rifle Association does not really speak for Pennsylvania. But it speaks loudly in a vacuum. When that vacuum is ultimately filled, Pennsylvania will be able to join other states in passing sensible gun safety legislation. Until then, the Tony Auth cartoon in the October 5, 2006 Inquirer--featuring a legislator hiding under desk yelling "duck and cover" when shots ring out--has some relationship to reality. The cartoon is titled "Shots Ring Out...Harrisburg takes action."


The National Rifle Association is now, and has been for decades, the dominant legislative force on gun regulation. The NRA has both a vociferous grass-roots membership, and a well-oiled political and communications machine well-funded by gun manufacturers.About a dozen years ago, over the strong objection of the Philadelphia delegation in the House and Senate, the National Rifle Association got a bill enacted banning local governments from adopting gun-control regulations. This had the effect of legally opening up gun ownership to many more people, and making much more difficult efforts of the Philadelphia police department to keep track of illegal guns.While anything is theoretically possible, there is no reasonable likelihood of the legislature doing anything to restrict the proliferation of guns in Pennsylvania at any time in the forseeable future.In Pennsylvania the courts are an elected branch of government, giving voters here a small level of added protection from arbitrary decision-making than exists at the federal level. Seeking to convince the courts to declare Pennsylvania's law banning local actions in the gun area unconstitutional is a reasonable attempt to meet the needs of the citizens of Philadelphia.The NRA is, of course, active in judicial elections as well, but it does not appear to have the same degree of influence with the judiciary as it does with the legislative branch. Getting the State Supreme Court to declare the anti-Philadelphia law unconstitutional is a longshot, but it is a lesser longshot than getting the legislature to act.


The effort to achieve a limitation of one gun purchase a month is an attempt to make it difficult for gun dealers to legally aid in the arming of drug dealers, gang leaders, and other criminals. The concept was first enacted in South Carolina, where it worked to greatly slow down the flow of guns to New York City and other places.The political problem is that one gun a month takes on the National Rifle Association. In most of Pennsylvania, the National Rifle Association is a powerful grassroots organization. In many legislative districts, it is the leading grassroots organization. Having the National Rifle Association on one's side comes close to guaranteeing victory in many legislative districts, and not having the backing of the NRA is a major political vulnerabilty which it can take tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to have any realistic chance of overcoming.Realistically, to achieve one gun a month in the next ten or twenty years requires a massive statewide organizing campaign that could easily cost $5 million to $10 million a year. This would pay for a large number of paid organizers, and television, radio, and Internet ads. In no district is there an NRA majority, but the task is to mobilize the non-NRA majority behind a specific legislative program. The task is made more difficult by a lack of public understanding as to the purpose of one gun a month. I have not had any constituents tell me they support one gun a month, and I have had two who told me that they oppose one a month because they think it is far too lenient: "Why does anybody need one gun a month?" was the question both asked. "How about one gun a year or one gun a lifetime?" one of them suggested.Nothing shows the difference from the gun culture in rural, suburban, and Western Pennsylvania like these responses. Especially in rural Pennsylvania, hunting is a significant source of food in many communities. It is also a significant source of father/son bonding, and a staple of the self-identity of many men and a small but growing number of women. The NRA--overwhelmingly funded by the gun industry--has done a masterful long-term job of identifying itself with the hunters and with those who are afraid of crime and view carrying a gun as a solution to crime. A successful campaign for one gun a month would have to neutralize the gun culture.Every once in a while, individuals decide that it is a worthwhile expenditure of personal funds to finance a long-shot candidacy for public office with a personal donation of $1 million or more. To get one a month legislation enacted requires a bunch of people to make a similar commitment to achieving one gun a month.I suspect that a precondition to get such people to step forward requires others not in the same financial league to make other commitments. I could contribute or raise in excess of $1000 a year to help finance such an effort. If many others will step forward pledging whatever personal or fundraising resources that they have, some progress for one gun a month may be possible.If not, gun availability will continue to make it easy for the growth of a widespread criminal subculture to infinitely renew itself as key members die off, go to prison, or come to recognize the futility of being a part of it.

June 29, 2006



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