Cowed by the deployment of IEDs (Improvised Electoral Destabilizers) in several cities, the US Congress shouted “No!” from under its desks this week to a modest adjustment of firearms regulation that 90% of American voters wanted. It was the most brazen demonstration yet of the members’ subservience to cash and contempt for individual voters. It was also the best evidence so far that the government is so thoroughly in thrall to corporate interests that there is no hope that it will act to restrain them merely to prevent the crash of civilization.
The entire population of talking heads who have been discussing the issue of gun regulation since the slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School has pretended, or has been deluded to think, that:
the issue of gun regulation pits the National Rifle Association against liberal politicians, and the NRA usually wins because it is politically powerful;
the only thing we have to do to prevent mass shootings is to pass the right law;
all sides in the debate, from gun confiscators to gun wavers, are reasonable and deserve a hearing;
the Second Amendment conveys an absolute right to gun owners;
mass shootings are the problem that must be fixed.
None of these things is true. The NRA’s Wacky Pierre doesn’t even represent the majority of NRA members, let alone of gun owners, when he advocates more guns in more places — schools, football games, bars, and every street corner, for example — and resists the slightest limitation on their possession and use. And the notion that the raving lunatics who speak for the NRA somehow turn into master manipulators of the political system is just as wacky as Wacky Pierre: most of the candidates they backed in 2012 lost, most of those they sought to destroy, won.
So what power is it that just brought the Congress of the United States to heel — again? Why, it’s money. Money deployed by the arms manufacturers, the ammunition sellers, and their corporate pals who cannot bear the thought of yielding a penny of profit to save lives. Corporate America sees gun regulation as the threshold of a slippery slope that could lead to nightmare scenarios, such as the mandatory reduction of pollution.
Corporate America has learned to govern the country by mastering three methods:
applying (and withholding) large amounts of cash, which go not to the politicians, that would be illegal, but to their political action committees, whose wealth assures their reelection;
creating astroturf (fake grass roots) organizations to hold rallies, send emails and tweets, and otherwise an aroused citizenry loudly supporting wealthy corporations who prey on citizens (See, for example, the history of the Tea Party);
controlling the selection of legislators and governors at the primary level, where spending a few million dollars and whipping the crazed “base” of the party into a frenzy over some social or religious issue almost always works, whereas general elections or more expensive and unpredictable;
And one more thing, which is not a method but an attribute: When challenged or defeated, Corporate America waits. When, for example, the few politicians who broke ranks with their corporate masters over gun regulation face the howling wolves in the primary contests in 2014, the general public will not remember what happened at Sandy Hook; no gun-regulation PAC will be there to shower money on the courageous public servants. But Corporate America will be there.
Then there are the other “public servants,” who have learned how to dance all night long with their corporate masters without making their actual constituents feel jilted. The technique, now a high form of political arts and science. is to appear to be doing something about the problem du jour without, in fact, doing anything, because anything done would harm Corporate America.
The “gun control” frenzy after Sandy Hook provides a perfect example. The shooter used an assault-style weapon; let’s ban them! In fact, the shooter used a weapon that looked like an infantry assault rifle but was not capable of automatic fire, as all military weapons are. Fully automatic weapons are called machine guns and require a permit under the existing National Firearms Act. Many target and hunting rifles are semi-automatic; banning “assault weapons” would be banning the style, not the substance, hence would appear to do something, but would not do anything. (Except, of course, slightly crimp the profits of the folks making and selling these macho, big-ticket testosterone boosters. So they killed it.)
The shooter used large capacity (30-round) magazines; let’s ban them! A 10-round limit is popular, as is seven rounds. In fact, the Sandy Hook shooter seldom used more than half the rounds in a magazine before changing it. Only once in the rampage did he fumble for a few seconds while changing magazines. If he had been juggling 10-round magazines instead of 30-round, who, exactly, would not have died?
Okay fine, then let’s expand background checks, that there will be no more Sandy Hooks! Except that the weapon used by, and all the weapons available to, the shooter were bought by his mother, a responsible and experienced gun owner who could have passed any check.
Gun violence cannot be eliminated with one law or with any set of laws, but people desperately wanted their government to react in some way, to curb however slightly the brutal greed of the gun sellers, to take the side, however weakly, of the murdered children. But in the end, the Congress apparently concluded that it no longer has to even pretend that it is doing something. More afraid of their corporate masters than of 90 per cent of their voters, they visibly and defiantly did nothing. There could not be a worse omen for the future of our country.