Marc Dann had a successful career in Republican politics in Ohio, first as a state senator, before becoming the state’s Attorney General in 2007. His success was at least partially due to the strong support he received from the National Rifle Association whom he credits for helping him win election to government service.
Dann’s political career hit the skids after only a year as Attorney General when an extramarital affair with an employee came to light amidst allegations of sexual harassment and led to his premature resignation from his post as Ohio’s chief legal officer.
After his resignation, Dann returned to the private sector as a lawyer in Cleveland, and now, perhaps as a measure of atonement for his misdeeds in office, he has published an op-ed in the Cleveland Plain Dealer detailing his regrets at trading his integrity in exchange for the NRA’s support in running for office.
That the article Dann wrote was inspired by the recent massacre of 17 people at a Parkland, Florida high school is undeniable. He begins his apologia by saying that since the shooting he’s been “asked repeatedly why politicians steadfastly oppose banning firearms that serve no other purpose than to efficiently kill innocent human beings.” The honesty of his answer is surprising.
“I know the answer because, as an Ohio state senator and attorney general, I was in the pocket of the National Rifle Association,” Dann bravely admits.
He goes on to explain that the “NRA’s finely tuned propaganda operation” had convinced him and other political hopefuls that merely mentioning gun safety would snuff out their political careers as quickly as an AR-15 could end their lives.
Dann articulates exactly how the NRA operates so successfully.
“Unlike other special interests that exert influence by making campaign contributions, the gun groups spend the blood money they collect from gunmakers to misinform and then motivate voters who care about a single issue: the sanctity of the Second Amendment,” he writes.
“I first encountered those voters as an Ohio state senator who represented a largely rural district. From the moment I took office, my staff and I were inundated with calls and letters from gun owners and advocates. No matter where I went in my district or what issue I was discussing, my constituents never failed to remind me they had a zero-tolerance policy for gun safety laws. Anyone who thinks Social Security is the third rail of American politics has clearly never talked about firearms with an NRA member,” he continued.
The former state Attorney General quickly learned that if he wanted to remain in office he needed to toe the NRA line.
“So I made a devil’s bargain with myself: To stay in office, I adopted pro-gun positions that made me uncomfortable,” he admitted. “The bargain paid off. I was re-elected to the state senate and won an upset victory to become Ohio’s attorney general in large part because the NRA and Buckeye Firearms had “educated” pro-gun voters about my unwavering commitment to the Second Amendment.”
“I soon learned however, that in making a deal with the devil to advance my political career, I had abandoned my principles and sold my soul,” the repentant politician laments.
The extent of Dann’s inner conflict over his support of NRA positions becomes clearer when he explains how his stance affected his own family. At issue was a bill that prohibited and reversed assault weapons bans passed by Cleveland and other Ohio municipalities. Dann voted for the bill as a Senator and voted for an override of the veto the bill received from the then-Ohio governor Bob Taft.
Dann’s mother was vehemently opposed to the bill for good reason. Her husband, Dann’s father, had purchased a legal gun from a local shop in October of 2000 and then walked to a Cleveland Metropark to use the gun to commit suicide. Dann’s mother knew what he himself felt in his heart, that “stronger gun laws might have saved him.”
“She told me I could redeem myself by refusing to fight the leaders struggling to end gun violence in their cities. I rejected that chance for redemption because I had accepted the fantasies spun by the NRA and become too enamored with the trappings of my office, which I desperately wanted to keep. I’m certain many other officeholders bow to gun groups for the same reason,” he writes.
“But I know now, after far too many lives have been sacrificed on the altar of the NRA’s lies, that I should have pushed back. I should have told my constituents they were being duped by shills for a firearms industry that profits from fear-mongering and murder. And I should have been willing to risk my political career if they chose not to believe me,” he remorsefully admits in hindsight.
Dann concludes his op-ed with sobering advice for politicians conflicted between their morals and their ambition.
“I can’t undo the past, but I can offer some advice to elected officials that may help them avoid the nightmares I have each night:
Listen to your mother, learn from your father, live by your principles, and don’t be afraid to lead.”
Better late than never, they say.