The NRA bills itself as the nation’s oldest civil rights group, and I think that’s a pretty accurate picture. They’ve arguably been one of the more effective groups, at least over the last few decades. After all, how many other groups are used as the boogieman for an entire movement?
In fact, the the NRA name is brought up as a proxy for all gun rights groups, which is probably equal parts infuriating and flattering to them, I’d think.
But are they dying?
An article at Newsweek tries to make the case that it is.
In 2013, Wayne LaPierre, head of the National Rifle Association, boasted that the advocacy group was experiencing unprecedented growth and was on track to have 10 million members.
Ten years on, that’s not how things have worked out. In fact, the NRA‘s membership has shrunk to less than half that, according to some reports, and with declining membership have come declining revenues. That’s a cause for celebration among anti-gun groups, who have told Newsweek it is proof that Americans are increasingly outraged by gun violence.
The truth is not quite so simple—but it is clear that the NRA is fading fast from what was once a central position in U.S. politics.
Now, this is a pretty bold claim, but the author doesn’t just make it and expect you to take it at face value. She provides some reasons why this is happening.
In particular, she argues that the NRA’s victories are new fewer and father between, especially following things like Las Vegas and Parkland. Even with a GOP-controlled Congress and a Republican in the White House, for example, getting suppressors off the NFA list just didn’t happen.
Then there’s the argument that the NRA isn’t as big as it once was.
Since then its membership has declined to 4.3 million, CEO and executive vice president LaPierre revealed in a January board meeting, according to a report by The Trace, a nonprofit covering gun violence.
Ten years prior, he had said the group had 5 million members.
“The state of the NRA is stronger and larger than it has ever been,” LaPierre told more than 3,000 NRA members at its annual meeting in 2013. “Our commitment to freedom is unwavering and our growth is unprecedented. … By the time we’re finished, the NRA must and will be 10 million strong.”
The declining membership is coupled with declining revenue. The NRA raised $213 million in 2022. This marks a 52 percent drop in overall revenue and a nearly 59 percent drop in membership dues since 2016, according to Citizens for Ethics (CREW), a nonprofit government ethics and accountability watchdog organization.
Similarly, the $97 million it received from membership dues in the same year was down by more than 40 percent from its peak year, 2018, the BBC found. That same year, it was outspent by gun control groups for the first time in recent years, according to an analysis by from the Center for Responsive Politics, another nonprofit watchdog group.
The author then goes into the NRA’s well-documented legal troubles and how that might impact the NRA in the long term.
Couple all of this with the fact that we’re not seeing the NRA front and center in the public debate like we have in the past and it’s hard not to see how someone could look at the organization and figure it’s dying a slow and painful death.
But is it?
The group is contracting–that seems obvious based on all the numbers provided here–but the author also notes other gun rights groups that are ready to step into the predicted void. The pro-2A movement is diversifying, not dying, and while the NRA’s membership isn’t what it was or what was predicted, that doesn’t mean the organization is actually dying either.
The fact that there’s competition for the NRA means those displeased with how the organization is operating or which battles they’re fighting can find an organization more in line with their own values and ideas.
I wouldn’t be so sure to call that contraction a sign of a slow death. We’re talking about around 700,000 members over five years. That’s actually the same number as the article claims are members of the Second Amendment Foundation.
Look, I can be critical of the NRA and I feel there are legitimate reasons to be critical of them. However, while this article isn’t as biased as many I’d expect to see at a place like Newsweek, I think reports about the demise of the NRA are premature.
Moreover, the power of the NRA has always been as a beacon for gun rights supporters, even those who aren’t formally members of the group. As gun sales are still through the roof, the celebratory gun control groups that the author also talks about should face one very real fact of life: Even if the NRA goes away, the gun rights effort will not, and I don’t see the NRA going away any time soon.