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House of Canards: Netflix Drama Gets it Wrong on Gun Laws, NRA

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Article first appeared at NRA-ILA.

[SPOILER ALERT:  If you plan on watching the fourth season of the Netflix political drama “House of Cards” you may want to finish viewing it before reading this article.]

March 4 saw the premiere of the fourth season of Netflix’s hit political drama House of Cards. The show follows the machinations of House Majority Whip Frank Underwood as he ascends to the presidency and subsequently runs to stay in office. While the real-life Washington elite certainly have an unsettling fondness for the Machiavellian drama, its depiction of life inside the Beltway is highly stylized. This season this fact is made abundantly clear with the show’s portrayal of federal gun laws and NRA.

Starting in episode 4, former reporter Lucas Goodwin, who was imprisoned as a result of some of Underwood’s intrigues, makes an attempt on the fictional president’s life outside a campaign rally. While Underwood is greeting a crowd of critics, Goodwin draws and fires a pistol, striking and wounding Underwood, and killing series regular Secret Service Agent Edward Meechum. Goodwin is killed by Meechum’s return fire. Underwood withstands the attack, but requires a liver transplant to survive.

Following some illegal maneuvering with the list of prospective liver transplant recipients by Underwood’s chief of staff, an unrelated young man gains access to a firearm in his family home and uses it to kill himself. The young man’s suicide provides a liver for the ailing Underwood.

With these events as the background, Underwood’s equally conniving wife, Claire, stages a press conference in the Whitehouse to push gun control. As props, the first lady displays a firearm “illegally obtained by a career criminal at a gun show,” she then moves on to a gun that was “ordered on the internet, no background checks.” The final firearm she displays is the one used by Goodwin in the assassination attempt on her husband. Claire then explains that she is working to introduce legislation to criminalize the private transfer of firearms, “including gun shows and online sales.”

First, while a favorite target for gun control activists, research shows that criminals simply do not acquire guns at gun shows in significant numbers. A Bureau of Justice Statistics survey that queried state prison inmates as to the source of the guns they possessed at the time of their offense found that 0.8 percent obtained the firearms at a gun show. Alternatively, 40 percent answered that they acquired a gun from a “street/illegal source.”

Second, the supposed “online sales” that gun control advocates target are better described as transfers pursuant to online communication. These transfers are simply the modern version of a sales posting in a printed want ad or on a shooting range bulletin board. Individuals use the internet to offer a firearm for sale or trade and then typically set a time and place to meet face to face with an interested party to transfer the firearm. The idea that there are individuals legally ordering firearms from retailers directly to their front door without undergoing a background check is a misconception.

Of course, on the off chance that the writers intended to further elaborate on Claire’s duplicitous nature by having the character misinform the public in the same self-serving manner as her real-life anti-gun counterparts, the scene is a stroke of genius.

As is typical in House of Cards, political intrigue ensues. Having survived the attempt on his life, Underwood is in search of a running-mate and cuts a deal to place a pro-gun senator on the ticket at the behest of his party’s leadership. Along with the help of a surreptitiously obtained list of citizens susceptible to anti-gun messaging, the wily Underwoods push the Congress to the brink of passing the gun control legislation.

However, at the last moment the Underwoods cut an elaborate deal with NRA to help force the “pro-gun” senator off the ticket in order for him to be replaced with the Underwoods’ favored candidate. In return, the Underwoods abandon the gun control legislation.

During these scenes, an actress playing an NRA lobbyist exerts NRA’s power over the pro-gun senator by exclaiming that the group “poured millions into his campaign,” and that the organization raised the princely sum of “$20 million” for the candidate. The portrayal furthers the popular misconception that NRA’s political power stems from our checkbook.

NRA is a 5 million member grassroots civil liberties organization. Thanks to the dedication and hard work of our highly-motivated members, we are able to influence the political process by our impact at the ballot box. Some of the more sophisticated members of the media acknowledge this fact. Simply put, it’s NRA’s ability to melt legislative switchboards and deliver votes, rather than campaign contributions, which allows us to effectively represent gun owners. When other groups do it, the press calls it democracy.

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