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The quest for political power. Rarely does a day pass where some form of power struggle does not occur within our government. The importance of the role of American government in the lives of its constituents has continuously grown in conjunction with a corresponding increase in governmental economic and social obligations. As the American state assumes greater power and responsibility in its actions, so must the citizens of the United States. With this increase in modern government participation, private interest groups have emerged as powerful influences in the American political scheme, particularly in the decision-making process. These highly effective organizations exist for several reasons, but especially for one in particular. The principal duty of such an interest group is the preservation of favorable circumstances that allow for that specific group to ideally exist. These interest groups effectively mobilize their efforts through lobbying, political clout, litigation and through sheer nepotism to gain favorable public opinion. Two such groups, the National Rifle Association and the tobacco industry interest parties, have been strong in voicing their beliefs. By a thorough study in their respective actions and political convictions, we can begin to see clearly the influence and role that these groups possess in our government.
The National Rifle Association has actively represented a strong political opinion concerning gun control and the implementation of related laws. Representing virtually every gun owner and gun manufacturer in America, the NRA carries with it the burden of preserving basically the second amendment right to bear arms. Although the Second Amendment to the Constitution states, ?a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,? to what extent can these gun lobbyists argue for reductions in gun laws. Using the well known Brady Bill as an example, we are able to see what a formidable task these interest groups become with respect to the passage of legislature.
A seven-year battle. After a long and arduous seven-year struggle, Congress finally was able to implement the Brady Bill as law. Approved as the ?first major gun control legislation?since 1968,? it permitted limitations to gun purchasing in answer ?urban violence and the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? The passed bill called for a five-day waiting period upon the purchase of a hand gun. During this five-day span, information would be sent to the police who would, in turn, run background checks. This was all in hopes that convicted felons, fugitives, drug addicts or the mentally ill, would be prevented from purchasing guns.
Despite this historic passage of legislation concerning gun control, the Brady Bill is often described as a ?modest measure that at best will only make a small dent in crime.? The National Rifle Association and other powerful gun interest groups were able to apply great political pressure in order to cause serious alterations from the original bill proposed back in the late 1980?s. The NRA argued two points in their rebuttal to the bill. Firstly, they emphasized the Second Amendment right to arms. Secondly, the National Rifle Association stressed that this particular bill would not be effective in the limiting the access criminals would have to guns. Through their efforts, particularly in influencing members of Congress, the gun interest groups were able to get something ?acceptable? passed. Whether it was through campaign contributions or by pressure exerted in the congressperson?s constituency, the NRA and its fellow counterparts were able to sway legislators to filibuster during a time immediately preceding a period of Congressional adjournment. By influencing congressional members in such a way, the NRA pressured supporters of the bill to drastically compromise, resulting in passing a bill which was greatly different from the one originally proposed.
In analyzing a second interest group, the tobacco industry?s lobby organizations, a trend similar to that found in regards to gun control is noticeable. Historically, the government has called for the regulation of various facets in the tobacco industry for three distinct reasons: ?risk to the public health or safety, risk assumed by consenting adults, and risk assumed by children and adolescents.? Basically, the government?s stance is founded upon the issue of to which extent consumers are able to reasonably make uncoerced decisions about smoking and purchasing tobacco products. Furthermore, government has repeatedly held the constitutional power to ?protect the health and safety of children and adolescents? through the powers of parens patriae.
From the beginning of the twentieth century, a pattern of successful avoidance of tobacco regulation is prevalent. The American government began its anti-tobacco campaign in 1905, excluding it from the ?US Pharmacopoeia.? Then, in 1964, smoking was said to cause lung cancer and other diseases in the Surgeon General?s Report on Smoking and Health. After the implementation of this specific report, the Federal Trade Commission declared its intentions to mandate warning labels on cigarette packaging stating the ills of smoking and tobacco use. In response to the aggressiveness of the FTC, the tobacco industry initiated a heated lobbying strategy that would constrain legislative regulation. The cigarette industry?s first method of action was to announce that required warnings on tobacco product packaging ?could result in an end to all cigarette advertising.? This threat drew in political support from the advertising sector, which was currently profiting greatly from the tobacco industry?s use of advertising. In the end, Congress was able to implement the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act of 1965, requiring that cigarette packaging emulate industry concerns by reading: ?Caution: Cigarette Smoking May be Hazardous to Your Health.? In short, the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act clearly confirmed the strength the tobacco industry possessed to cripple and hinder legislative endeavors.
With the passing of time, government has continued to emphasize its policy of restricting the tobacco industry. But, each and every piece of proposed legislation has met a formidable challenge due to the tobacco industry?s continuous efforts. These challenges include: ?challenging the FDA?s jurisdiction, threats of litigation against the media, lobbying and political contributions to gain influence in Congress, advertising campaigns with an anti-government theme, and the manipulation of the public comment component of the regulatory process.?
In short, political interest groups have become more and more influential in the running of government. As they attempt to preserve the status quo of government legislature in regards to their respective industries and interests, these groups continue to influence the way government is enacted in our society. But under a closer examination, a greater problem is able to be found. To what extent are political interest groups a necessary and/or a viable facet of democracy? It is important for various groups of citizens to arduously press for their views to be heard, but at the same time, we must also keep in mind the means and methods that they employ to achieve their goals.
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