Shooting holes in the self-perpetuated myth of the NRA

Politicians and regular citizens alike cower in the NRA’s long shadow, as though it were some Old Testament deity. It’s not.

Shayanne Roberts looks at rifles in the trade booth area during the National Rifle Association's annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee April 11, 2015.  (Harrison McClary/Reuters)

Shayanne Roberts looks at rifles in the trade booth area during the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee April 11, 2015. (Harrison McClary/Reuters)

The greatest feat of the National Rifle Association over the years hasn’t been to consistently stymie gun control measures in America. Nor is it the equally successful gambit of legitimizing the right to own weapons like the AR-15, which can easily (and, in most states, legally) be modified to fire 900 rounds a minute, despite the thousands of innocent Americans felled by that particular model.

No, the NRA’s masterstroke has been the perpetuation of its own myth.

The NRA myth has two parts: that the federal government exists largely to separate its citizens from their firearms; and that the NRA itself is the lone, all-powerful bulwark against this constant tyranny. The ensuing paranoia provoked by the first part has fed the latter, to the benefit of NRA membership roles. In 1964, membership stood at about 600,000; today, it is somewhere between four and five million.

The legacy of the NRA myth is legion. The NRA has halted dozens of pieces of legislation aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of murderous people. It was instrumental in neutering the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, in part by grandfathering hundreds of thousands of assault weapons manufactured before the bill’s passing in 1994. The organization played a key role in the legislative push that saw the ban put to pasture 10 years later. It has been the face of pro-gun obstinacy in the wake of dozens of mass shootings, when public outrage against guns is at its fiercest. Through its political donations, it has seeded a seemingly permanent opposition to any new gun laws. Politicians and regular citizens alike cower in the NRA’s long shadow, as though it were some Old Testament deity.

Cracks, however modest, began to show in the NRA myth this week, as U.S. President Barack Obama vowed to address gun violence in the final year of his presidency. In a tearful press conference, surrounded by victims of gun violence, Obama promised to enact executive actions that would bolster the existing system of federal background checks, as well as precisely define who must be licensed to sell firearms. In theory, anyway, this would put an end to the so-called “gun show loophole,” which allows sellers at flea markets and the like to sell arms without background checks.

As is often the case with Obama, the pageantry exceeded the scope of his propositions. He didn’t propose a ban on assault weapons like the AR-15. Moreover, funding for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which enforces federal gun laws, has barely kept up with inflation and has seen staffing decreases over the last 15 years. Obama’s announcement won’t likely fix this situation.

Yet in wielding his executive power and promising to go above a recalcitrant, Republican-dominated congress, Obama has made himself even more a target of this supposedly vast and vengeful organization. In doing so, he’s made an important political calculation, one which has been plain to see for nearly as long as it has existed. The well-entrenched NRA myth is just that: a myth.

Let’s begin with its supposed lobbying muscle. According to statistics compiled by Opensecrets.org, the NRA ranks 74th out of the top 100 political contributors. This puts them only slightly ahead of the likes of the Air Line Pilots’ Association, and behind the Ironworkers union. During the 2014 election cycle, for example, the NRA spent $810,000 in political donations. By contrast, Everytown for Gun Safety, the pro-gun-control organization founded by billionaire former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, spent nearly double this amount.

If the NRA’s parsimony has paid dividends, it’s because ideologically inclined politicians come relatively cheap. Louis Gohmert, Republican Representative from Texas, received all of $1,000 in 2014 from the group, yet has been amongst the most fervent critic of gun control measures throughout his 11 years in Washington. (He claimed armed teachers and staff could have prevented Adam Lanza from killing 26 people, including 20 children, during the Sandy Hook shootings in 2012.)

The NRA instead relies on a cadre of motivated volunteers to get out the single-issue vote, and the country’s gun shops and clubs to sell the NRA’s paranoid message. Its media campaign, all bullets, brawn and implied violence against its foes is simple and effective.

To the organization’s credit, it has been remarkably successful. Gun control laws, when enacted, are usually done so piecemeal by state governments, meaning the country remains a legislative patchwork; anyone in Sandy Hook who wants an AR-15 despite the state’s ban can drive the three hours to New Hampshire, where they will be greeted with open arms.

Yet for all its glad-handing and recalcitrance, the NRA hasn’t been successful in stemming the slow march of public opinion away from its cause. Truly universal background checks and the closing of the gun show loophole, advocated by the President this week, enjoy support amongst Democrats and Republican voters. Ditto bans on sales of weapons to people on terrorist watch list. Both are opposed by the NRA.

Obama has been the NRA’s boogeyman since even before the days he took office. It is a mark of the NRA’s fallibility that the President has essentially embraced this caricature—and how much of America seems to be behind him.


Shooting holes in the self-perpetuated myth of the NRA

  1. “Nor is it the equally successful gambit of legitimizing the right to own weapons like the AR-15, which can easily (and, in most states, legally) be modified to fire 900 rounds a minute, despite the thousands of innocent Americans felled by that particular model.”

