It’s long been clear that when the anti-gun media talks about the NRA, they really mean the gun rights movement as a whole. The NRA has just been a handy sort of shorthand for them.
Or was it?
While it’s clear they mean the entire pro-Second Amendment community when they say NRA, stories covering the recent upheaval in the organization suggest that no, they don’t actually realize there’s more to this side of things that Wayne LaPierre.
And a lot of the coverage has a lot of wishful thinking. Take this one from Talking Points Memo as an example.
Wayne LaPierre announced on January 5 that he’s retiring as executive vice president of the National Rifle Association. He cited “health problems” as the reason for his resignation, but many speculate he left because of the NRA’s failing financial and political health.
Is the NRA on its last legs? And, if so, will the U.S., free of the NRA’s toxic influence, eventually be able to end its distinction as the nation with the highest rate of gun-related deaths and injuries?
We’re off to a good start, aren’t we?
The second paragraph, of course, sets the tone for everything else. Yes, the NRA is struggling, but it’s pretty clear that the author thinks the NRA is the only thing that is blocking gun control–and that gun control is an unquestionable solution to all of our violent crime-related ills.
From here, they go into the well-documented issues we’ve seen with the organization in recent years, going into this:
In the wake of these revelations, many board members resigned over concerns about LaPierre’s mismanagement and lavish spending. Many rank-and-file members have also quit over the organization’s misguided leadership and extremism. NRA membership has dropped from about 5.2 million in 2018 to about 4.2 million today and is likely to continue falling.
This is the wishful thinking.
Of course, it’s plausible that the membership will continue dropping, but I don’t think they understand why it’s dropping. It’s not because people have stopped supporting gun rights.
While a lot of NRA executives don’t talk to the rank and file gun owner, I do. A lot of people have backed away from the organization not because the NRA isn’t willing to budge on gun control but the opposite. They think the NRA is far too willing to give ground.
Then there’s the fact that a lot of them didn’t like how LaPierre did business. They stopped renewing memberships because they didn’t want to support how they saw LaPierre spending the money.
Yet to assume that will continue even with LaPierre gone might be a tad premature. It really depends on how the NRA responds to this situation. So far, I’ll admit, TPM might have a point. Yet that’s not a done deal, either, so there’s hope.
Of course, TPM also engages in a bit of hypocrisy.
Although he liked to portray the NRA as representing grassroots gun owners, LaPierre was a corporate lobbyist and his major clients were the corporations whose profits grow when there are few restrictions on the sale and ownership of guns and ammunition. By 2022 only 39% of NRA revenues came from its members. Under LaPierre’s leadership, the bulk of its budget came from gun manufacturers. At least 22 manufacturers of arms, ammunition and accessories donate to the NRA, including some of the largest like Sturm, Ruger & Company and Smith & Wesson. The NRA’s largest donor was the late Robert E. Petersen, a gun collector, hunter, and publisher whose magazines included Guns & Ammo. He and his wife Maggie gave $56 million to the NRA and its affiliates.
It’s funny to me because while 39% isn’t more than half, they don’t blink and presented Everytown as if it’s a grassroots organization despite its funding coming from billionaire Michael Bloomberg.
More than that, though, they kind of miss the point.
While less than half of the NRA’s funding might come from individuals, most of their power actually came from there.
Sure, they might have been able to donate to political campaigns with money from the gun industry, but they could deliver votes based on the membership. Not just members, though, but a lot of non-members who also value gun rights would reference a candidates NRA grade before deciding who to vote for.
That’s been a core part of the gun rights movement.
But hey, this is Talking Points Memo. They also made this leap in “logic.”
LaPierre not only dramatically expanded the NRA’s ties to the gun manufacturers, gun dealers, shooting ranges, and pro-gun magazines, but also maneuvered the organization into a close alliance with white supremacists, white evangelical Christian nationalists, and other extremists aligned within the gun rights movement.
For example, Benjamin Pollack, an active participant in the Tea Party movement, opened the Rapture Guns and Knives store, in North Lakeland, Florida in 2012, to serve “your gun and knife needs til Jesus comes.” Its Facebook page describes it as a “Christian owned Gun and Knife store” and its motto is “Walking by faith with steel in our hands.” Three of the store’s employees — his son Johnny Pollack, his daughter Olivia Pollack, and Joseph Hutchinson — were indicted for participating in the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., including for assaulting law enforcement officers. “Our country is being taken away from us,” said Benjamin Pollack. “And if we don’t do something about it, it’ll be gone.”
The Pollack family, fervent Trump supporters, is in sync with LaPierre, who was a regular presence at gatherings of extreme right-wing groups over the years, and whose paranoid warnings about the threat of liberal tyranny were meant to scare Americans into buying more guns and joining the NRA. For example, in a speech at the 2012 Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, LaPierre said that President Barack Obama was part of a “conspiracy to ensure re-election by lulling gun owners to sleep.” Obama’s plan, he claimed, was to “erase the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights and excise it from the U.S. Constitution.”
OK…still waiting to see the white supremacy and other forms of extremism.
Look, if you don’t want to agree with what LaPierre was saying, that’s fine, but you need to provide more to claim that the NRA, under LaPierre’s leadership was “linked” to various forms of right-wing extremism. Especially since we can definitely find anti-gunners supporting Black Lives Matter riots.
Moreover, a lot of people in the gun rights movement didn’t particularly care where LaPierre went to speak. They were worried about protecting our right to keep and bear arms. Remove the threat to that and LaPierre isn’t likely to have been speaking to anyone.
And they never seem to present the blatant and continuous assault on a constitutional right as extremism. The only thing they paint as extremist is the idea of defending that right. It’s insane.
And honestly, it doesn’t get any better.
But at the heart of things, there’s this idea that with Wayne LaPierre out of the way, there’s a chance the NRA can be bullied into silence.
Even if that’s true, it won’t matter.
As the NRA’s legal issues have grown, they’ve moved more and more out of the spotlight. As a result, other groups are picking up the slack left behind. Most notably, the NSSF which represents the gun industry. Contrary to what some may think, the interests of gun rights supporters and the gun industry tend to be pretty aligned for what should be obvious reasons.
But at no point in this piece do I see anything that really shows the writer even tried to understand gun rights advocates, the gun rights movement, or literally anything about this side of the debate. Instead, it pushes an anti-gun narrative and ponders whether the NRA is, in essence, dead as a threat.
If so, they better cry, because the NRA was willing to try to work with the situation and try to compromise to minimize the impact. Everyone else in the gun rights debate will simply fight a war to the knife to protect our rights.