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How ALEC Thwarts Honest Debate About Gun Violence

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ALEC is known, of course, for its advocacy on behalf of the so-called "stand your ground," or "shoot first," or "kill at will" laws that became so much of an issue in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin slaying in Florida.

But, as the Center for Media and Democracy's "ALEC Exposed" project has revealed, the group has a long history of seeking to undermine meaningful public discourse with regard to violence. ALEC does not merely oppose gun control, it seeks to prevent communities, states and the nation from even discussing gun control.

The group has, for instance, promoted:

  • A "Resolution on Semi-Automatic Firearms" that expresses opposition to proposals by local, state and federal governments to restrict the sale of semi-automatic weapons, known as assault weapons.

  • A "Defense of Free Market and Public Safety Resolution" that discourages efforts by law enforcement agencies to use their purchasing power to buy police and policing weapons only from gun manufacturers that improve gun safety to protect children. The same resolution discourages efforts to identify and limit public contracting with gun dealers that are not notorious for selling weapons used in crimes.

  • A unanimous 2011 endorsement by ALEC's "Public Safety and Elections Task Force" of a proposal to expressly bar cities from banning machine guns.

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Again and again in recent years, ALEC has worked not just to promote the economic agenda of weapons manufacturers and weapons dealers -- including major retailers that sell guns and ammunition -- but to undermine political debates about that agenda.

Many corporations exited ALEC as the role of the group in promoting "stand your ground" laws  was exposed after the Trayvon Martin shooting. But many more, including ExxonMobil Corporation, GlaxoSmithKline, Koch Industries Inc., Pfizer Inc., PhRMA, Reynolds American Inc., United Parcel Service, AT&T and State Farm Insurance Companies -- among others -- remain ALEC members and sponsors.

These corporations may want to separate themselves from the crudest of ALEC's anti-democratic initiatives. But they make ALEC possible, and strong, as do the better part of 2,000 legislators who remain aligned with the group.

When we seek to understand why we don't have the discussion -- and the action -- that we should about violence, the place to begin is with those who seek to preempt debates and to limit the ability of communities, states and the federal government to respond to the cries of horrified and sorrowful Americans for a real response to individual incidents and patterns of violence that break our hearts.

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John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Online Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.

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