    Thousands? Really Mr. Patriquin, before making such bold blanket statements you should check the available stat’s. Semi-automatic rifles have indeed been used in some of the more notorious mass shootings but, the overwhelming majority of the 8,500 average annual murders with firearms in the USA (cf. FBI Uniform Crime Reports) were committed by gangsters with handguns.

    Most firearms fatalities in the U.S. are suicides, which account for more than twice as many deaths as murders.

    • How is it that professional journalists routinely publish revelations that lots of us have known for years? Ya wanna do an eye opener, how about one on how the biggest of the big money lobbyists in the States are mostly lefty groups known for decrying the influence of “big money” in politics?
      There’s a bunch of unions (public sector) that make the NRA look right parsimonious.

    • Gangsters, huh? Gangsters refers to the Italian mobs. It also refers to some black kids who like to think they are a mob. But they are not gangsters. I see you buy into the stereotype that most black people are criminals. I see you also think suicide by gun is no big deal. I see you also think it’s acceptable that mentally ill people can get assault weaponry as easy as pie. Here’s the deal: NO ONE should be able to get it. One mass murder is too many. And yes, thousands of people have been killed that way when you add it up.

  2. Once again, your leftist, lieberal bullshit is showing through. Guttless fucks like you hate the NRA because it stands for freedom. Your kind would be much happier in NAZI Germany where all opposing people were disarmed before being slaughtered. And if that useless piece of shit bammy were to get his way, the last free country in the word will be destroyed. Fuck you and fuck all the leftist, lieberal gun grabbing fucks like you. GOD BLESS THE NRA.

    • Are you for real? You sound like a lefty posting trash to make gun owners look bad. Go away you Hillary loving lefty.

    • Cue Twilight Zone music and a deranged loner looking in the mirror, saying, “You talking to me. You talking to me?”

  3. Why the constant demonization of the NRA? It has failed as a strategy and continues to fail in spite of the author’s claim.

    There is no slow march of public opinion away from the NRA. They remain one of the most successful grassroots lobbying organizations in the USA. Secondly, the NRA does teach responsible gun ownership. For example, how many gun shooting are committed by NRA members? Seems to be quite rare.

    Gun ownership is a constitutional right in the USA. Punishing the law abiding for the actions of criminals is never a very good solution which is why vilifying the NRA remains a failed strategy.

    • It is nonsense and a misinterpretation that gun ownership is a constitutional right. The constitution provides for the “right to bear arms’ and the intent was to provide for state militias, not for individuals to run around with pistol on their belts or in their purses. The NRA is way out of line.

    • The biggest issue I have is with the NRA’s hypocrisy – and comes into play with your last sentence. They constantly claim to defend law-abiding citizens, but reject any attempt to ensure just law-abiding citizens can purchase guns.

      • The NRA is a law abiding organization. Stolen guns are the main source of weapons used in crimes.

  4. If there’s nothing to be scared about then why make a fuss over it? There are only 5 Million NRA members out of 319 Million people in ‘merica … I also don’t see why this Canadian author is so overworked by a US issue. You won’t understand anyways … just know that the 2nd protects the 1st and without that you wouldn’t have a job.

    • The first amendment is about freedom of speech, which is not enforced at the end of a barrel of a gun, but by common consent. No, we don’t need gun-loving people like you to keep our free speech.

      • You totally misunderstand the concept of rights, Mr. Willow. The Anglo concept of rights holds that we are born free, and that only government can take our rights from us. We can relinquish such rights only by common consent. The only thing that can prevent government from running roughshod over the rights of the citizenry without their consent is an armed citizenry. A government armed against an unarmed citizenry can manufacture common consent. It cannot against an armed citizenry.
        In Canada, we saw the abuses against property law rights that was C-68. We have multiple levels of governments involved in lawsuits seeking to deprive lawful enterprises (the tobacco industry) of what remains of their lawfully earned and retained after-tax profits. In the United States, we have seen the IRS target individuals and groups based upon their conservative beliefs. Thus we know that the desire to expand the reach and scope of government without consent is alive and well.
        People like me completely get it that people like you have no qualms about the expansion of government authority. You like government authority, especially if it enforces an orthodoxy that matches your own. But, people like me don’t trust people like you, and are willing to arm ourselves just in case you actually are what we fear you are.
        That’s why the 2nd amendment matters. It doesn’t just protect the 1st amendment. It helps ensure the protection of all the amendments. If you can repeal the 2nd amendment, you can repeal ALL the amendments to the US Constitution.

        • If you really cared about defense of rights and freedoms, you would get a law degree instead of a pistol.

          • There were a lot of people with law degrees sent to Stalin’s and Mao’s “re-education camps”, where they died slow, painful, ugly deaths.

          • In Canada these camps have names like Okotoks and Ponoka.

        • Bill….Bill….wake up. You were just having a dream.
          You’re still in Red Deer

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