Gun Control: A Case Study in How Money Has Changed Our Political System

In spite of what the National Rifle Association says, the majority of Americans favor tighter gun control legislation. The outcry following the Sandy Hook shooting was tremendous. News networks and publications dedicated both airtime and column space to exposing the truth about guns, and ordinary people reached out to their elected officials through phone calls and numerous petitions to demand action. One group even set up a website dedicated to counting all of the "stolen years" from firearm related incidents since the tragedy in Connecticut by adding up the projected lifespans of victims whose lives were cut short. Recent polling found that 53 percent of people support a high-capacity magazine ban, 57 percent support the assault weapons ban proposed by Senator Dianne Feinstein D-CA, and 92 percent agree with a universal background check. Even the majority of NRA members want reforms.

When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid D-NV suggested that the Senate's gun control legislation would not include any of the above provisions, many felt betrayed. While he has since announced that the background check will be a part of the baseline bill, its passage is dubious. Even the least controversial part of the newly proposed plan to curb firearm violence, the bill to make interstate gun trafficking a federal offense, is in jeopardy. The hold-up in the Senate represents a failure of our democratic process.

The Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, the latest in a series of decisions that deregulated campaign finance, opened the floodgates for money to politics, and the effect is obvious. The government has fallen out of touch with the will of the people. The 2012 House of Representatives election is a perfect example. What better way to gauge popular opinion than a legislative body elected every two years with proportional representation by state? The Framers intended the House to speak for the majority. Unfortunately, because the districts are drawn every ten years at the state level, "He who controls redistricting can control Congress," as Republican strategist Karl Rove said. The year 2010 saw a massive influx of donations to Republicans from corporations and nonprofits funded by dark money. In fact, that year the GOP outspent the Democrats at the state level by a ratio of 3-to-1, and it paid off by allowing them to draw up the districts. This is how the Republicans maintained the majority in the House this past November in spite of losing the majority of the electorate by one million votes.

But how does this impact gun control? Rove's prediction about controlling Congress was very accurate because without the House representing the will of the people, change is unlikely to occur. The Senate was originally intended by the Framers to protect the minority against a tyranny of the majority. Every state, even those with small populations, has an equal voice, and senators have the filibuster. This is why Senator Rand Paul R-KY, a relatively small state, can stall gun control legislation supported by the majority of Americans, and one reason why the final bill will likely be weak and watered down.

Another is the fact that the NRA is one of the most powerful lobby groups in D.C. It represents the gun industry, and outspends its opponents by a ratio of 9.5 to 1. Last year it spent $7 million supporting Republican candidates and $18 million attacking Democrats. It encourages its donors to rely on the same kind of dark money that gave the Republicans the House. Mother Jones found that the Koch brothers, Charles and David, have given up to $3 million to the NRA's election efforts. Crossroads GPS donated an additional $600,000. With this money Wayne LaPierre is able to influence the politicians on his payroll, all of whom can be found here.

If the NRA manages to buy victory on this issue, the real loser is the United States because it will teach a generation of young people that the government has no regard for popular opinion, and that their votes are inconsequential. And of course, more and more people will continue to die from gun violence, and the number of stolen years will continue to grow. Until private money is eliminated from campaign finance, our government will never truly be one of the people, by the people, for the people. In order to do that, our elected officials must stop looking at politics as a win-at-all-costs game, and start recognizing that they are supposed to be performing a civic duty for the betterment of society.