Why the NRA Model Works

If there’s one thing that we’ve got going for the gun issue over all of the other general “right of center” issues, it’s a reasonable sense of discipline from both parties. On the fiscal/limited government front, no group comes close – nor, in my experience, do they have any desire to gain such discipline in both parties or even in the one party they claim to support. Because of this lack of general consistency, it’s going to be very tough for these groups to accomplish their real goals instead of just racking up a symbolic win periodically.

The NRA model focuses on the issue first. While senior Democrats may be more openly hostile to gun rights than their GOP counterparts, by taking the view that you reward individual politicians, there’s a huge incentive to make gun rights a moderating issue for Democrats who want to represent more conservative districts. More importantly, by being willing to work just as hard for Democrats as Republicans who support the issue, the NRA has built a general trust with their members and politicians. As you can see, the results of this mean we’ve been fairly safe even as Congress has been lead by anti-gun extremists. Yes, we still have battles, but not nearly the battles we would have if more centrist Democrats didn’t have a huge perceived incentive to stick with us.

The only problem is that among right-of-center pundits and organizations, NRA really isn’t treated with the respect it deserves for taking an issue they all claim to care about – the Second Amendment – and helping foist it above the standard political fray. For other liberty-minded organizations, they should froth at the chance to see that kind of success. That doesn’t mean their battles go away, it just means they have much more say in transforming the political agenda. Perhaps they could open a serious discussion on entitlement reform if they had that kind of influence and respect.

As someone who has had experience working with some of the economic liberty-oriented organizations on the right, it’s disheartening as a believer in smaller government to see them hitching their wagons to the GOP even as the party rolls all over them. When an organization that focuses on earmark reform looks the other way when a GOP leader pushes for a mind-boggling large earmark that benefits his wealthy buddies, well, it means there’s never going to be a serious discussion about earmark reform. Because as long as the group only targets the Democratic earmarks, who cares? No need to reform, and the group will do the legwork for opposition research for future GOP candidates.

There’s a bit of challenge here for groups that promote economic liberty, in that economic liberty fits with the supposed GOP platform more than it does even a moderate Democratic platform. However, by not being consistent on the issues because the only friends they’ve got in Congress are steamrolling them, they aren’t likely to facilitate much in the way of tangible improvements.

NRA has benefitted by mostly raising itself up above partisan politics. Yes, they are known to support more Republicans than Democrats, but it’s most important that the Democrats know they can get a fair shake out of NRA if they stand with us on the issues. A Republican can’t call for a gun ban and still slip by with an A rating while a Democrat who says they might be swayed on a pigeon shoot restriction gets an F. That’s not to say their system is perfect or there haven’t been legitimate disputes. But those disputes are usually based on individual candidate circumstances rather than over party affiliation.

Sadly, until the economic liberty organizations can figure out how to hold both parties accountable, they won’t see much in the way of real reform.

8 thoughts on “Why the NRA Model Works”

  1. I realize you may not wish to point a finger at a particular free market lobby group but it would be helpful to have an example. I will point out one large example of NRA not being non-partisan in the 2008 elections.

    C+ Republican Senator John “gun show loophole” McCain was endorsed for president by the NRA over A+ rated (and NRA board member) former Representative Bob Barr (Libertarian).

    Of course other than that glaring example the NRA is OK.

  2. I don’t blame the NRA for the above decision. Realistically, Libertarian candidates have had about 0% chance of winning national elections, so I wouldn’t expect anybody to endorse one if they actually want to have some influence. I wonder if other groups could copy the NRA’s grading system, thus giving like-minded voters a quick and dirty way to see how their candidates stack up. Most of the problem in making decisions is the amount of time it takes to see how a candidate has voted on just a single issue, so if you can develop a system like the NRA’s that can tell people in 5 minutes where a guy stands that’s really helpful to the average voter.

  3. When we start talking about rewarding and punishing individual members of congress, it doesn’t hurt that the NRA has 4 million members and truckloads of cash. These other liberty organizations would certainly benefit from following the NRA model more closely, but that model requires at least a bit of sway and muscle. As much as it pains me to admit it, no congressman loses sleep if the American Enterprise Institute donates to their opponent and sends out mailers to its members.

    1. no congressman loses sleep if the American Enterprise Institute donates to their opponent and sends out mailers to its members

      No, no member of Congress would lose sleep over such a thing. But I can assure you that AEI leadership would be losing lots of sleep since they are a 501(c)3 that can’t lawfully engage in any of the activities you name.

      NRA did not start out with “4 million members and truckloads of cash.” First of all, they don’t have truckloads of cash. If they did, they could fully fund every single race and related PAC organizations. Unfortunately, they can’t. They earned what money they do have and the 4 million+ members by being steady on the issue and building their reputation.

  4. bombloader,
    I certainly presume that your reasoning is a possible reason why the NRA didn’t endorse Bob Barr. I maintain my complaint though as any investment company will tell you that past performance is no guarantee of future results. Bob Barr the person has been previously elected to a national level office. I don’t mind if the NRA has additional criteria so long as they are not subjective and actually laid down in writing. I wouldn’t have a complaint if the NRA said in their endorsement guidelines: BTW, no Libertarians.

  5. >> … and helping foist it above the standard political fray.

    I hope you mean hoist. Foisting is not praiseworthy.

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