“All debates in Washington are about money.” That was the sentiment of activists who gathered on Thursday to protest the NRA’s influence, which has played out in the debates in Congress over legislation to reduce gun violence.
Before last week’s Senate vote, we learned that 90 percent of Americans supported universal background checks as a way to reduce gun violence.
The Senate voted against a bi-partisan compromise bill all the same, though. We’ve lamented the lack of courage among those who voted against the measure, and braced ourselves for the ongoing struggle to protect innocent lives, but we need to be honest about the forces we’re dealing with.
The Senate’s vote against background checks shows that public opinion is not the driving — or defining — force behind America’s gun culture. In fact, to find that force, you don’t have to look any farther than money.
The National Rifle Association gets a large percentage of its money from gun manufacturers. As it turns out, gun manufacturers turn the highest profit when more expensive guns are sold to as many people as possible. So the NRA lobbies for policies that ensure that many types of guns are easily available, while spreading fear among ordinary citizens that any legislation that might affect guns is about freedom and the Constitution.
That’s just scratching the surface of the money that goes into gun culture. NRA money goes to campaign contributions, events, and PR campaigns, and to expensive lobbying teams. Many K Street lobbying firms have huge contracts with the NRA, anywhere from $80,000 to $240,000.
There’s a growing movement to shed light on this blood money and the culture it is driving. On Thursday, activists met in Washington, DC to protest the NRA’s influence on politics and the lobbying firms that enable them. Protesters marched through the streets of Washington to the offices of six lobbying firms, including Crossroads Strategies, Dentons, and C2 group, presenting them with the before-and-after photos and their giant checks. Standing in front of six mock checks reading “Thanks for shooting down commonsense gun laws,” activists let the city know that they were mad as [heck].
“Death is profitable,” said one speaker, reminding listeners that you can’t simply legislate away a culture problem —you have to change the culture. A local mother brought pictures of her 16-year-old daughter, from before and after the girl was killed by an assault weapon in a random shooting. The photos were graphic, but they drove home the point: the money paid to prop up gun culture has bloody consequences.
In addition to shaming the lobbying firms themselves, protestors called on the firms’ other clients to apply pressure on the firms to drop the NRA’s contract.
While last week’s Senate vote was a disappointment, we know that we must continue to press this issue. Eventually, by chipping away at the power of money and profit, we can arrive at a society where no more teenagers are killed on city streets, no more children are slaughtered at their schools, and no more mothers have to hold up photos of the ones they have lost.
Janelle Tupper is Campaigns Assistant with Sojourners.