Dave Kopel notes an April Reuters/Ipsos poll which shows the organization with a favorability rating of 68%, and an unfavorable rating of 32%. This is up from the 60/34 percent in a 2005 Gallup poll. Prof. Kopel notes that NRA’s favorability rating seems to track opposition to handgun prohibition. That reminds me of a passage from his paper I recently read:
Heston saw the broader fight as a contest for the hearts and minds of the American people. In the long run, they believed, the NRA needed a broad base of public support from citizens who saw the NRA as it sees itself—a civic organization dedicated to mainstream American values. Knox wanted the NRA to be feared. LaPierre and Heston wanted it to be loved.
The NRA’s traditionally positive reputation with the American public had been falling, thanks in large part to HCI’s efforts (strongly supported by much of the media) to delegitimize NRA, because HCI correctly perceived that as long as NRA was strong and popular, much of HCI’s agenda would be politically impossible to achieve. Gun control advocates sniffed that Heston was merely putting a sunny face on the same old gun rights zealotry. But in the aftermath of the second ouster of Knox, LaPierre was able to firmly steer the NRA away from Knox-style absolutism. Unlike Knox, LaPierre favored the National Instant Check System. At the same time, there was no going back to the days of Franklin Orth. The NRA was not absolutely opposed to every possible gun control, but except for instant checks and laws aimed at criminals, there were not many gun controls which the NRA did support. The Heston/LaPierre strategy worked. By the early 21st century, the NRA was viewed favorably by 60% of Americans, and unfavorably by 34%.
Ideally, NRA should want to be both simultaneously loved and feared. Our success has had to depend on a measure of both, so it’s my opinion that the influence of both Knox and LaPierre has been necessary for the gun rights movement to achieve what it has. Dave has more background on this in his paper, citing heavily from the book “The Gun Rights War,” that was compiled and annotated by Neal Knox’s son Chris. I could encourage everyone to read both, because you can’t find out where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been.
There are many people on our side, however, that don’t believe public opinion makes a difference, as long as we’re reaching our own people. That 68% of the population views NRA favorably is not the same as saying they agree with NRA’s on every line time. Most of the people polled are not NRA members, and are not really involved in this fight. But their acquiescence is absolutely necessary if we’re going to keep achieving victory.