Opioid overdoses killed 47,000 Americans in 2017. Comprehensive, bipartisan national legislation was passed regarding the epidemic a year later. 40,000 Americans were killed by guns in the year 2017. The lack of comprehensive, bipartisan national legislation seeking to cure the scourge of gun violence speaks volumes. In a system where 89% of Americans support expanding background checks, and 86% of Americans support implementing red flag laws, why is it that no positive, significant changes are made?
While the issue is multi-faceted, the first key prong is the power and influence of the National Rifle Association (NRA). Although society has begun to call out their influence, no one really understands the breadth and depth of the NRA’s power. In 2018, a historic year in terms of gun control advocacy, gun rights lobbyists outspent gun control groups on a scale of 6:1. It’s the secret power, the secret influence of lobbying that tends to be overlooked by the media that shows the mass power of the NRA.
In 1993, the NRA inserted a provision into a federal Center for Disease Control (CDC) bill that squashed any research that “advocates or promotes gun control”. There has been no meaningful government sponsored research on potential gun control measures since. In 2012, the same language was expanded to all Department of Human Health and Services agencies. By preventing state-funded research, the NRA helps prevent state-sponsored bills and laws from coming into place. With the addition of these laws, hundreds of deaths could have been prevented.
The biggest success the NRA has had is making a nonpartisan issue partisan. The facts stay true - the vast majority of Americans want gun reform in favor of control. It’s simply not a partisan issue. Regardless, when the “debate” hits Congress, the topic becomes hyperpartisan. Why? Well, in the 2014 election cycle, 27 million of the NRA’s 28 million dollars in lobbying was given in favor of Republican candidates. This, in turn, creates a pro-NRA v. anti-NRA sentiment, instead of actually formulating a substantive policy.
The media plays a huge role in influencing any conversation in the United States. If the media is doing their job, politicians should logically be forced to make policy change. After all, the media would be pressuring politicians to do something about the epidemic. That’s their role as a government watchdog. This holds true at state level legislatures - a National Bureau of Economic Research study found that one hour of news coverage increases bills relating to gun violence at the state level. However, there is no statistically significant change at the national level. Even more worrying, the bills passed at the state level actually decreased gun control a majority of the time. More often than not, politicians are passing policies that simply do not work. Regardless, the media is failing to influence Congress, which means that there is a troubling disconnect between political action and the press.
Gun violence is a solvable issue. It represents the single largest public safety crisis of our lifetime, yet politicians fail to pass significant reform. The studies and the will of the American people show one truth: gun control must pass. A collective effort to solve gun violence would save thousands of lives and affect millions more. Now it’s up to those in Congress to step up and solve this epidemic.