Who Owns the Discussion of Gun Control?

90289_XM15In the wake of the tragic events on Friday in Newtown, CT, the National Rifle Association (NRA) has gone quiet.

The most public face on gun-rights issues shut down its Facebook page, and there has been radio silence on the @NRA Twitter account. Smart PR move for sure, but the cowardice of not facing the very real consequences of their advocacy got us thinking at Illahee: who really owns the discussion on gun rights anyway? Is the NRA “an organization that represents 4 million members who simply love the Second Amendment”? Or are there more complicated forces at work?

Fortunately, I didn’t have to look very hard to follow the money trail behind weapons like the .223 Bushmaster rifle that eliminated six teachers and an entire classroom of first graders. A few facts gleaned from Free Speech For People and Open Secrets.org:

Thanks to Citizens United, the NRA is not only able to, but spends most of its money on off-the-books political advocacy (about $17.6 million), as compared to political contributions (about $1 million) and lobbying (about $3 million). In reality, corporations that profit from unregulated gun use are underwriting the NRA’s activities, and as a result, are informing our public policies on gun use in America. In the past four years, only laws that deregulated gun use have been enacted.

And it’s not just gun-maker lobbyists like the NRA that are involved. California Public School teachers are probably pretty surprised to find that the California State Teacher’s Retirement System holds more than a 6% stake in the makers of these rifles. Yes, the very people charged with protecting and enriching young minds are (albeit indirectly) investing in firearms conglomerate that produces weapons linked to two mass killings this year.

Just like Bill McKibben has campaigned on college campuses to encourage schools to divest from fossil fuels, maybe we should all take a closer look at what we, as individuals, are funding. As the mother of a young child, I hope this is the beginning of a larger discussion on who gets a voice in the policies that inform what we eat, the air we breathe, the information we access access, our financial future, and ultimately our safety and well-being. Let’s level the playing field and let the American public start asking the tough questions, rather than a select few dominate the discussion (and the outcome).

Erin Brasell, Illahee Program Director

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