Media outlets and politicians in mourning have all offered thoughts, prayers and not much else for the most recent mass shooting in
Columbine, Colo.; Las Vegas; Sutherland Springs, Texas; Parkland, Fla. (insert next city here). Very few have called it a terrorism-related incident.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a terrorist activity is defined, in part, as:
The use of any— (a) biological agent, chemical agent, or nuclear weapon or device, or (b) explosive, firearm, or other weapon or dangerous device (other than for mere personal monetary gain), with intent to endanger, directly or indirectly, the safety of one or more individuals or to cause substantial damage to property.
The same legal explanation (pdf) defines a terrorist organization as “a group of two or more individuals, whether organized or not, which engages in, or has a subgroup which engages in, the activities described.”
The latest tragedy is directly related to our government’s unwillingness to create and enforce commonsense gun laws, fueled by a criminal cabal that bribes lawmakers with barrels of cash and knowingly promotes and participates in a plot that results in the deaths of seven children every day.
The National Rifle Association kills people.
The advocates for the NRA will tell you that its only intent is to protect our Second Amendment right to own firearms. Whether or not you agree with the conservative translation of the Second Amendment, there is no doubt that the NRA’s belief that every American has an unassailable right to own a gun has morphed into a semireligious philosophy.
The NRA’s unrelenting fight against commonsense gun regulation is based on that philosophy in the same way that Nazis want to rid the world of nonwhites, and religious extremists believe that people who don’t adhere to their theological philosophy should perish from the earth.
In America, it should never be illegal to believe in these things. But when these individuals form groups that engage in activities that “endanger, directly or indirectly, the safety of one or more individuals”—whether it is flying a plane into a New York City building or driving a car through anti-racism protesters at a Charlottesville, Va. rally—it rises to the legal definition of terrorism.
The NRA is a terrorist organization.
On Oct. 16, 2017, the city of Newark, N.J., announced a federal lawsuit against 10 drug companies that manufacture prescription opioids. In December, five suburban Illinois counties followed suit. By January, New York City, the largest city in America, did the same.
None of these lawsuits argue that the pharmaceutical companies involved have sold defective products. Instead, they allege that the corporations that sell and market these drugs to consumers have knowingly engaged in practices that allow an otherwise legal product to end up in the wrong hands, resulting in an epidemic of addiction and death for which the public has paid the price. Therefore, the suits allege, the companies are—at the very least—partially responsible.
This has worked before. The 1998 Master Settlement Agreement forced tobacco manufacturers to pay $206 billion for tobacco-related deaths and illnesses. The companies also had to stop targeting youths, restrict advertising, and enact policies so that cigarettes and tobacco products wouldn’t end up in the hands of children. The case revealed that Big Tobacco had covered up the dangers of its products for years by uniting to lobby lawmakers with billions of dollars and obscuring data about its poisonous product.
Sounds a lot like the gun industry.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more people died from gun deaths in 2016 (38,658) than from prescription opioids (around 14,400). And 13,686 of the people killed by guns that year were under the age of 19. Even if you believe in the premise of self-protection or “haters gonna hate, thugs gonna thug,” when you extract the criminal element from total gun deaths, 495 of those deaths were unintentional, and another 22,938 were suicides.
The grand total of U.S. deaths from terrorism and extremist activities over the last decade is 71.
In fact, if you added up the numbers of every American casualty of terrorism since 1865, the numbers of gun deaths in 2016 alone would dwarf it.
There is no doubt that guns are a worse problem than terrorism in America. The ease of acquiring firearms causes thousands of needless deaths in the U.S. It is a fact that states with large-capacity-magazine bans have fewer firearm-related deaths. In our examination of mass-shooting deaths, The Root found that 253 people were killed by semi-automatic assault-style weapons since 1966.
Even though polls show that 90 percent of Americans have no problem with mandated background checks as a prerequisite to purchasing a gun, the NRA opposes it. According to Gallup, 8 in 10 Americans favor legislation banning assault-style weapons, but the NRA fights against it. Eighty-two percent of those polled favor outlawing attachments that allow guns to fire rapidly, but the NRA lobbies against the effort.
The NRA’s crusade against gun reform has nothing to do with the will of the people. It is an ideological war that kills and injures thousands of innocent people every year. It is based on a fundamentalist interpretation of the Second Amendment not shared by the American people.
It is terrorism.
In the same way that most Muslims don’t support al-Qaida or the Islamic State group, and the majority of white people don’t support the neo-Nazi movement or the Ku Klux Klan, most people who own firearms don’t support the National Rifle Association. The NRA is not some loose confederation of well-intentioned gun owners.
Even though the organization claims to have 5 million members (a figure that many are skeptical of), that seemingly large number accounts for only 1.5 percent of the U.S. population and less than 7 percent of gun owners. That means that 98.8 percent of the country, and 93 percent of the people who legally own firearms, want nothing to do with the NRA.
According to OpenSecrets.org, the NRA spent an average of $3 million on lobbying in each of the past five years. This money does not come from members of the NRA—it comes from gun manufacturers who give tens of million of dollars to the organization through a variety of means, including donations, sponsorship programs, advertising and revenue sharing. Taurus automatically purchases an NRA membership for every customer who buys one of its guns. Sturm, Ruger gives $1 from every purchase to the NRA.
The gun debate has never been about the Second Amendment. Most politicians, lawyers and legal experts agree that the right to bear arms will never be revoked. The real question is about America’s unwillingness to regulate the gun industry and the NRA’s ability to escape the same scrutiny as entities in similarly dangerous fields of commerce.
Attorney Leslie Thompson, who works with companies on the legal protection of consumer products, told The Root: “The NRA and gun manufacturers have one advantage that the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries don’t have: the Second Amendment.
“But the ability to exercise a constitutional right can be regulated,” Thompson explained, noting that age and ID requirements are required to vote. “Even the right to freedom of speech is subject to slander and libel laws to prevent fellow citizens from being recklessly injured.”
Although lawmakers, careless gun owners and retail outlets are not faultless in the scourge of firearm-related deaths that plague this country, the uniquely American epidemic of murders, mass shootings, accidents and suicides points back to this singular organization that has prioritized its fundamentalist ideology over the pain and suffering of the citizens of this country.
The NRA’s complicity in thousands of deaths every year is directly related to the amount of money it funnels from gun manufacturers to lawmakers. If the public found out that another organization with the body count of the NRA was lobbying politicians and writing laws, there would be a national scandal.
The National Rifle Association should not be exempt. It is more powerful and scarier than al-Qaida and the “alt-right” combined. The trite aphorism used most often by the organization that has become a willful accessory to thousands of American murders explains it best:
Guns don’t kill people ...
The NRA does.