© Neil Spark

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Shoot the gerrymander

October 8, 2017

There’s been another mass shooting in the United States. That’s how news reports of these tragedies start these days. Another one. It’s not out of the ordinary anymore. It's almost as if we expect it. And that expectation will be fulfilled because firearm control won’t happen until the US electoral system is reformed to be more representative.

 

When 20 children were murdered at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on 14 December, 2012, President Obama cried. Cried in despair, frustration and anger. If the murder of 20 children won’t bring change, nothing will.

 

And since then, there’s been the Washington Navy Yard shooting in which 12 people were killed; San Bernardino, California, 14; the Pulse Nightclub, Orlando, 49; and on 1 October, Las Vegas, 59. And they’re just the ones where there were 10 deaths or more. The firearm death toll is the same as the road toll: 10.3 per 100,000 people. The chances of dying by a bullet are the same as dying on the road. 

 

Right

The reasons for Americans’ toleration of massacres are many and complex. They include the high rate of firearm ownership, the unquestioned right to “bear arms” and the need to protect loved ones. Other reasons, opined by University of Alabama Criminologist Professor Adam Lankford, include a 30-year high of suicides and a desire for fame.

 

The National Rifle Association is often cited as one of the reasons for the lack of gun control. The association “buys” members of Congress, the argument goes. But it’s wrong. The NRA’s donations to political parties in 2016 was $1.6 million – cents compared to the billions from corporations and others.

 

Most Americans want gun controlConsidering restrictions on firearms, such as bump stocks, is a start but doesn't go far enough. EJ Dionne,  Norman J. Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann argue a majority of both parties want universal background checks, a ban on assault-style weapons, and measures to prevent the mentally ill and those on no-fly lists from buying guns.   

 

Gerrymander

The barrier to reform isn’t just a lack of willingness but the undemocratic political system. Nothing happens because the minority rules. The United States is a “non-majoritarian democracy” in which the interests of rural areas and small states are disproportionately over represented. It's a Gerrymander. Electoral boundaries are manipulated to favour one party or group of people. Electoral boundaries haven't changed to reflect population changes. In 1960, 63 percent of Americans lived in metropolitan areas; in 2010, 84 percent did.

 

Dione says if the 50 senators from the 25 smallest states voted for a bill and Vice President Pence voted with them, senators representing 16 percent of Americans could overrule those representing 84 percent. It will get worse. Baruch College political scientist David Birdsell has calculated that by 2040, 70 percent of Americans will live in 15 states and be represented by only 30 of the 100 senators. A quarter of the population will be represented by the three-quarters of the senators.

 

Much needed life-saving firearm law reform will not happen until:

  • Electoral boundaries are redrawn by an independent authority

  • The president is elected by popular vote and not by the Electoral College

  • Political campaigns are publicly funded at best, or, at least limits introduced and real-time disclosure requirements are introduced.

 

Boundaries

The redrawing of electoral boundaries is unlikely. The Republicans determine boundaries in key states. Yes, the beneficiaries of the system control the rules. So much for separation of powers and checks and balances – the bedrock of the US Constitution – being at work here. The Republicans had a net benefit in at least 16 seats after the 2010 census, according to the Brennan Centre for Justice.

 

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in last year’s presidential election – 48.2 percent to 46.1 percent – yet the Republican candidate won the presidency. Her vote was the biggest of any losing candidate.

 

Public funding of election campaigns that have spending limits would mean:

 

  • Candidates couldn’t be beholden to commercial interests

  • There'd be fairness

  • There's a chance respect for politicians and the political system may be restored.

 

Stranger things have happened. I’m an optimist, so I am hopeful. In the interim, campaign spending limits should be capped and donations made public. Super Political Action Committees (Super PACs) –that campaign to support or defeat a political candidate – should be abolished. Donations to them aren’t capped or regulated.

 

Until the United States' electoral system becomes democratic by abolishing the gerrymander, there won't be firearm law reform and there’ll be more news reports that begin with: “There’s been another mass shooting in the United States”.    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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