Gun Rights Lesson #840 – The Mighty NRA

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Gun Rights Lesson #840 – The Mighty NRA
by Peter Venetoklis | Apr 23, 2017 | Guns | 0 comments

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one of a series of articles on gun rights. Each addresses a common anti-gun trope.

“Were it not for the NRA’s incredible power over politicians, we’d have common sense gun control!”

Saul Alinsky, leftist community organizer and author of the eponymous Rules for Radicals, offered up thirteen guidelines for political activism. His last one reads:
Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.​

So it goes with the decriers of the “mighty” National Rifle Association. To many gun control advocates, the NRA is all that stands between Congress and “reasonable” gun regulations and restrictions. Setting aside the tendentiousness of the word “reasonable” (1 – who decides? 2 – we already have oodles of sensible gun laws on the books), the notion that the NRA is a political powerhouse that is at the far fringes of political thought doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

First, lets consider the NRA’s political spending. In 2016, the total contributions made by the NRA to Congressmen totaled just over $800K. Its peak year of political donation in the last decade or so was 2010, when its contributions totaled about $3.25M. Spread out over a couple hundred donees, and we’re talking a few thousand dollars per Congressman, and none over $10,000 in 2016. As a point of reference, House Speaker Paul Ryan received $4950 from the NRA. In contrast, his campaign received in excess of $50K EACH from Elliott Management, Bank of America, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Pfizer, Nike, Koch Industries, Blackstone, Apple, Carlyle, Berkshire Hathaway, Blackrock, Northwestern Mutual, Fedex, Comcast and USAA. Basically, as far as direct political money goes, the NRA is a small-time player.

Obviously, there is a lot more to the NRA and its political arm than direct contributions. The NRA was the eighth biggest “outside” spender in the 2016 election, dropping a bit over $50M in the election. But, consider what the NRA’s message and approach was and is. Rather than being a deep pool of money used to buy politicians, it is an advocacy group that advances the beliefs of millions of members and millions more like-minded non-members. If a politician has an anti-gun history or is supporting anti-gun legislation, the NRA (and many other gun rights organizations) informs potential voters.

Advocacy groups (all of them, not just the NRA or pro-gun groups) obviously lean their ads in the direction of their cause and purpose, and people are smart enough to know this. The key lesson here is that the NRA isn’t a fringe outlier, or a small cluster of extremists. Just as AARP is a voice for millions of senior citizens, just as the NAACP is a voice for millions of people of color, just as MoveOn is a voice for millions of progressives, just as the AFL-CIO is the voice for millions of union members, and just as NARAL is the voice for millions of pro-choice people (note: these are some of the most powerful lobbies in DC), the NRA is a (but not the only) voice for millions of gun owners and gun rights advocates.

How many millions? More than a third of the people in the US either own a gun or have a gun owner in the household, and millions more support gun rights but don’t own guns. That’s a larger constituency than that of the AFL-CIO, of the NAACP, of MoveOn, of AIPAC, of the AMA, or of many other big and powerful interest groups. Again – the takeaway is that the NRA represents a huge number of Americans, not a tiny group of extremists. In fact, many gun rights advocates think the NRA’s a bit of a “squish,” that it’s insufficiently purist in its pro-gun positions and efforts. Still, it is the biggest and most powerful of the gun-rights groups, and it is what it is because tens of millions of Americans believe in gun rights.


Gun rights lesson #840: The NRA is indeed mighty. As are other gun rights groups. They are mighty because they have millions of members and represent tens of millions more. They are not an extremist fringe. They are the voice of a greater number of Americans than almost every other major special interest group in the nation. They are the result, not the cause, of pro-gun beliefs, and reflect one of the core values of the nation.

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