Guns: Put Up or Shut Up!
by Geoffrey R. Stone.
Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law, University of Chicago
In 1990, 78 percent of Americans thought we needed stricter gun laws. Today, only 44 percent of Americans think so. What has caused this dramatic shift in public opinion?
It is not because more people now own guns. In 1990, 48 percent of Americans had guns in their homes. Today, 45 percent of Americans do.
It is not because gun deaths are no longer a problem. Since 1990, a quarter of a million Americans have been killed by guns.
Why, then, has there been so precipitous a decline in the percentage of Americans who support stricter guns laws?
The answer lies largely in the democratic process. Those who oppose stricter gun laws have organized, they have aggressively promoted their positions, and they have been extraordinarily effective in electing candidates who support their policies and defeating those who oppose them.
The nation's largest and most potent anti-gun control organization, the National Rifle Association, increased its annual revenues from 1990 to the present by approximately 400 percent. It now has an annual operating budget approaching $300 million and 4.3 million dues-paying members.
The largest and most potent pro-gun control organization, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, has an annual budget of approximately $6 million and fewer than 30,000 dues-paying members.
The National Rifle Association spent more than $10 million in the 2012 election. The Brady Center spent less than $10,000.
These numbers bear repeating: The NRA has 140 times more dues-paying members than the Brady Center and it spent 1,000 times more money than the Brady Center in the 2012 election.
Is it any wonder, then, that those who support stricter gun laws are losing? This is, after all, a democracy. Advocacy, debate and politics matter. As Justice Louis Brandeis observed more than 85 years ago: "Those who won our independence believed" that the best "protection against the dissemination of noxious doctrine" is freedom of speech, that "the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people," and that "public discussion is a political duty."
That is why the NRA is winning. Their members are not "inert." They oppose and oppose and oppose what they deem to be "noxious doctrine."
Of course, the NRA does get a ton of money from gun manufacturers and vendors (including those who manufacture assault weapons and high-capacity magazines), such as Arsenal, Beretta, Browing, Brownells, DPMS Panther Arms, Glock, Remington Arms, Smith & Wesson, Sturm, Ruger & Co, and Winchester.
But the majority of the NRA's funds still come from ordinary citizens -- from its 4.3 million members.
Those who want to see more rational gun laws in the United States have to do more than complain about the NRA. We have to ask ourselves: Do we care enough about this issue to DO something about it? If we don't, then we can be sure there will be millions more needless and heartbreaking funerals in the decades to come.
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