Tuesday, October 10, 2017
Just over a week ago, America suffered through the worst mass shooting in our nation's history, with more than fifty people killed and over five hundred wounded. The shooter was an older white man with no religious affiliation or history of violence, who horrifically carefully set up his hotel suite to be a killing stronghold to maximize the number of people he could shoot before being stopped.
As always, the first reaction in the wake of such a shooting is for the blue side of this country to say that some kind of gun control laws must be passed, while the red side responds that now is not the time to have that discussion because it politicizes" the tragedy (although if the shooter had been a Muslim, there would have been no hesitation to politicize the shooting). While it appears that this shooting will inspire the same thing as every other recent mass shooting has, that is, little to nothing, there does appear a possibility that both the NRA and their friends in congress will support banning bump stocks, a device that the shooter used, which can, when attached to a rifle properly, turn a semi automatic into a fully automatic. While this is hardly a major shift in the NRA's normal reaction to mass shootings, it does show that they are at least open to some kind of legislation.
But then a cynic may point out that bump stocks are mostly manufactured by a small independent company that can't afford the kind of enormous donations to the NRA that other larger gun manufacturers can. In other words, banning bump stocks won't hurt the bottom line for the gun companies who pump millions of dollars into the NRA every year to support what they see as their unfettered right to sell guns to almost anyone with the money to buy one. And that really gets to the root of the problem: money.
American politics is awash in money. Although there are some limits to just how much money can be donated, there are numerous loop holes that allow the rich and the powerful far more influence than the average voter. And it's only gotten worse in recent years: in 2010 the Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case that donations from corporations and unions are considered a form of free speech and are unlimited when given to a candidate's Political Action Committee instead of a candidate directly. Which opened the floodgates; in 2016 Clinton raised over a billion dollars for her campaign, with Trump closely behind. And that doesn't count the countless billions that go into congressional elections, state and local elections and votes on propositions.
Personally, I think that the Supreme Court's ruling that equates money with speech was undemocratic, essentially legalizing political bribery. While running a campaign is obviously expensive, the debt that politicians owe to big money donors dwarfs the debt they owe to their constituents, not to mention the amount of time they have to spend calling potential donors and attending fund raisers instead of doing the jobs they were elected to do.
And then consider just how much advantage political spending gives to the rich in spreading a message to the world. For decades now, billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch have been funneling massive amounts of cash into campaigns and think tanks with the intention of discrediting the science behind climate change. Sadly, their spending has had an effect; even as more Americans believe that climate change is happening and is man made than not (48% to 31% according to a 2016 Pew research poll), the Koch brothers money has brought victory to conservative candidates opposed to any kind environmental regulations across the nation, public opinion be damned.
Money in politics effects so much in this country: it's why Republicans tried to pass a repeal of Obamacare that was supported by only 20% of the country, because their big money donors demanded action. It's why our income taxes are so complicated, because big corporate accounting companies like Turbo Tax don't want Americans to do their own taxes. It's why we keep minting new pennies every year, even though we certainly don't need any, because the Jarden Corporation lobbies congress to get the penny minting contract every year.
So what can we do about this situation? Well, other countries have realized that a mix of government funding and private funding, but as long as we have a Supreme Court that feels that money is speech, there really isn't much that we can do. Unfortunately, political groups like the NRA and donors like the Koch brothers will pushing their agendas with cash for years to come.