The National Rifle Association has beaten the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at its own game. Fifty years ago, 42.4 percent of U.S. adults smoked. That figure has declined to a record low 17.8 percent in 2014 and the number of smokers continues to decline. The CDC played an important role in the stunning unraveling of the powerful tobacco industry.
The NRA has done the reverse for gun ownership. According to a 2015 Gallup Poll, 43 percent of Americans have a gun in their home or on their property. It is estimated that there are 310 million guns in the U.S.--enough for every man, woman and child in the country.
For years the tobacco industry spent millions of dollars funding pseudo-scientific research that downplayed the harmful health consequences of cigarettes, as Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway wrote in their book Merchants of Doubt. The “research” was meant to silence the many legitimate studies to the contrary, according to Jesse Rifkin of the Huffington Post.
“Millions of pages released during the 1990s tobacco litigation demonstrate these links,” Oreskes and Conway wrote, “They show the crucial role that scientists played in sowing doubt about the links between smoking and health risks.”
The NRA nipped the science problem in the bud. They lobbied to throttle gun research. The NRA-backed ban on research came after a 1993 study funded by the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention showed homes with firearms were at an increased risk for homicide in the home. After the study came out, the NRA pushed Congress to defund gun research.
“Gun violence is probably the only thing in this country that kills so many people, injures so many people, that we are not actually doing sufficient research on,” Dr. Alice Chen, the executive director of Doctors for America, told The Huffington Post.
After the tragedy in Newtown, CT in which 26 students and teachers were gunned down, the president of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre, went on the offensive. He declared, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
Is there any truth to LaPierre assertion?
In 2012, there were 1.2 million violent crimes, defined as murder, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault. As Scott Martelle put it in the Los Angeles Times, there were 1.2 million chances at armed self-defense.
There were a total of 259 justifiable homicides in 2012 or about one in every 5,000 violent crimes. Martelle writes, “The notion that a good guy with a gun will stop a bad guy with a gun is a romanticized vision of the nature of violent crime.”
Not only are gun sales up, but gun-favorable legislation is also on the rise. In 2015, the Georgia legislators passed what has become known as the “guns everywhere” law--a measure that makes it possible to carry guns inside bars, restaurants and churches. Proposed legislation in Florida would make it easier to carry firearms on college campuses.
The NRA has effectively molded the gun ownership issue into a constitutional one. The NRA and gun rights activists have made gun ownership an inalienable right, and any effort to restrict access an act of tyranny.
In 1994, the fight against smoking ushered in the Pro-Children Act. The law banned smoking in public schools across the country. Today, the NRA is advocating arming teachers in school. The NRA’s savvy political positioning “has made any chance of meaningful gun reform in the foreseeable future [is] basically nil,” wrote Ben Hallman on The Huffington Post.
If gun violence is a national health problem then the CDC and policy makers across the country have a lot of catching up to do. The NRA has crafted a message that resonates with millions and millions of Americans.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010 was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino