Gun Violence

Guns for a Grade

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(Photo Caption: CAPA (Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School) students organized a walk-out to protest gun violence in solidarity with Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students in Parkland, FL (Photos: ppuglobe.com)

By Maggie Weaver

For members of the U.S. Government, grades do not stop once they leave school.

The NRA (National Rifle Association) attributes a grade to every Congress member, rating each politician on their support of the organization’s initiatives.

The grading scale ranges from ‘A+,’ “a legislator with not only an excellent voting record on all critical NRA issues, but who has also made a vigorous effort to promote and defend the Second Amendment, ” reads the NRA literature, to ‘F,’ a “true enemy of gun owners’ rights.”

The system itself is simple: candidates with higher grades receive more funding, those with lower receive less.

Over the last 20 years, the NRA has contributed over $11 million to various politicians, according to ABC News. PACs (Political Action Committees) and other gun rights organizations spent $54 million in the 2016 election alone ($20 million attacking Hillary Clinton, $11 million supporting President Trump).

The TribLive, a news platform local to the Allegheny region, reports that gun control advocates are out-spent by the NRA 10 to 1; a $51,923,751 difference in spending in the 2016 election. Compared to the $54 million spent by gun rights groups, gun control organizations gave $1.1 million to Hillary, and $1,984 to President Trump.

With the surge of protests and dialogue about gun control since the shooting in Parkland, FL, the NRA is under scrutiny for its influence in politics. #GUNCONTROLNOW has been trending on Twitter; the community is calling for action.

In Pennsylvania, PennLive reports that the NRA has donated $155,600 to members of Congress from the state. Rep Tim Murphy (R) received $33,500 from the organization, the highest amount among the PA congresspersons.

Representative Keith Rothfus is local, settled down in Allegheny County.  Rothfus is rated highly by the NRA. In 2016 elections, Rothfus accepted $7,400 from pro-gun groups; in his career, Rothfus has received $14,400  from pro-gun groups. At $5,500, Rothfus is the Republican who receives the smallest sum of funds from the NRA.

OpenSecrets.org reports that gun control interests have only given $4.3 million to members of Congress since 1989– and 96 percent of those contributions have gone to members of the Democrat party.

Twenty-five of Pennsylvania’s legislators have ratings between A+ and Aq (A pro-gun candidate who does not have a voting record on Second Amendment issues), all of them Republican. Only one of PA’s Republican representative has a rating lower than a B-, and that’s Pat Toomey.

Toomey, in his career, has received $93,000 from the NRA, $40,000 between 1998 and 2010, according to TribLive. But his rating has continued to decrease, falling from an ‘A’ to a ‘C.’

In 2013, after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, Toomey verbalized support for increased background checks for gun purchases. In 2016, after the shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, FL, Toomey stood with the NRA. At that point, the NRA called for  denial of  gun sales to alleged terrorists, but only if there was a proven connection within a three-day window.

Toomey, following the Parkland shootings, is calling for more comprehensive background checks on gun purchases, a position directly opposed to that of the NRA.

Across the board, Pennsylvania’s Democratic legislators receive ‘Fs’.  Bob Casey is the lone exception, surpassing Toomey with a “B+” rating.

According to the NRA, this means that Casey is, “a generally pro-gun candidate.” In recent years, Casey has embraced his left side, supporting laws that expand gun control and restrict gun use.

In 2016, neither Casey nor Toomey received funding from the NRA.  Bill Shuster and Lloyd Smucker, PA Republican representatives in the House, received $5,950 from PACs and individuals connected to gun rights.

So far, 2018 has produced a different climate surrounding gun control. Although the GOP controls Congress until 2019, 84 percent of Americans support an expansion of background checks, as reported by OpenSecrets.org.

With the public calling so strongly for change, one possible path would be for state legislatures to slowly move towards more strict gun laws.

But does the NRA have too heavy a hand in the U.S. Government?  Political scientists in the late 70s began identifying a “gun control paradox.”  Instead of moving toward change after each mass shooting, when the public shouts for it, legislatures graze over gun control without a solution.

The Washington Post focuses on one difference between gun rights and gun control groups; for the former it is a question of identity. A study done in 2017 by the Pew Research Center shows that a majority of gun owners say that gun ownership is “essential to their own sense of freedom.”

For the opposing side, gun control sits on a list with other issues of equal importance. The NRA places gun rights as their top issue, taking a “no-compromise approach,” as highlighted by the Washington Post. This approach has effectively made a minority (gun rights activists) into a majority.

On Wednesday, March 14, hundreds of thousands of  students walked out of classrooms, a mass exodus to support gun control. This event, organized in response to the shooting in Parkland, is a step towards this “no-compromise approach.” Teen activism has been sparked, young people rallying in support of their kin– unified to protest gun violence. A larger march has been organized, titled March for our Lives, scheduled for March 24. Another walkout is planned for April 20.

If gun control advocates can sustain the fire fueled by Parkland, by Las Vegas, by Orlando, there may be a chance for change. Voices calling for gun control need to become louder and more forceful– taking the same no-compromise approach modeled by the NRA. If gun control moves to the top of every list of issues, the NRA may have some fierce competition.

Maggie Weaver is an intern at the NewPeople.

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