The terrifying reality of the Virginia shooting: The NRA's vise-grip on Congress means nothing at all will change

We've reached the point of no return: As long as the NRA has a say, this epidemic of gun violence will continue

By Bob Cesca

Published August 27, 2015 11:59AM (EDT)


The murder of Alison Parker and Adam Ward should haunt all of America today. But after the shooter himself, for whom no condemnation is strong enough, the lion's share of the guilt surely rests upon the slouched shoulders of those who refuse to support sensible legislation to reduce gun violence, even in the face of massive support for such measures.

It'd be an astonishing turn events to be proven wrong, but if past is prologue, then in the wake of another horrifying firearm massacre, this time against a pair of journalists on live television, precisely nothing will happen. Actually, I should qualify that statement. Nothing will happen to restrict gun sales. Indeed, gun sales will undoubtedly spike, while the National Rifle Association concocts a new series of trite-yet-effective bumper-sticker slogans, each one utterly digestible gun fetishists and members of Congress who continue to defy popular opinion at the behest of Wayne LaPierre and his NRA henchmen.

I absolutely wish I could publish a more hopeful view of how these events will play out, but history and experience have taught me otherwise. Not even the senseless and soul-crushing murder of 20 kindergarteners and their six educators could bludgeon Congress out of its NRA-induced state of torpor on gun control. Underscoring the true fecklessness of Congress -- members of both parties, by the way -- was the sad reality that in 2013, after the Sandy Hook tragedy, even a watered-down bill expanding background checks failed to pass. Even less will happen now after Alison and Adam were murdered by suspected gunman Vester Lee Flanagan.

To underscore how the NRA has entirely neutered Congress, let's rewind two years:

Then as now, the NRA owned the Senate. 46 senators ultimately voted against extending background checks in the wake of Sandy Hook, but the fact that this relatively innocuous measure was the only gun control amendment that had a chance of passing indicates a broader degree of unwavering fealty to the gun lobby.

Again, the Toomey/Manchin amendment would've merely expanded the background check system that's already in place to include gun shows and internet sales: two major loopholes that allow potential criminals and extremist groups to easily acquire assault rifles and other firearms completely under the radar. Closing these loopholes should've been a no-brainer and approved by an overwhelming majority of the Senate – it should never have been haggled, belabored and filibustered before the tear-soaked faces of Sandy Hook families as if the legislation was a new and unusual trespass against liberty and American values.

Contrary to the narrow vote, nearly everyone wanted this legislation to pass. Per Politifact:

Washington Post-ABC News poll, April 11-14, 2013: "Would you support or oppose a law requiring background checks on people buying guns at gun shows or online?" Support: 86 percent. Oppose: 13 percent.

CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll, April 5-7, 2013: "Some proposals would require a background check on anyone attempting to purchase a gun in order to determine whether the prospective buyer has been convicted of a felony or has a mental health problem. Please tell me whether you would favor or oppose a background check for a prospective gun buyer under each of the following circumstances. ... If the buyer is trying to purchase a gun at a gun show." Favor: 83 percent. Oppose: 17 percent.

Quinnipiac University poll, March 26-April 1, 2013. "Do you support or oppose requiring background checks for all gun buyers?" Support: 91 percent. Oppose: 8 percent.

CBS News poll, March 20-24, 2013. "Would you favor or oppose background checks on all potential gun buyers?" Favor: 90 percent. Oppose: 8 percent.

Yet even Democrats like Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota voted against the amendment, even though it was supported by 79 percent of her home state, contrary to the red state stereotype. Harry Reid voted against the amendment too. Toss in nearly the entire Republican caucus, and the demands of one lobbying group took significant precedent over what voters at large would have supported. More damning than that, 74 percent of NRA members supported the expansion of background checks, along with 87 percent of gun owners. That's not an insignificant observation: Who exactly does the NRA represent? Its card-carrying members who were mostly in favor of expanding background checks or the gun manufacturers who thrive on being able to easily sell their machines of death? And therefore is the NRA really about protecting the constitutional rights of its members, or protecting the corporate profitability of the gun industry? I think we know the answer.

The NRA's radical, corporatist agenda -- it's really all about selling a consumer product, after all -- was too much to bear for one of its most prominent members. Soon after Toomey/Machin failed, Adolphus Busch IV, heir to the Busch beer fortune, resigned from his lifetime membership in the organization due to the NRA's unreasonable and uncompromising position on background checks. In his resignation letter, Busch wrote,

"One only has to look at the makeup of the 75-member board of directors, dominated by manufacturing interests, to confirm my point. The NRA appears to have evolved into the lobby for gun and ammunition manufacturers rather than gun owners."

And no one should expect anything different after the mind-numbing tragedy in Virginia. This is America, and it's being overrun by crackpots like Donald Trump and it's being commandeered by a Congress that's mostly tone-deaf to the will of the people -- unless the people are NRA apparatchiks like LaPierre, Ted Nugent and their fleet of heavily-armed, well-funded flying monkeys who drop both cash and threats about primary challengers in the laps of nearly every state legislator and member of Congress in the land. Tomorrow, that effort will double rather than recede.

Bob Cesca

Bob Cesca is a regular contributor to Salon. He's also the host of "The Bob Cesca Show" podcast, and a weekly guest on both the "Stephanie Miller Show" and "Tell Me Everything with John Fugelsang." Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Contribute through LaterPay to support Bob's Salon articles -- all money donated goes directly to the writer.


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Congress Gun Control Gun Violence Mass Shootings Nra The Republican Party Virginia Shooting