Anti-violence movement gains steam
For years, big corporations had welcomed the opportunity to accumulate more customers by giving discounts to NRA members. Yet in the aftermath of the shootings in Parkland, Florida, and the activism of high school students, corporations are bailing out of their deals with the NRA.
As we’ve seen with the corporate firings of sleazebag movie moguls and predatory television personalities, nothing concentrates the minds of CEOs like a moral protest that’s gaining traction.
Since Donald Trump became president, the NRA has behaved like a subsidiary of the alt-right. At last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference, NRA president Wayne LaPierre cloaked his pro-gun address in paranoia about a “tidal wave” of “European-style socialists bearing down upon us,” telling his audience “you should be frightened.”
Most Americans know this kind of talk is bonkers. Not incidentally, most Americans also want gun controls. Ninety-seven percent support universal background checks, and 70 percent favor registering all guns with the police.
Preventing gun violence is coming to be seen less as an issue of “gun rights” and more about public morality. “Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?” President Obama asked in 2012 after 20 first-graders were massacred at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Obama got nowhere, of course, but now change seems to be in the air. Why? I think Trump deserves some credit.
Trump’s response to the slayings in Parkland has been to urge schools to arm teachers. It’s a proposal that’s not only wrongheaded — more than 30 studies have shown that additional guns increase gun violence and homicides — but profoundly immoral.
If the only way to control gun violence is for all Americans to arm themselves, we would all be living in a Darwinist hell.
The moral void of Trump has been a catastrophe for America in many ways, but it’s contributing to a backlash against the systemic abuses of power on which so much of the violence in American life is founded.
The Parkland students are insisting that adults stand up to the immorality of the NRA. Corporations are responding. So are politicians. “We get out there and make sure everybody knows how much money their politician took from the NRA,” said David Hogg, one of the students.
Similarly, the #MeToo movement is insisting that America wake up to the immoral behavior of powerful predatory men.
Harvey Weinstein and his ilk aren’t killers, but they are accused of assaulting or even raping women whose careers depended on them. For years, these women didn’t dare raise their voices. They were told this was the way the system worked, much as we’ve been told for years that there’s no way to take on the NRA.
Would the #MeToo movement have erupted without the abuser-in-chief in the Oval Office? Maybe. But Trump’s personal history — 19 women have accused him of sexual misconduct — has helped fuel it.
The #BlackLivesMatter movement predated Trump, but our racist-in-chief, who attacks black athletes for protesting police violence, has given it new meaning and urgency as well.
The NRA’s position that everyone should carry a gun contrasts with the reality that a black man brandishing one is likely to be shot and killed by the police.
The cumulative and growing force of these three intertwined movements comes from a basic premise of our civic life together, which Trump’s moral obtuseness has brought into sharp focus.
In order to survive, people need several things — food, water, a roof over our heads. But the most basic of all is safety. That’s why governments were created in the first place.
If Americans can’t be secure from someone packing an assault rifle, or from the predatory behavior of powerful men, or from the police, we do not live in a functioning society.
Make no mistake. This is all about power — a powerful political lobby that has bullied America for too long, powerful men who haven’t been held accountable for their behavior, police who for too long have been unconstrained.
A moral movement is growing against the violence perpetrated by all of them, making it necessary for both government and business to take action.
It is being led by people whose moral authority cannot be denied: students whose friends have been murdered, women who have been abused, the parents and partners of black men who have been slain.
It is already having a profound impact on America.
Robert Reich, a former secretary of labor, is professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley.