The lazy myth of the ‘bought and paid for’ politician

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“Will America choose its children over guns?”

The breathless New York Times editorial, printed Tuesday, certainly pulled no punches.

In it, the Times expressed bewilderment at our collective inaction on regulating firearms, and speculated that the school shooting in Florida may be the proverbial straw that broke the equally proverbial camel’s back.

The choice, to the Times, was simple. Either do something or you love guns more than you hate dead kids.

It was clear that the Times had a villain in mind: the National Rifle Association.

The Times said that victims have had “enough of craven politicians who kneel before the National Rifle Association and its cynically fundamentalist approach to the Second Amendment.”

This, of course, is a popular position among gun control advocates. Common-sense legislation is, to them, held hostage by hapless buffoons in Congress who are bought by the NRA, and forced to vote how the NRA wants.

This is, of course, utter nonsense.

Since 1998, the NRA has given a little more than $4.1 million to members of Congress who are currently sitting in Washington. That’s $4.1 million over 20 years.

Second District Congressman Bruce Poliquin has received — over the course of his career in Congress — $16,850, according to the Washington Post.

Not nothing, I grant you, but pretty close to nothing compared to the more than $5.11 million he has raised. The total contribution by the NRA to Poliquin’s campaign is equal to a little more than three individual donors maxing out.

The level received by Poliquin is essentially the same everywhere. In gun-worshipping Texas, the biggest congressional recipient of NRA money is Rep. Pete Sessions. He’s received between $2,000 and $10,000 each election cycle.

If you think that kind of spending “buys votes,” you have no clue.

Politifact recently calculated the NRA’s total political spending, and after adding in all categories, including candidate donations, party contributions, independent expenditures and lobbying, they arrived at about $203.2 million spent over roughly 20 years.

OK, great.

Labor unions, meanwhile, spent $1.713 billion in 2016 alone on politics and lobbying, according to the National Institute for Labor Relations Research, a nonprofit union watchdog.

NRA spending is an eyedrop in the Atlantic Ocean. If its financial spigot got shut off, it would make no difference in who gets elected to Congress, or how those people voted.

Which brings me to my ultimate point.

If you don’t like how Congress votes on gun control legislation, it would probably help you to understand why they vote the way they do.

It isn’t the money. It’s the voters.

Roughly one-third of the citizens in this country own a gun. That is more than 100 million people. There are around 300 million firearms in the United States, which is a little less than one gun per person.

A gigantic number of people in this country value guns, and demand political representation that protects them. And the reason your NRA-loving uncle is so obstinate about these issues is because nearly every answer proposed would do nothing to solve anything.

Magazine size limits? Carry more magazines.

“Assault weapon” ban? It didn’t work in the 1990s, because guns like the Ruger Mini 14 — a standard semi-automatic rifle and not a defined “assault weapon” — can fire at the same rate as an AR-15, fires .223 ammunition, and can have attached magazines of the same size. It just isn’t black and scary looking.

Increased background checks? Fine, but nearly every mass shooter either passed a stringent background check, or stole the weapon.

So what, you say? We need to do something. Restrictions are good, even if they don’t really make much of a difference.

Alas, if they are agreed to, they will create a new front in the gun control debate, and the next time something happens — because these fixes won’t work — the restrictions will go further, and further, until we start talking about repealing the Second Amendment.

And that’s the real issue. The voters whom members of Congress fear don’t want that to happen, and believe — rightly, in my estimation — that constant restrictions that do not work will lead to that place. So they stand very firm against those ideas, and make sure politicians hear them.

So if you don’t like that, I understand.

But if you want to change what we do about gun violence in this country, complaining about the NRA and making them out to be nefarious, mustache-twirling villains is neither true nor particularly effective.

Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C.

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