NRA Becomes Toxic When Exposed to Light

In the weeks since George Zimmerman's killing of Trayvon Martin, corporate America has been force fed a crash survey of public opinion on gun policy. Some of America's most popular --and message-savvy -- companies announced their swift verdict when they, and then ALEC, withdrew support for the National Rifle Association's paranoid, violent agenda.

Their conclusion should be heeded by politicians of both parties.

The message from ALEC's decision is clear. When exposed to the light, the NRA's agenda becomes toxic. And Americans want nothing to do with those who conspire to bring about the gun lobby's dangerous "guns everywhere" vision they saw played out that February night in Sanford, Florida.

For those unschooled in Beltway acronyms, ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council, a behind-the-scenes conglomeration of corporate money that plays puppeteer to compliant legislatures across the country who enact their bills.

ALEC's abrupt abandonment of the conservative agenda's gun plank wasn't caused by sympathy for Trayvon or the 32 killed by gunfire each day in America. ALEC's corporate sponsors are a bottom line bunch, and for years were happy to push for NRA laws to force guns on college campuses, deprive cities of the authority to reasonably regulate guns, and, most notably, Stand Your Ground or "Shoot First, Ask Questions Later" laws that embolden and immunize killers.

But then the public noticed.

You see, the NRA and its political minions like to work in the shadows. They cannot credibly explain to voters why they support loopholes that allow criminals to buy guns without background checks, or allow terrorists to buy all the AK-47s they desire. Secrecy and cynicism are their greatest allies.

But the media did not just focus on Zimmerman's culpability for Trayvon's death. They also shone a spotlight on other fingerprints found at the crime scene: the NRA's, and the politicians who do its bidding. Americans learned that NRA laws (supported by ALEC) entitled a vigilante with an arrest record and a violent past to carry loaded hidden handguns anywhere, and almost prevented him from even being charged with a crime after he shot an unarmed teenager.

Far more than other high-profile shootings, the Trayvon Martin tragedy has shown the American people the complicity of the NRA, and its political lackies, in our shameful epidemic of gun violence. The people can now easily "connect the dots" between the gun lobby and mayhem on our streets.

Under the spotlight of America's scrutiny, so glaring was the culpability of ALEC in implementing the gun lobby's dark vision, that Coca Cola and Pepsi, McDonald's and Wendy's, Kraft and Mars, Blue Cross and Bill Gates all reached the same conclusion: association with the NRA's extremist agenda was toxic.

And once corporate America fled the gun lobby cause, ALEC jettisoned the NRA in order to save its financial lifeblood, and terminated its "Public Safety and Elections" task force.

Gun violence prevention has powerful salience to a broad swath of Americans. Common Cause, Color of Change, the Center for Media and Democracy and other progressive groups valiantly exposed ALEC's support of voter suppression efforts, and deserve great credit for pressuring its members to withdraw support. But their campaign only prevailed when they exposed ALEC's work with the NRA to enact laws that put a gun in the hands of a dangerous man, and issued him a license to kill an unarmed teen.

While Michael Jordan refused to speak on public issues because "Republicans buy shoes too," LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Amar'e Stoudemire donned hoodies for Trayvon. Bill Cosby, a beloved icon and longtime spokesperson for some of our favorite brands, recently pointed to "that gun" as a key cause of Trayvon's killing. The tide is turning.

The Trayvon Martin tragedy has illuminated the dark vision of the gun lobby and created an indignant voice that is holding accountable those who do the gun lobby's bidding. That voice has already forced ALEC to change. Now we need to hold our elected officials accountable and demand that they change too.