Increasing voter turnout will strike at the heart of the NRA

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The most powerful person in Florida politics is not the governor. It’s not a U.S. senator or even the speaker of the state House. It’s Marion Hammer, the lobbyist for the NRA. 

Through a flood of contributions, insider dealings and political pressure, the NRA seemingly controls public policy and most public officials when it comes to guns. Through these efforts the NRA can create policy, ensure its passage and use government resources to achieve their policy goals. And the NRA aim is simple: guns-on-demand. 

{mosads}The NRA has targeted Florida as the incubator for guns-on demand agenda of the gun manufacturers. Not only has the captured state legislature passed law after law that made guns as easy to get as a tube of toothpaste, any proposals that would mean fewer guns bought, sold or carried never even come up for a vote.


In great contrast to this, the majority of Americans support gun control. A recent NPR poll found that 72 percent of Americans favor an assault weapons ban and a whopping 94 percent want universal background checks. A Quinnipiac University National poll shows this view is supported by 97 percent. of gun owners.

Our democracy is so broken that American students marched last weekend to save lives.

The NRA has control but we can take it back. Yes, the money that buys the politicians and their votes is a critical problem for our democracy and a big part of the story but it isn’t all of it. Our democracy isn’t representing the will of the people — if anything it’s representing the small slice of the American public who vote. The portion of people who vote is horrendously low, especially in non-presidential years. Some politicians win with less than 10 percent of eligible voters. 

American democracy is not responsive to the broader American public but rather to the few people who actually vote. We have to show up — all of us. 

Voting can neutralize the NRA. In fact, the NRA would become impotent if everyone voted. Voting is the great equalizer and if the Florida legislators feared the citizens in their districts as much as they feared Hammer and the NRA they’d start representing the will of the people.

Ironically, some of those same elected officials who won’t vote for gun control, even though it’s what most of their constituents want, are actively pushing and winning policy reforms that make it harder to vote. This well-funded voter suppression plan by Republican operatives on the state level is targeting certain voters. By no coincidence those voters are people of color and students; the very people who live with everyday gun violence and who are victims of shooting sprees. 

The endless examples of strategic voter suppression are voter purges on registration rolls, photo ID, cross-check system, and lack of enough voting machines in black neighborhoods.

People wonder if the GOP will try and suppress the teen vote now that this sleeping giant has been awakened. They already have been doing just that. In Iowa, the Republican secretary of state led the way for new laws that made it infinitely harder for students to vote. In New Hampshire, Republicans are trying to pass a modern-day poll tax to keep students from voting.

The call to action is registering voters. Our young leaders already understand that their lives won’t be saved in the halls of the legislature but at the ballot box. But we can take two other steps we know will change the landscape of who and how many people get to vote. 

We can elect people to the Office of Secretary of State who are in charge of our elections, the chief election administrators, who will use that office to aid every eligible citizen regardless of party, to be able to vote. This under the radar office has been used by Republicans for decades to keep certain people from voting. 

To increase participation, we should also push to enact automatic voter registration in every state in the country. The registration rolls fall too often, into the hands of politicians who manipulate them in order to control who votes. Let’s modernize registration make it safer and easier and go directly to voting.

If we want to follow the leadership of the students who marched last weekend and actually make real change we have to solve our democracy problem. What the NRA fears is not the vote of the legislator they control, but the vote and the voices of the people who could show up on Election Day and vote that same legislator out of office. 

Ellen Kurz is the president and founder of iVote, a national voting rights advocacy organization.

Tags automatic voter registration civil rights Ellen Kurz Guns NRA Second Amendment Voting

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