A poignant index on the abyss between our nation’s aspirations and its realities was on display on Saturday, when many thousands of Americans took to the streets to demand alleviation of the gun violence that plagues this country like none other in the developed world.
On one hand, a lot of good people were aspiring to solve a big problem; on the other, unfortunately, the reality is that we can be almost certain that these efforts will be in vain.
And the worst outcome of the march could be the disillusionment of the impressively articulate and intelligent high school students who were moved to action by the murders of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14. The students have directed the nation’s attention to the deaths and injuries caused by easy access to needlessly powerful weapons, and they organized the weekend event.
Everyone was shocked by Parkland, just as they were shocked by Columbine, Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech. Politicians proffered “thoughts and prayers.” President Donald Trump mused about solving the problem by arming teachers. A few concrete steps were taken by private companies: Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart will not sell assault-style rifles or any guns to anyone under 21.
Sens. John Cornyn and Chris Murphy managed to attach the “Fix NICS Act” to the spending bill that passed last Friday, strengthening accountability in criminal background checks for gun purchasers,
But in a culture awash with guns, these are half-measures or quarter-measures or merely window dressing meant to give the impression of action without effecting much real change. Unfortunately, the powers that maintain the status quo are too great to be overcome by marches and rallies and speeches. Or, evidently, by the mass murders of many classrooms full of innocent American schoolchildren.
But, Parkland students and fellow marchers, do not give up.
The forces that make the gun problem appear to be unsolvable get their lifeblood from the same condition that has fostered a great deal of bad governance in our country over the last several decades: Too much money in the political system is overwhelming rational approaches to problem solving.
Jane Mayer’s “Dark Money,” published in 2016, describes the problem at large, and it’s not a bad place to start to understand the gun problem.
Mayer chronicles several decades of an American politics flooded by cash from super-rich, libertarian-leaning families who mask their influence by channeling money through pseudo-philanthropic organizations and foundations.
A significant focus of the book is on Kansas’s immensely wealthy Koch brothers, who developed much of the organizational infrastructure for the donation of unspeakable amounts of money to support a radically deregulated, low-tax free market system. They were enormously successfully.
As a result, they and other wealthy families have made enormous amounts of money and helped foster a system that keeps wealth in the hands of the already-wealthy, to the detriment of the middle class and the environment.
This dynamic, writ small, illuminates the gun problem. The National Rifle Association, once chiefly an advocate for gun safety, education and marksmanship, has evolved into one of the most influential lobbying organizations in American politics today. It is motivated by a near-paranoid fear for the Second Amendment and fueled by donations of cash from gun enthusiasts, gun makers and gun sellers.
It would be hard to overstate the NRA’s political influence. By means of the same financial machinations used by the Kochs, the NRA directs huge sums of money to politicians who support its views. According to ABC News, during the 2016 election cycle alone the NRA spent $54 million, including $11 million to support Donald Trump and $20 million to attack Hillary Clinton.
The NRA and its supporters thrive when people fear for their lives and when politicians fear for their political careers. So, Parkland students and other right-minded citizens, marching is important. But nothing will take the place of voting. Yes, indeed, if you are 18, do not fail to vote in November. Nothing else can restrain the power of the NRA.
John M. Crisp lives in Georgetown, Texas, and can be reached at email@example.com