More on a Lack of Drive to Moderate Within NRA

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.

14 thoughts on “More on a Lack of Drive to Moderate Within NRA”

  1. I guess I’m one of those moderates who just isn’t into pushing changes to the NRA, though I have a lot of gripes with the organization, especially in terms of its rhetoric. Still, it is indeed because I buy into the basic mission of the NRA to defend the 2nd Amendment against all comers that I send in my dues every year

    I’m a recently-joined member — signed up in 2010 — and what kept me from it before that was two things: a.) For a mainstream organization, NRA rhetoric, in official publications from duly authorized officers of the organization, has frequently had that “black helicopters” conspiracy theory feel to it; and b.) Because I’m not all that interested in guns–I find ’em fun to shoot and own a couple rifles, but find other activities generally more enjoyable.

    What pushed me to finally sign up, though, was that I came to realize that defending the 2nd Amendment *requires* an absolutist approach. You can’t allow it to be progressively dumbed down until it means nothing. Though I only minimally participate in the shooting world, I am glad that such a world exists for me to participate in. I doubt I will ever carry concealed or have any sort of a gun for self defense, but I am glad that should I ever change my mind, I can do so. And I like a world where people are treated as adults and trusted to behave responsibly with powerful tools. And all that means I’ve got to take the bad with the good if I want that world to continue to exist. I think the NRA is the most effective organization defending the right to bear arms, and so when it came time to put my money where my mouth was, they got the money.

    Yeah, I’ll still gripe about NRA rhetoric, but you’re right about me at least: What the NRA says about the candidates I’m voting for matters to me when I go to cast my vote.

    1. I’m not happy with all NRA’s rhetoric either, but understand much of the chicken little rhetoric is because sometimes that’s the only way you can get members to get off their asses and actually do something.

  2. Ahahaha, $10 transfers.
    The only real problems I have with NRA rhetoric are 1) some of it turns off people who would otherwise want to help (which is particularly important for demographic reasons), and 2) it’s stale. I mean, really now, the UN is about as threatening and relevant as the League of Nations these days…

    1. One of my criticisms of Wayne is that he doesn’t tailor his message to the audience he’s speaking to. How to appeal to a blue collar gun owner is going to be pretty different than appealing to a white collar professional. Much of Wayne’s rhetoric is geared to appear to the former. I also tend to think a lot of his rhetoric isn’t all that appealing to younger people. I think Wayne is great at appealing to NRA’s dominant demographic, but it’s not so great at appealing to demographics that could help expand membership.

      I think one of the great strengths of Charlton Heston was that he could speak to and appear to a very broad audience. He was also very well respected by NRA members, and the people NRA needs to reach. But you’ll only get someone like Heston once in a generation. Most people don’t have the gift of appealing that wide across a spectrum of people.

      On the UN matter, I think the UN is more of a threat than many realize. Certainly the blue helmet conspiracy types misstate the threat, but it would be a very bad thing for American shooters if the rest of the world refuses to export firearms and ammunition to us because our gun laws don’t comply with international standards. That is a very real threat.

      1. Agree with you on the U. N.. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is a gigantic threat to all kinds of freedoms we take for granted here in the U. S. It would impinge, minimally, on the 1st and 2nd amendments, and depending on how you implement some of the protocols, on the 4th as well. Should the U. S. ever sign on to that treaty (so far it has not been ratified in the Senate, thus is not binding), we essentially lose our sovereignty as a nation — treaty obligations trumping the Constitution. Not sure how this would all shake out in the end should it be ratified, but I’d rather not find out.

  3. I’ve never gotten one of those orange postcards either, not in the past twelve years.
    I think the rhetoric from some *other* pro-2A groups is more hysterical than the NRA.

  4. As a gun owner of libertarian philosophy, I can agree with distinctions in appeal such as white/blue collar, but what has been concerning me for quite awhile is an apparent deliberate appeal to social conservatives, and fundamentalist Christians, as if all NRA members fall into those classifications; with an implication that anyone who doesn’t isn’t quite a “Real Gunnie.”

