Yesterday I asked, if our opponents were right about NRA leadership being to extreme and out of touch with members, why NRA has never had an insurrection of moderates, at least not since the Cincinnati Revolt in the late 70s. One reader, who comes at the issue from the opposing side, thought there might be a lot of reasons for that. They look at the polling numbers, and assume there should be a lot of wiggle room. But there is not as much as they suppose.
There is certainly a diversity among NRA members when you start to talk specific policy. I have no doubt if you roamed the floor of an Annual Meeting, randomly talking to people, you’d be able to find folks that have disagreements with NRA on some specific issues. Even I have disagreement with them on some key policy areas. The larger overall question is whether members buy into the NRA’s mission as a whole, which if they actively paying dues, they probably do. If you buy into the overall mission, when that orange post card shows up in the mail right before an election, you’re liable to give a lot of credence to what NRA has to say about particular candidates, even if you may have some specific disagreements on policy. In addition to an orange post card, an NRA endorsement typically brings volunteers, like myself, out in the days heading up to election day to stump for endorsed candidates. Indeed, my role as a volunteer coordinator is to work with endorsed campaigns, and get them the help they need. These factors are central to NRA’s power as an organization, and how they can be effective without the need for every single NRA member to agree on everything.
Another mistake our opponents make is to believe they can actually poll dues paying members. They can’t. Polling has shown that about 33 million people think they are members. A lot of people think that having bought a gun makes them a member, or having taken an NRA training course, or having attended an NRA event. Many of the folks that self-identify as NRA members to pollsters are not actually members, and many have never been members.
The third mistake our opponents make is thinking that most people who identify as NRA members have a deep understanding of the issue. There are certainly a lot of members who will run through American Rifleman and read the gun reviews, and pay scant attention to the politics of the issue. If you poll them about a question regarding terrorists and guns, they’ll of course tell you they favor your laws if they don’t really pay attention to the subtleties of the issue. Who wants terrorists getting guns? What about background checks? A lot of NRA members agree with that too, so if you poll them on universal checks, they’ll probably give a nod. But if you explain to them exactly what this is going to mean for their gun rights on each of these issues, you’ll lose them. If you explain to them that their buddy, if he shares a name with some IRA gun runner, and won’t be able to buy firearms, ever, without any recourse, because he’s a on a secret government list, they’d be appalled. If you explained to them that running all background checks through an FFL means it’ll cost them 50 bucks to transfer a gun to a friend or relative, many will balk at the prospect. If you explain that their shooting buddy could be facing a felony rap because he sold a gun to a friend privately, not realizing the law had changed, that also will lose a lot of supporters.
There’s two ways those who follow the issue peripherally can be educated. They can read NRA publications, follow online sources, or follow some of NRA’s other productions, like NRA News, or they can be educated when the bill passes, and their buddy ends up in trouble with the law for a private transfer, or they suddenly find their local gun shop won’t do 10 dollar transfers anymore, but now charge 50 dollars. They can find out when they go to buy a gun they are on some terror watch list, or their buddy can’t buy a gun because they are on the list. Or, like in 1994, they can find out that the assault weapons ban they thought only applied to machine guns actually applied to many common semi-automatic rifles and meant when you bought a new Glock you had to shell out 130 bucks for a pre-ban 15 or 17 round standard magazine. When our members find out this way, even Bill Clinton had to admit there was punishment at the polls.
Remember that in the last Senate and Governor’s race NRA hit up 715,000 households with a mailing for Pat Toomey and Tom Corbett, in an election where only 4 million Pennsylvanians voted. That puts NRA’s reach at about 20% of the electorate in Pennsylvania. Our opponents would do well to understand few politicians will take that kind of electoral reach lightly, no matter how many of Frank Luntz’s polls you put in front of them.
The reason you have no insurrection of moderates in NRA today is because there aren’t many people in the organization who are passionate about changing it. They may have specific disagreements here and there, but ultimately they buy into NRA’s mission, and when the chips are down, will take their orange cards into the voting booth and weigh it heavily when considering who to vote for. That’s the real source of NRA’s power; the credibility it has with Americans, gun owners, and particularly dues paying members.