In 1999, on the heels of the Columbine, Colorado, school shooting that would mark the beginning of a new era, the National Rifle Association hesitated. The gun rights group was scheduled to hold its annual convention in nearby Denver, just days after two Columbine High School Students seniors killed 13 people. According to NPR, the powerful gun lobby group debated canceling the event before ultimately deciding to proceed.
The NRA leadership chose then to put the organization’s interests above the country’s. That decision is playing out yet again. An 18-year-old slaughtered 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Tuesday, and this weekend, before their families will likely be able to bury them, the NRA will convene its annual meeting in Houston. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and former President Donald Trump are scheduled to speak.
"Our deepest sympathies are with the families and victims involved in this horrific and evil crime,” the NRA said in a Wednesday statement. "As we gather in Houston, we will reflect on these events, pray for the victims, recognize our patriotic members and pledge to redouble our commitment to making our schools secure."
The feigned helplessness on display is sickening. It asks Americans to believe that prayer and more guns in our schools are the only tools available to end this epidemic. If only there were something the NRA, as the oldest and most powerful of a growing number of gun lobby groups, could do to help prevent such tragedies. If only there were some way the NRA, with its millions of dollars in membership donations and ties to the vast majority of congressional Republicans, could influence America’s gun debate in a way that would make our children safer. If only the NRA, with its instant name recognition and branches in every state, could compel states to make it harder to obtain the guns that mow down innocent people daily.
Instead, the NRA and groups like it have spent their time and money advocating policies that allow such tragedies to continue, in our schools, in our churches and synagogues, in our grocery stores. The NRA doesn’t care about the motives behind these attacks, whether the perpetrator was a bullied teen, or a white supremacist, or a homophobic extremist. What matters to the NRA is that donations keep flowing into its coffers. What matters to the NRA is that the average member continues to see any attempt to ban the weapons of war that the Uvalde shooter was able to legally purchase as an attack on his own hunting rifle. What matters to the NRA is that guns keep getting into the hands of shooters.
The NRA and groups like it have spent their time and money advocating policies that allow such tragedies to continue, in our schools, in our churches and synagogues, in our grocery stores.
No group that has been as battered and laid as low as the NRA should compel the sort of fealty from Republicans will be displaying this weekend. And yet, there will likely be no “Nixon goes to China” moment where a member of the faithful speaks out against the horrors that have been committed daily, nothing that will drown out hosannas for the Second Amendment.
Despite the NRA owing millions of dollars in back taxes, despite its failed attempt at declaring bankruptcy and being named as a defendant in a lawsuit that threatens to dissolve the organization altogether, the NRA’s endorsement still matters to the Republican base. Thus, that endorsement matters to the craven politicians who beg for the NRA’s imprimatur every election cycle. And in their supplication, they offer up the lives of other people’s children, mothers, grandparents as offerings, a token of their commitment to the “freedom” that gives license to kill.
The NRA-Republican relationship is a political alliance, sealed in blood, that Democrats have been loath to truly take on. Rather than demand Republicans explain why they would like to allow guns to remain in the hands of the irresponsible, the violent spouse or the criminally insane, Democrats let their fear of taking on “gun rights” lobby overwhelm them.
Despite bringing down mass shootings, the assault weapons ban, the bright spot in the 1994 Crime Bill, was allowed to lapse almost 20 years ago. President Joe Biden says he supports bringing it back, but why has there been no movement on this front? Bills on background checks remain stalled in the Senate, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., asks for voters to show their support for gun control by picking the right candidates in November. Where are the calls for direct action against the NRA convention, protests outside the homes of senators who vote against gun safety? Where is the charge that it’s Republicans who are truly against law and order when they allow these tools of death to circulate freely in our communities?
The NRA-Republican relationship is a political alliance, sealed in blood, that Democrats have been loath to truly take on.
It doesn’t help that the playing field remains drastically uneven. According to Open Secrets, gun rights groups spent roughly $15.8 million on lobbying in 2021 and, as of March 31, have spent another $2 million in 2022. Ninety-nine percent of the funds these groups donated to candidates during the current and previous election cycle have gone to Republicans. During that same time, gun control groups spent less than a quarter of that amount. Money talks in Washington, and that money is apparently louder than the anguished wails of parents burying their children.
It’s already clear that any “reflection” promised in the NRA’s statement will find no faults in its members or its mission. Likewise, any prayers for the families of the victims will likely be drowned out by the much more insistent prayers for another record-breaking year of gun sales. And while the NRA may observe a moment of silence for the children killed Tuesday, the more significant silence will be the one quiet indifference toward the innocent lives that have been, and will continue to be, ended by the pull of a trigger.