Money still talks loudest in gun violence debate
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"Did you hear the news? There was another mass shooting..." This all too familiar refrain begins many of the conversations in Newtown, CT. After the devastation here on December 14, 2012, each new story of another mass shooting shakes many in my community to the core. This is part of the fabric of life for those directly affected by a seemingly endless scourge of gun violence. Out of grief and a well of deep compassion - we pay attention.

After Newtown, many across our nation – politicians as well as average citizens – said that things must change, that it was no longer tolerable to live in a nation that averages 3 to 10 times the number of gun deaths per capita than every other developed country in the world. We were told that we can no longer afford to worship at the altar of the status quo with regard to our approach to gun safety when such worship sacrifices the blood of so many as well as billions of dollars in state and local resources.

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And yet, many mass shootings and thousands of gun deaths later, not one significant piece of gun safety legislation has passed Congress. Now, even as more victims die daily, we begin to believe the talking heads when they say, “nothing can get done in Washington D.C.” And we allow apathy to rule the day, accepting gun violence “business as usual” in America. Although we do not have final numbers, it looks as if national firearm fatalities now exceed traffic fatalities. We continue to reduce automobile fatalities because collectively we desire our roads and our vehicles to be safer and we regulate and innovate accordingly.

Why is this so, especially when U.S. citizens want guns properly regulated for sake and safety of our communities? Poll after poll suggests that the vast majority of Americans (between 83 to 90% - including a strong majority of NRA members) support strengthening background checks on gun purchases. Nevertheless, federal legislation languishes. How is it that we can have such a strong majority of Americans supporting this legislation but Congress refuses to pass gun control laws? 

Signs point to the influence of money in our political processes.

Following the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010, ultra-wealthy individuals and corporations now pour millions of dollars into state and federal elections. The functions of a representative government should not be clouded by a disproportionate role of money in elections. When representatives have to pay special attention to the views of corporations and individuals who are capable of contributing large sums of money to campaigns, their ability to faithfully represent their constituents is distorted.  This distortion makes it appear that the positions of a few are held by the many.

Even if it is true that the NRA has over 5 million active members, that pales compared to the 175 million people in the U.S., who, polls tell us, want common-sense legislation – like strengthened background checks to reduce gun violence in America. Where does such a comparatively small number of individuals gain power and a voice strong enough to disrupt the will of the American people? Money. Certainly some NRA members directly voice their concerns and vigorously defend their positions by contacting their representatives, but they alone are unlikely to be so effective without the vast resources of money that comes from the NRA. And the NRA money comes less from their membership dues than from corporate donors — often gun manufacturers. This influence of corporations has reduced the NRA from promoting the public safety of everyone – including gun owners — to protecting the profits of the manufacturers. 

Rev. Matt Crebbin is the Pastor of Newtown Congregational United Church of Christ in Newtown, CT.