Sohn: Separating gun sense from gun money

Sohn: Separating gun sense from gun money

October 6th, 2017 by Pam Sohn in Opinion Times

A little-known device called a "bump stock" is attached to a semi-automatic rifle at the Gun Vault store and shooting range Wednesday in South Jordan, Utah. Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock bought 33 guns within the last year, but that didn't raise any red flags. Neither did the mountains of ammunition he was stockpiling, or the bump stocks found in his hotel room that allow semi-automatic rifles to mimic fully automatic weapons. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Photo by Rick Bowmer

Gallery: Deadly Las Vegas shooting

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Top congressional Republicans, for decades — and even after first-graders were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2013 — have resisted any legislative limits on guns.

But after the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history in Las Vegas this week, they have signaled they would be open to banning "bump stocks," a firearm accessory the Nevada gunman used Sunday to transform his rifles to mimic automatic weapon fire.

We'd best not hold our breath.

Even though the NRA has indicated it won't fight the move. After all, banning the add-on likely would mean more sales for bigger and more expensive automatic weapons.

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Las Vegas shooting stories

Don't laugh. One of the biggest sellers of the add-on, called a bump stock, has stopped taking orders: "We have decided to temporarily suspend taking new orders in order to provide the best service with those already placed," says the website for "Slide Fire." It is worth noting that the company markets its product online, not as death unleashed but as "Freedom Unleashed."

Seriously, our lawmakers will do what the National Rifle Association wants. Not what we want. No matter how common-sense minor gun safety regulations might be.

We may elect our lawmakers, but special interests buy them. And one of the biggest-spending special interests is the National Rifle Association.

The NRA increasingly is a lobbying organization for gun and ammunition makers, and as an organization it goes to great lengths (and spends freely) to wrap itself in the American flag and our Constitutional right to bear arms. The NRA opposes virtually every form of gun regulation, including restrictions on owning assault weapons, retention of databases of gun purchases, background checks on purchasers at gun shows and changes in the registration of firearms.

At election time, the NRA not only spends to elect our leaders, it also spends to oppose those it sees as opponents — even same-party opponents of its chosen candidates. Truth be told, some of our lawmakers don't so much court the NRA, as they just fervently try to stay off the NRA's bad list. That's some power wielding.

But more on NRA spending later. First, consider our feelings and opinions.

A 2016 Pew Research Center poll found that 54 percent of us favor a ban on assault-style weapons. Also 54 percent of Americans support a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips.

Another 66 percent of us endorse the idea of a federal database to track gun sales, and 74 percent of us want people on federal no-fly or watch lists barred from purchasing guns.

A whopping 81 percent of Americans think people with mental illness should not be allowed to buy guns, and 83 percent of us advocate background checks for private and gun-show sales.

Have our lawmakers since the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting in December 2012 paid one minute's attention to those numbers? Nope. And since that day more than 1,700 people have succumbed to gunfire in nearly one mass shooting a day.

Meanwhile, gun rights interests have given tens of millions of dollars to candidates, parties and outside spending groups, with 89 percent of the funds contributed to candidates and parties going to Republicans. And just in the 2012 and 2014 election cycles, they let loose another $48 million (at least) in outside spending, according to OpenSecrets.org, which tracks campaign donations.

The NRA has provided the lion's share of the funds, about $22.9 million a year since 1989, but during the 2016 election cycle, it further opened its coffers to make $54.3 million in outside expenditures (up from $27 million during the 2014 cycle).

Gun control contributions, by comparison, have been chump change: $4.2 million since 1989, and 96 percent of those contributions to parties and candidates went to Democrats.

A measure to require background checks in all commercial gun sales, including those at gun shows, came to a vote in April 2013, four months after the Sandy Hook shooting. It failed, getting only 54 of the 60 votes it needed to overcome a filibuster. The Center for Responsive Politics found that nearly all of the 46 senators who voted against the amendment had accepted significant campaign contributions from the political action committees of gun rights groups, according to OpenSecrets.org.

The No. 1 career recipient of gun-rights money, (dare we call it blood money?) is House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. His political career tally from gun-rights interests stands at $346,497. Among the other top 20 recipients are other familiar Republicans like Don Young, Ron Johnson, John Cornyn, John Thune, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, Richard Burr and Chuck Grassley.

Donald Trump received $969,138 from gun rights groups. Hillary Clinton received $1.1 million from the other side — gun control groups.

Just in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama, the organization has spent nearly $50 million on candidates in the past two and a half decades. OpenSecrets tallies Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker at about $10,400, Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander at about $15,100, U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn at about $29,250 and U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann at about $7,000.

And we thought our lawmakers' work was all about governing.

Nope. Some of it is about guns and money.

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