Skip to main content

Politicians hammered by the NRA

By Charles Garcia, Special to CNN
August 7, 2012 -- Updated 0207 GMT (1007 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Charles Garcia: Neither major party candidate seems willing to take on gun control issue
  • Despite dozens of mass killings, politicians remain in thrall to the NRA, he says
  • Garcia: After 12 died and 58 were wounded in Aurora, we must act on gun issue
  • He says Obama hasn't kept promise on assault weapons ban; Romney changed his views

Editor's note: Charles Garcia, who has served in the administration of four presidents, of both parties, is the CEO of Garcia Trujillo, a business focused on the Hispanic market. He was named in the book "Hispanics in the USA: Making History" as one of 14 Hispanic role models for the nation. Follow him on Twitter: @charlespgarcia

(CNN) -- On July 20, many of us woke to the horrific images of the events that had unfolded in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater where 12 people were killed and 58 wounded. In the wake of the tragedy, we don't simply wonder who or why, but also how?

Soon after, President Obama gave a fiery speech, stating, "AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals. They belong on the battlefield of war, not on the streets of our cities."

While you might think such a statement indicated that the president was going to show some real leadership and fulfill his promises to reinstate the assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004, the White House later released a statement saying that gun control was not something the administration was going to push at this time.

Charles Garcia
Charles Garcia

The president seems more concerned with making sure the American people know of his commitment to protect their Second Amendment rights than he does with protecting them from the danger posed by assault rifles in the hands of criminals.

Opinion: When will America wake up to gun violence?

No politician, including the most powerful man in the free world, wants to pull the trigger on solving the complex issue of gun control. The odds of political survival after such a move are worse than those in a game of Russian roulette.

Dissecting the politics of gun violence
The obstacles in legislating gun control
Obama speaks out on gun control
iReport debate: Gun control

When he was governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney strongly backed gun control, dubbing assault rifles "instruments of destruction," and he signed the first comprehensive state ban on assault weapons like the AR-15, which James Holmes is accused of using in Aurora. However, now Romney does not "believe in new laws restricting gun ownership and gun use."

Don't get me wrong, the Second Amendment is one of my favorites. In the military, I was an expert marksman who trained foreign militaries in counter-guerilla warfare, and I am an avid gun enthusiast. As a gun owner, I absolutely believe in the right to protect my family from anyone who threatens our safety.

But I also know that when the Second Amendment was passed in 1791, the most lethal weapon was a single-shot musket. Arguing that you need an assault rifle to protect your family is like saying you need a blowtorch to light a cigarette.

Within months of 9/11, new security measures were put in place at airports to ensure the safety of airline travel. In the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, new laws were enacted to detect suspected criminals and new security measures were put in place at federal buildings. However, since 1982 we've had 56 incidents of mass killings involving firearms, many of which were semi-automatic handguns and assault rifles. Yet here we stand, 30 years later, no closer to resolution on even the simplest forms of stricter gun control.

Such resolution is blocked at almost every step of the way by the juggernaut that is the National Rifle Association. There are no two cozier bedfellows than the NRA and politicians; if laws controlled guns the way the NRA controls politicians, America would be the safest country in the world.

Frum: Fear drives opposition to gun control

The NRA makes more than $200 million a year. These earnings, coupled with its 4-million strong membership, has paralyzed any thoughtful discussion of the issue from politicians who are scared to even have an honest debate of where the proper lines should be drawn. One only has to look at U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Indiana, the two-time chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who after a 36-year career lost his primary race in the face of heavy campaigning against him by conservative groups, including the NRA, which criticized his support for a ban on assault rifles.

It's political suicide to even propose safety measures like background checks at gun shows. President Obama and Mitt Romney are focused laser-like on the key swing states, which all have significant gun ownership. It's clear that both candidates are afraid of turning off these gun owners and the NRA.

With 4 million members on its rolls and as many as 47% of all Americans reporting gun ownership, appearing sympathetic to the ideals of the NRA is a significant consideration for anyone running for public office.

The NRA wields a carrot-and-stick approach to politics, doling out generous political backing to those who agree with it or to those who are simply running against someone who disagrees with it. The group also employs a rating system under which candidates are graded according to their votes on key issues. The NRA is always transparent about certain votes being graded, and as such candidates are always on notice before they vote.

Until we face the power of the NRA and truly measure the length of its reach, the issue of gun control is doomed to stay exactly where it is -- stuck.

Challenging such a powerful lobby, daunting as it appears, is paramount, because we can't allow special interests to run roughshod over the public interest.

The issue of guns and how we as a country regulate their ownership and use must be addressed -- and soon. I am like many gun owners who, polls have shown, stand by both our right to bear arms and the responsibility to create safety measures that protect the public. Yes, we want to have our cake and eat it, too, and I firmly believe such a middle ground -- not a "flip-flop" a la Romney, nor an empty promise, a la Obama -- exists. But we need to jump-start the conversation -- and stay well clear of the fiery rhetoric.

As it stands, a little more than a week after James Holmes gunned down 12 people, including 6-year-old Veronica Moser, who were enjoying a night out at the movies, we are left with some politicians' righteous indignation and a few photo ops.

A dozen grieving families and a nation deserve more -- we deserve real leadership.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Charles P. Garcia.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1645 GMT (0045 HKT)
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1818 GMT (0218 HKT)
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1939 GMT (0339 HKT)
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1852 GMT (0252 HKT)
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1209 GMT (2009 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT