How the American Legislative Executive Counsel thwarts honest debate about gun violence.
Thursday, December 20, 2012
The first response of any country to violence of the sort seen in Connecticut must be one of horror. And sorrow. President Obama showed that sorrow when he wiped away the tears so many Americans shed Friday.
But there is nothing more absurd than the suggestion that it is wrong to raise political concerns at a moment such as this. It is in a moment such as this that responsible nations examine themselves, their cultures, their laws. Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich is right: “We must reject violence and take an organized approach to averting violence.”
This is about more than guns. It is about health care, particularly mental health care. It is about media. And it is about the quality of our discourse.
So why don’t we have that discussion? It is easy to blame the National Rifle Association. But the NRA never walks alone. Reasonable people may have reasonable differences about how, when and where to address the concerns Miller raises with regard to sales of assault weapons. But no one should be comfortable with those who seek to silence the discourse.
In this regard, the NRA has a powerful ally at the level of government where the most meaningful interventions against violence can be made. The American Legislative Exchange Council, the Koch Brothers-guided group that aligns corporations with conservative legislators who will introduce the “model legislation” crafted by those corporations, has been in the forefront not just of averting sensible gun control, but of trying to shut down public debate about it.
ALEC is known for its advocacy on behalf of the so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws that became so much of an issue in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin slaying in Florida. But, as the Center for Media and Democracy’s “ALEC Exposed” project reveals, the group has a long history of seeking to undermine meaningful public discourse about violence. ALEC does not merely oppose gun control, it seeks to prevent communities, states and the nation from even discussing it.
The group has promoted:
• A “Resolution on Semi-Automatic Firearms” that expresses opposition to proposals by local, state, and federal governments to restrict the sale of semi-automatic weapons, known as assault weapons.
• A “Defense of Free Market and Public Safety Resolution” that discourages efforts by law enforcement agencies to use their purchasing power to buy police and policing weapons only from gun manufacturers that improve gun safety to protect children.
• A unanimous 2011 endorsement of a proposal to expressly bar cities from banning machine guns.
Again and again in recent years, ALEC has worked not just to promote the economic agenda of weapons manufacturers and weapons dealers – including major retailers that sell guns and ammunition – but to undermine political debates about that agenda.
Many corporations left ALEC as the group’s role in promoting “Stand Your Ground” laws was exposed. But many more, including ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, PhRMA, Reynolds American, United Parcel Service, AT&T and State Farm Insurance Companies – among others – remain members and sponsors.
These corporations may want to separate themselves from the crudest of ALEC’s anti-democratic initiatives. But they, and the 2,000 legislators who remain aligned with the group, make ALEC possible.
When we seek to understand why we don’t take action, the place to begin is with those who seek to pre-empt debates. They limit our ability to respond to the cries of horrified Americans for a real response to the violence that breaks our hearts.
JOHN NICHOLS is Washington correspondent for The Nation.