In the wake of the Newtown tragedy and President Obama vowing to take action to reduce gun violence, you’ve probably heard over and over that politicians don’t act on legislation to limit guns for one reason: the National Rifle Association.
New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg says it’s a “myth” that the NRA destroys political careers. But what isn’t a myth is the millions the “gun rights” organization spends to elect their favorite politicians. Though it’s comparable to many industries — as the NRA definitely reflects and projects interests of the gun industry — the NRA’s spending on elections and lobbying absolutely dwarfs the amount spent by the largest group working to fight gun violence, the Brady Campaign.
But the NRA doesn’t just put candidates in office, it also writes them the exact legislation they want their officials to pass into law. It does this through a group whose acronym has become as infamous as the NRA — ALEC, the American Legislative Council.
ALEC got its start in the early 1970s by opposing “big government” initiatives then being continued by ultra-liberal Richard Nixon. It now has thousands of representatives in all 50 states. Funding comes from corporations like Exxon-Mobil and the biggest names in right-wing conspiring, including Koch, Koch and Scaife. The organization’s hallmark activity is authoring boilerplate legislation that lets its members, predominately Republicans, pass the same laws in state after state by just filling in a few blanks.
ALEC’s method of literally replicating bills came to light recently when, after years of planning, Michigan’s Republican Party rushed through so-called “Right to Work” legislation straight from ALEC’s template without any public hearings.
The result was a law that may not be able to be implemented properly under Michigan’s Constitution.
The NRA’s relationship with ALEC is longstanding.
“For decades, the NRA has helped bankroll ALEC operations and even co-chaired ALEC’s “Public Safety and Elections Task Force,” where it secretly voted on bills alongside elected representatives,” writes Lisa Graves of PRWatch.org.
The NRA has used the ALEC machine to spread “model” laws like “Stand Your Ground,” the controversial concept that became a household name after the killing of Trayvon Martin, though supporters of the law argue that George Zimmerman’s actions did not fall under the provenance of a law designed to take away the “obligation to retreat” that exists in self-defense statutes.
Martin’s death sparked a temporary fracture between ALEC and the gun rights group. After several corporate partners dropped the group, ALEC disbanded its Public Safety and Elections Task Force. But the NRA was still a prominent presence at ALEC’s summer meeting, hosting the event’s largest booth and underwriting a social shooting event.
As ALEC was helping to usher in anti-union legislation in Michigan, it was also providing language for a concealed-weapon law that would allow licensed individuals to carry hidden weapons into schools, churches and sporting events. Gun advocates often claim this will help prevent crime, but instances of someone with a gun being able to stop a crime tend to involve off-duty police officers or trained security professionals.
Despite this, the ALEC/NRA agenda is always more guns, all the time. In the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre, ALEC pushed a bill that would allow students to bring weapons to class.
In a sign of how the Newtown massacre has changed the dialogue. Michigan’s concealed weapons law has become so controversial in the wake of the Newtown tragedy that Michigan governor Rick Snyder is reportedly considering vetoing it.
But concealed-weapon laws are just the tip of the spear when it comes to the agenda the NRA is using ALEC to proffer.
In recent years, they’ve sought to spread laws that would prevent cities from banning machine guns—”…guns whose rapid repeating rounds have nothing to do with hunting deer or other game and everything to do with maximizing the death toll when fired at human beings,” according to PRWatch.org.
The idea that the Tea Party was a populist movement that formed from the dust when Republicans woke up on January 21, 2009 and suddenly discovered there was a deficit has been widely debunked.
Likewise, Americans are increasingly beginning to understand that it’s no accident that Republicans in states across the union are pursuing the exact same measures to limit voting rights and labor rights while making guns more available.
ALEC makes the right-wing agenda real by turning the wishlist of its powerful funders into ready-made laws that just need the formality of a vote and a signature. And the NRA has used that machinery to spread its agenda using the candidates they fund.
Now that the public is open to new measures to prevent gun violence, President Obama and his supporters don’t just have to overcome the influence of the NRA. They have to defeat an operation that can be described as no less than a “vast right-wing conspiracy.”