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Grover Norquist, the NRA, and the Problem with Political Pledges

On Thursday the children of Sandy Hook Elementary return to school. A different school with different teachers. Legislators could have used any of the mass shootings since Columbine to talk seriously about mental health care, weapon safety, domestic violence, and/or substance abuse in America.

But they didn't.

Congress and congressional candidates don’t speak of weapon safety for one reason and one reason only: the power of the National Rifle Association. The dirty little secret is that every candidate, every incumbent takes multiple "pledges" in the form of candidate questionnaires. Publicly, questionnaires are touted as an ideological measuring tool. In reality, they are a means of holding a legislator accountable forever. They are pledges and for signing them, candidates receive financial support and access to the people who support the issue at hand.

Much has been made recently about the Grover Norquist pledge, but little is known about these other pledges that hog tie candidates and legislators just as tightly. None are more treacherous than the NRA Candidate Questionnaire. For candidates seeking NRA support, there can be no waiver. They must agree 100% with NRA positions. For candidates who won’t pledge unyielding support, it is better not to answer questionnaire at all so as not to risk the ire and the financial might of the NRA.

The questionnaires, especially, the more radical ones aren't made public even to members of the organization. Instead, members and the public are made aware of an overall grade or score for candidates. However, Jim Russell, candidate for Congress in New York, was so proud of his NRA questionnaire he put it on his website.

Candidates who were endorsed by the NRA, pledged to:

1) oppose legislation banning the manufacture, sale or transfer of commonly-owned semi-automatic firearms or ammunition magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds;

2) support a national right to carry a gun across state lines;

3) to oppose background check legislation on private gun sales including gun show sales;

4) oppose the reporting of two or more semi-automatic weapon purchases by an individual;

5) support the import of non-sporting weapons;

6) oppose legislation which bans people on the Terrorist Watch List from purchasing weapons;

7) support keeping confidential information on requests from law enforcement to trace a weapon;

8) oppose restrictions on magazines capacity;

9) support the end of an FBI maintained list of gun purchases in the previous 24 hours;

10) oppose all methods of licensing and permit processes;

11) oppose all methods of registering a weapon;

12) oppose the Washington, D.C. Assault Weapons Ban;

13) oppose any restriction on .50 caliber weapons;

14) oppose the ban of armor-piercing ammunition;

15) support amnesty for military veterans who brought ‘trophies’ back from war;

16) support interstate weapons sales;

17) support restoring gun rights to convicted criminals;

18) support efforts to decrease permit denials;

19) oppose restrictions on gun ownership in low income housing;

20) support hunting on federally owned land.

Even if a candidate believes every position taken by a special interest, is it good for our nation to pledge unyielding support? If ever there were an example of how new information, new data, new technology changes opinions, it is Sandy Hook. Both political parties are guilty and both should come clean with their membership. All candidates are guilty and all should come clean with the public. In the past, voters have used ideologically aligned special interest groups to help cut through campaign clutter but in 2014 it will be important to do more digging by finding out what it means to be "endorsed by." Members and supporters of the organizations that produce these questionnaires deserve transparency while voters deserve to see the answers provided by their candidates.

As it stands right now, in the case of the NRA, organizations are holding candidates accountable for positions that may not even be supported by the bulk of their membership and they are using their massive financial might to circumvent the American people who deserve real conversations about real issues before another mother loses her baby in a hail of bullets.

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