On March 24, millions of Americans across the nation will participate in March For Our Lives. According to the March For Our Lives website, the event has been "created by, inspired by, and led by students across the USA who will no longer risk their lives waiting for someone else to take action to stop the epidemic of mass school shootings that have become all too familiar." In other words, today's young people are tired of living in what they see as a dystopian world awash in guns created by past generations. This generation will be the one that brings rationality to insanity and finds a way to protect both the Second Amendment and human lives.
Can they do it? Will these "kids" be able to produce meaningful policy outcomes that have eluded previous generations?
Not if the NRA has anything to do with it. An organization founded to improve marksmanship, promote gun safety and encourage environmental conservation, today the NRA is arguably the most powerful interest group in the nation. Time and again, the NRA has marginalized gun violence cessation efforts on behalf of their gun manufacturer masters. Bogeymen such as Michael Bloomberg, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are catnip for eager buyers who believe that, at any moment, firearms and ammunition may no longer be for sale or, even worse, confiscated. Never mind that the Supreme Court and an overwhelming majority of Americans support gun ownership and do not support an outright ban on guns. NRA dogma teaches gun owners the Second Amendment is under threat and even the most modest concessions will lead society down the slippery slope toward a fictional 1930s-style German gun confiscation program.
In the real world, there is seemingly no end to the number of polls and statistics that indicate Americans support tighter restrictions on purchasing and possessing firearms. From universal background checks to regulating sales of certain firearms to increased mandatory waiting periods, pollsters, interest groups and academics have generated gobs of data indicating Americans possess a strong belief in the Second Amendment and a similarly strong belief in the need to regulate it for the public good. Academicians have published studies suggesting many different policy approaches. Our federalist form of government allows for policy experimentation by the states. Yet zero meaningful policy has been implemented, while the NRA contrarily argues increasingly lax gun ownership policies as matters of both state and national sovereignty.
So how will these kids take on the NRA? What approach can these young people take to solve the problems their parents and grandparents created? Can these Davids take on this Goliath lobby with any chance of winning?
Sure-and it's easy. These kids are learning not to fear the NRA but to ignore the NRA. They're learning to ignore the NRA for what it is and what it is not. They're learning to ignore the NRA because its only power is the ability to peddle fear, with no ability to inflict any real consequences.
The NRA is about making money, not good public policy. Conspiracy theorist and crackpot Alex Jones makes money peddling the belief that the American government was behind 9/11, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and other national tragedies. No one is ever going to convince Jones he's wrong or irresponsible. He knows it. Jones' business model is dependent upon advancing fringe positions for profit. Similarly, the NRA knows more guns are no more an answer to gun crimes than more cars are the answer to fewer traffic accidents. 'More guns' is the money-making answer. The NRA also knows the "only good guys with guns stop bad guys with guns" mantra is junk science that has been long debunked. However, good guys are made to believe they need to buy more guns because buying, holding and admiring your 37th firearm will make you safer than buying, holding and admiring your 36th. This generation is learning to dismiss the NRA as the profit-motivated organization it is-an organization that lobbies for an industry that makes money through irrationality and fear.
This generation is also learning the NRA has no real power in making policy, only perceived power. In addition, if the NRA does manage to cost elected officials their seats, this generation does not care. Much like when the growling but hidden junkyard dog turns out to be an old Brittany spaniel, previous generations empowered the NRA with the threat single-issue voters pose and the idea that candidate report cards mean something to everyone rather than their small number of members. For argument's sake, let's assume that all NRA members' opinions reflect the stated policy positions of the NRA. This means approximately 5 million people believe gun buyers should be criminally vetted only when buying a gun in a store. There are approximately 240,000,000 voting age Americans and recent polls indicate 97 percent of them support universal background checks at point of transfer. Although interpretations can vary, universal background checks, by definition, suggest ending massive holes in the law that allow nearly anyone to buy nearly anything, with zero culpability. Today's kids can do math between bites of their stereotypical Tide Pod pizzas. They know NRA membership equals only half the number of members of Planet Fitness and they won't be bullied by such a small number of people. The power of the NRA is perception-and these kids perceive the world very differently than their elders.
This generation is realizing, as previous ones ultimately have, that no reasonable person would expect the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association and American Lung Association to invite Phillip Morris, R. J. Reynolds and Lorillard lobbyists to assist in crafting public policy to keep Americans safe from lung cancer, emphysema and heart disease. Logically, this generation will learn to ignore the NRA lobbyists who support an industry that profits from an addiction more powerful than nicotine: Fear.
Previous generations created today's culture of gun violence through apathy and fear. Previous generations enabled the NRA to exploit this fear for profit. This generation will solve the former by ignoring and emasculating the latter.
Dr. Daniel S. Cronrath is a professor of political science at Florida State College of Jacksonville.