If you feel infuriated each time a mass shooting dominates the news, it’s time to start paying attention to two issues that could make a difference: gerrymandering and campaign fundraising.
These issues are linked. And that’s killing us.
The senseless rampage that claimed 17 lives Wednesday in a high school in Parkland, Fla., is just the latest. It’s certain that more will die unless a fundamental and systemic change happens.
Gerrymandering redraws boundaries of legislative districts every 10 years to protect the political party in power. That creates safe districts, where incumbents need not worry about challengers from the opposing party.
In Pennsylvania, Republicans — resistant to any reasonable gun control — are safe from Democratic challengers in many districts. Worse, those same Republicans often face primary challengers who cast themselves as more ideologically pure. That tends to push campaigns to the right of the political spectrum, with candidates in thrall to gun-rights groups, led by the National Rifle Association.
Which brings us to political spending and the NRA, which Politifact.com examined in October.
They found the NRA spent $203.2 million on political activities from 1998 to 2016, with $144.3 million going to outside spending like “independent expenditures,” a loophole ripped open in the federal campaign finance laws by the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case. The NRA spent $45.9 million on lobbying and $13 million in contributions to candidates, parties and political action committees.
Where does that money go? Mostly to Republicans.
The Center for Responsive Politics in October calculated that members of the House received $5.7 million from the NRA and other gun-rights groups in the 2015-16 election cycle. Of that, 98 percent went to Republicans.
For that, Congress in 2016 voted against legislation to expand gun purchase background checks for people on federal terrorist watch lists. And in 2017, they undid a rule prohibiting gun sales to people with serious mental health issues.
Voters see the madness in all this.
A Quinnipiac University Poll released in November 10 days after a mass shooting claimed 26 lives at a church in Texas found overwhelming support for several kinds of gun regulation, from universal background checks to a ban on assault weapons. Seven out of 10 voters in that poll said Congress needs to do more to reduce gun violence.
There were 346 mass shootings, defined as four or more people wounded or killed, in 2017, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Fifteen of those were in Pennsylvania, with 11 in Philadelphia. An additional 13 occurred in New Jersey.
And 45 days into 2018, there have been 30 more mass shootings.
We are being gunned down in our schools, at country-music concerts, in churches.
President Trump on Thursday morning called Parkland “a great and safe community.” The truth is, there is no such thing as a safe community. Laws that reduce gun violence are important. But it’s also important to fight for fairer district lines, and to urge Congress to close the Citizens United loophole.
The carnage will continue as long as gun money keeps flowing to lawmakers who are in protected seats.