Cameron Kasky, a 17-year-old at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who survived last week’s mass shooting, wrote a beautiful essay for CNN.com that declared: “At the end of the day, the students at my school felt one shared experience — our politicians abandoned us by failing to keep guns out of schools. But this time, my classmates and I are going to hold them to account. This time we are going to pressure them to take action. This time we are going to force them to spend more energy protecting human lives than unborn fetuses.”
Cameron, God bless you for that sentiment. But just one piece of respectful advice: If your generation and mine want to get serious about a gun control crusade, we all need to get out of Facebook and into someone’s face: the National Rifle Association’s.
This fight can’t be won on Twitter or Instagram. They do get people into the streets. But social media have created a world of faux activism — “Hey, I tweeted about it” — that the bad guys take advantage of. The NRA is not just in the chat rooms. It’s in the cloakrooms of Congress and state legislatures. And it’s there with bags of money and votes it uses to reward lawmakers who do its bidding and hurt those who don’t.
I loved seeing the 100 students from your high school taking buses Tuesday to Florida’s capital to directly press lawmakers. That’s a great start. I hope every high school follows.
But, ultimately, nothing will change unless young and old who oppose the NRA run for office, vote, help someone vote, register someone to vote or help fund someone’s campaign — so we can threaten the same electoral pain as the National Rifle Association, which, according to PolitiFact, spent $203.2 million between 1998 and 2017 funding its candidates, defeating gun control advocates and lobbying. This is not about persuading people with better ideas. We tried that. It’s about generating raw electoral power and pain.
Because most of the Republican members of Congress who do the NRA’s bidding care about only one thing: their jobs. The pay of a typical congressman is $174,000 — and free parking at Reagan National Airport — and they will sell themselves to whoever can generate the votes to enable them to keep both.
Are some Democratic lawmakers cowards, too? You bet. But I can show you plenty who have bucked their party’s orthodoxies on education and trade and who insisted that their much-admired colleague Sen. Al Franken had to resign over sexual harassment allegations. And most of them have long dared to lose elections to oppose the NRA. This is primarily a GOP problem today.
How do we know that? Read the paper or the web. The GOP, which claimed to stand for conservative family values, has prostrated itself before the most indecent person to ever occupy the White House — a man who lies as he breathes, smears poor, nonwhite nations and reportedly had sex with a porn star shortly after his wife delivered their son. But GOP lawmakers are mute on this because President Donald Trump energizes their base and ensures their $174,000-a-year jobs and free parking at Reagan National Airport.
This is a party whose evangelicals have been telling us for decades that life is so sacred the GOP must oppose abortion — even in the case of rape, incest or risk to the mother’s life. But Republicans won’t back common-sense gun laws that would protect fully developed human beings — because the NRA energizes their base and funds their campaigns and ensures their $174,000-a-year jobs and free parking at Reagan National Airport.
This is a party whose “Freedom Caucus” was so obsessed with our rising national debt that it tried to prevent Barack Obama from spending a dime to stimulate our economy after it went deep into recession — but just voted to add $1 trillion to the debt for a corporate tax cut without regard for the burden put on our kids. Republicans did so because Trump energizes their base and ensures that they keep their $174,000-a-year jobs and free parking at Reagan National Airport.
Trying to embarrass them to act on principle is wasted breath. I suspect they’re already embarrassed. When these GOP lawmakers are alone at home contemplating the pictures of all these kids gunned down in Florida — thinking about what it’d be like to be one of their parents — plenty of them probably feel filthy for doing the NRA’s bidding.
They know full well that most voters are not asking to scrap the Second Amendment, but for common-sense gun laws that could prevent or reduce more school shootings and would not interfere with any decent Americans’ right to own guns for hunting, sports or self-protection.
They know full well that a common-sense banning of all military assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and bump stocks, or mandating universal background checks for gun buyers or to prevent terrorists and the mentally ill from buying guns, would not curb the constitutional right to bear arms.
They know full well that they’re in the grip of an NRA cult, whose heart is so frozen, it’s content to watch innocent children and adults get gunned down weekly — rather than impose common-sense gun limits. They know all of this — but they suppress it, because they also know if they vote for common-sense gun laws, the NRA will fund their next opponent. Like I said, this is just about raw naked power, and that is what sensible gun control advocates have to generate more of now — in the form of votes and campaign funding. Otherwise nothing changes.
Keep speaking out, Cameron — but never underestimate what some people will do for a $174,000 job and free parking at Reagan National Airport.
Thomas Friedman is a columnist for The New York Times. Reach him c/o The New York Times, Editorial Department, 620 8th Ave., New York, NY 10018. © 2018 New York Times News Service