COMMENTARY | There is a sense after the Newtown, Conn. shooting at the Sandy Hook school that something had to change. Coupled with the shooting at the Aurora theater and the Oregon mall, something had to change.
An assault weapons ban may be just out of reach, but there is strong backing for it across the country. More than 90 percent of public backs more background checks. A number of senators are poised to do so, with overwhelming public support. But the NRA doesn’t support either idea. In fact, Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s chief executive, said he wants no gun background checks at all.
Why would the NRA take such an unpopular stand? Don’t they risk being marginalized in the gun debate, or even a backlash or targeting by other groups?
Ask former Rep. Debbie Halvorson from Illinois. She was narrowly leading the special election to replace Jesse Jackson Jr., until Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun PAC nailed her for getting prior NRA support, costing her the contest, giving Robin Kelly the win. Kelly said the election would “send the NRA a message.”
Here are three theories as to why the NRA supports getting rid of background checks.
1) Vote trading. The NRA feels that by taking such an extreme position, it can exact some other concessions when vote trading begins. The only problem is that after the Sandy Hook spree shooting, most folks think “do nothing” isn’t acceptable.
2) Representing member interests. When the NRA figures out what its members want, it doesn’t take into account what non-members want. It only calculates what its membership prefers. If members want stronger background checks, or even the current policy, they’ll follow that. But that same Quinnipiac poll finds 91 percent of gun owners want those gun checks.
3) Because they can. In this view, the Iron Law of Oligarchy applies to interest groups, where a diminutive part of a group can control policy for the rest. The NRA, if this is right, is led by small but well-organized faction. They don’t have to defeat every senator. They can just make an example of a Democrat or two in a red state, or a Republican compromiser like Dick Lugar, to send the message to everyone else in the Senate or Congress.
Of course, the NRA risks not being a player on whatever legislation is decided upon in the wake of the Conn. school shooting. If it loses on the assault weapons ban and high capacity magazines because of extreme positions on background checks, gun control advocates will smell blood in the water.
John A. Tures is an associate professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga.