Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
The rabid attacks on Bob Costas for daring to make a self-evident comment at halftime during the Eagles/Cowboys game last Sunday about the murder/suicide by Kansas City Chiefs player Jovan Belcher fit a familiar pattern.
Costas's observation that "if Jovan Belcher didn't possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today" wades into dangerous territory in our pro-gun culture.
Or does it?
A new study by the Center for American Progress and Mayors Against Illegal Guns suggests that truisms about Americans' reflexive anti-gun-control attitudes, and the influence of the National Rifle Association, are myths.
Not only is the public resoundingly in favor of common-sense gun control measures, the groups found, but the mythic power of the NRA to punish any elected official who dares to stray from the no-gun-control-ever line is wildly exaggerated.
Paul Waldman of the American Prospect wrote a series for Think Progress last spring on "the myth of NRA dominance," in which he reported research on the last four federal elections that showed "the NRA has virtually no impact on Congressional elections."
Neither its money nor its endorsement made the difference in the races Waldman studied.
"In short," he reported, "the NRA is a paper tiger."
The latest bipartisan study, with its focus on a handful of swing states in the 2012 election, confirms Waldman's thesis.
Voters, even in gun-friendly territory like Virginia, overwhelmingly preferred Obama on the issue of guns.
And they overwhelmingly supported, on a bipartisan basis, common-sense reforms including mandatory background checks and not allowing domestic abusers to carry concealed guns across state lines.
And, to pollsters' surprise, two-thirds of respondents saw gun policy reform as a priority for Obama's second term.
In a recent press call with reporters, following the release of the poll, the director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Mark Glaze, explained that the 740 mayors who are members of his group run on "common sense gun laws" and get elected.
Because mayors are on the front line dealing with the fallout from school shootings and police who are mowed down by assault weapons, they have a strong stake in this issue, Glaze explained.
Yet the issue has been stymied for years, as members of Congress are too frightened of the power of the gun lobby to enact simple, obvious reforms.
Previous polling for the group by Republican pollster Frank Luntz confirmed Americans' overall pro-gun-control attitudes.
Given public support for gun control, his group, Glaze said, is "trying to understand the overwhelming fear of the NRA that pervades Congress."
The most surprising part of the new polling is not so much that it shows that Americans recognize the danger posed by unrestricted access to concealed weapons by people with a history of abuse, mental illness, and crime.
The surprising part is that it shows, unequivocally, that members of Congress are wrong in thinking they will pay a political price if they stand up for sane public policy on guns.
"There is really nothing keeping members from doing what they say they agree with 'off the record.'" says Glaze points.
The recent election results show it.
"Despite pumping nearly $12 million into the election, the gun lobby failed to make an impact in swing states like Colorado, North Carolina, and Virginia," the Center for American Progress points out.
The Center's poll, conducted by Republican polling firm Chesapeake Beach Consulting and Democratic polling firm Momentum Analysis, found that the National Rifle Association did not see a return on its investment in this election.
The NRA spent $1 million trying to defeat Senator Sherrod Brown in Ohio and lost. They suffered similar defeats in Senate races in Virginia and Florida.
In 2012 the two political action committees of the NRA spent a total of $13.4 million trying to influence the outcome of various Congressional races, and lost seven out of eight.
The reason for the exaggerated perception of the NRA's influence has to do with its large budget, which, Katie Peters of the Center for American Progress Action Fund points out, is so spread out because of the many races it targets that it is reduced to insignificance in each individual case.
Direct expenditures by the NRA to help particular candidates amount to, on average, two-tenths of 1 percent of the median candidate's budget. In short, chicken feed.
The Sunlight Foundation, a campaign finance watchdog organization, also found that the NRA's return on investment in their 2012 general election campaign spending was less than 1 percent, giving the NRA the worst track record of all major political committees and organizations.
And join Bob Costas in resisting the myth that Americans and their representatives in Congress need to fear the NRA.
If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Dean Baker: On Fiscal Cliff, Best Deal Might Be No Deal".
Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter.
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