Anti-Gun Academics Have Novel Suggestion to 'Reform' NRA

AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File

And by "novel", I mean incredibly stupid. 

The NRA has been shedding members and losing money hand-over-fist for the past few years, but it has nothing to do with the stances that the 2A group has taken. But in a lengthy piece on the future of the NRA, Courthouse News Service gave extensive space to two anti-gun academics who say that if the NRA wants to regain the trust of gun owners it should start moderating its support for pro-2A policies.. or even get out of political advocacy altogether.

“The NRA was involved in politics before, but not to the same degree and certainly not as political, not as extremist, not as incendiary [in its] rhetoric,” said Robert Spitzer, a political science professor at SUNY Cortland specializing in gun legislation.

LaPierre wasn’t the sole reason for the shift in the NRA’s messaging, Spitzer added. Also at play were a 1977 revolt by hardliners, as well as the group’s former partnership with Ackerman McQueen, the controversial PR firm said to be deeply intertwined with the NRA’s spending issues. Still, as a fundraising savant and longtime face of the organization, he said LaPierre deserves credit for making those changes stick.

Deviating away from that strategy could be risky, Spitzer added, as it could make it more difficult to mobilize the base and raise cash. But “on the other hand, there are plenty of gun people in America — certainly many who left the NRA and who turned their back on it — because of the path that it went down,” he added. Moving back towards the political center “would mean winning some of those people back.” 

A vast majority of Americans and even most NRA members support comprehensive background checks. The NRA’s unwillingness to budge on gun reform may not be helping its popularity, particularly as gun violence and mass shootings in the United States show no signs of slowing down.

“I think in general, most Americans, even a lot of Republicans, would at this point see the gun control side as being the more reasonable side,” said Matthew Lacombe, a gun politics professor at Case Western Reserve University. He believes that the NRA can avoid the political issue entirely by getting back to its roots: building robust firearms programs around the country to teach gun safety and host shooting sports.

I'm all in favor of the NRA strengthening its non-political wing, but it's just wishcasting for Spitzer and Lacombe to suggest that the NRA should exit the political arena or tack to the center on Second Amendment issues. Neither professor are what you'd call big fans of the Second Amendment or the NRA; Spitzer believes the Supreme Court got it wrong in Heller, and says there is no individual right to keep and bear arms, while Lacombe has said it's "depressing" that the gun control debate is "shaped by the nature of US democracy". It sucks that gun owners get a say, in other words. 

To make matters worse, CNS reporter Erik Uebalacker crafted his story to make it look like 2A advocates agree with Spitzer and Lacombe. 

Some reformers at the NRA agree. “We don’t need to be actively talking about abortion, prayer in schools, immigration policy,” [Jeff] Knox said.

It's one thing to say that the NRA should be a single-issue organization. On that, I'm in full agreement with Knox. But that doesn't mean that the NRA should muzzle itself on Second Amendment issues, which is what the professors are suggesting. 

The reform that I and many other members would like to see has almost nothing to do with the NRA's political positions. It's about the wasteful spending and lack of oversight that have been documented. It's not just fancy suits and private jets either. Why, for instance, did the NRA spend $7 million trying to stop former NRA-ILA head Chris Cox from collecting his $2 million buyout, as was revealed during the NRA's civil trial in New York? Heck, the same could be said about the organization's spending to defend Wayne LaPierre, only to see him step down just days before the trial began. 

Now that LaPierre is no longer in charge of the organization (at least on paper), most of the NRA Board of Directors, led by President Charles Cotton, have circled the wagons. Astonishingly, no interim board meeting has been held since the civil trial concluded, and there are all kinds of rumors about what will happen at the next board meeting; from turning the organization into a non-profit to the NRA declaring bankruptcy. NRA President Charles Cotton's position is that any and all wrongdoing has now been dealt with by the courts and through internal measures, the organization is thriving, and its future is "bright and secure.”

You want to know what needs to change? NRA members need to stop hearing this Baghdad Bob B.S. from its leaders. We need honesty. We need transparency. Most importantly, we need a chance to institute those reforms by bringing in new blood, but with the way the NRA's elections are structured, it's impossible to substantially change the board's composition in a single election. 

Knox told Courthouse News Service that he'd be okay with Judge Joel Cohen kicking every current member off the board and holding new elections, and once again, I'm in agreement. I told Stephen Gutowski on the Reload podcast after LaPierre resigned that every board member should do the same; not because I believe every single one of them should be replaced, which is not the case, but because it would an act of service to NRA members by giving us the chance to institute real reform from within, instead of having it imposed on the organization by the courts.

I don't know what the future holds for the NRA, but I'm not worried about the organization giving up on its Second Amendment advocacy or becoming the next 97 Percent. I'm concerned about its ability to exist as something other than an entity raising money to pay off its legal fees. Even when misspending was at its most profligate the NRA had enough funds at its disposal to do valuable work in lobbying, litigation, education, training, and competitive shooting. The organization is a shadow of itself compared to just a few years ago, and I'll know that the NRA has turned a corner when it has leadership that's not afraid to admit that's the case.