    I’ll cite the following only as a recent example, that I haven’t found mentioned here: Unless it changed (I wasn’t there), the invited Sunday keynote speaker at the NRA Convention was retired Lt. General William Boykin, who has established a reputation as an anti-Muslim bigot of loon proportions. He has reportedly made statements such as, that Muslims should not be protected by the First Amendment, and has asserted that Muslims should not have the right to serve in our military; rather odd constitutional views for someone invited to speak to an organization that considers itself a defender of the constitution.

    The point is not what he said at the convention — I haven’t heard, so he must have behaved himself — but that of all the legitimately conservative clergymen who might have been invited to give a Sunday keynote address, someone who has made themselves controversial for reasons not at all related to NRA’s issues was chosen.

    I don’t know that Boykin has ever done anything in particular to advance gun rights. The appearance is that he was chosen as an attraction for his Christian Fundamentalist and knee-jerk anti-Muslim fans, a narrow identity that I don’t think the NRA should want if it sincerely intends to appeal to the millions of other gun owners in the United States who hold a whole spectrum of views on other issues.

    Again, the above is only an example, but one that speaks to the potential for the NRA to establish an identity not at all related to its charter, in an attempt to play a simple numbers game for members that appear easiest to attract, persuade, and exploit for donations.

    1. There have been speakers I’ve been less than thrilled with as well. I get that they have to invite speakers that will draw the draw the crowds in so that the story at a future NRA meeting that only draws 50,000 people doesn’t become “NRA’s waning influence,” but there has to be a balance, and as a whole, I agree that some of the invited speakers are questionable when it comes to what they’ve done for gun rights.

  5. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend you read Brian Anse Patrick’s “Rise of the Anti-Media”

    It points out that the anti-gunners reify polling data without ever investigating the depth of the opinions polled. Sure many people are cool with Gun Policy X if they don’t know any better, but the more they learn, the less they like it.

    That’s a bad place to be. Hoping that the people you want to regulate are too stupid to understand and too lazy to find out, but still motivated enough to support your idiot policy.

    With that sort of plan it’s not surprising that they are losing.

  6. “It points out that the anti-gunners reify polling data without ever investigating the depth of the opinions polled.”

    That’s an issue about polls in general that has long interested me. Among other things, it has occurred to me that so-called “unscientific polls” (e.g., internet polls where people seek to participate) actually do in some way measure “depth,” in the sense that they measure the opinions of people who care enough to seek to make their opinion known; as opposed to people who have no opinion until they’re buttonholed.

    But I have also gone so far as to say “public opinion doesn’t [necessarily] matter.” The illustrative example for me was, that about twenty years ago I was involved in trying to advance an issue in Pennsylvania, that in polls showed a minimum level of support of 85 percent; and in some demographics as high as 97 percent. But it never came close to going anywhere in the legislature, and it really wasn’t in legislators’ self-interest. An honest legislator explained to us that while we had a popular issue, it was a “process” issue that would not motivate any great number of voters in an election. No legislator would lose his job for not supporting it. So it would never go anywhere. And he was right — it never has.

    That is an illustration of the importance of voter motivation over voter opinion. It may be one of the things gun rights advocates will always have going for them. I have never seen evidence of anyone, anywhere, ever turning out to support an a candidate for being anti-gun, but we’ve all seen plenty of evidence of our side turning out to oppose them.

  7. “I get that they have to invite speakers that will draw the draw the crowds. . .

    I guess I feel like story-telling tonight, because here’s another of my real-life parables, this one regarding how the numbers game is played:

    In the same time-frame as my story above, I was an officer with a statewide political organization that like all organizations, ached to gain members and thereby demonstrate growing influence. As luck would have it, around that time a popular regional radio talk show host “discovered us,” and decided to promote us — but only as part of his shtick. He never spent so much as five minutes learning our platform or what our philosophy was based on. So, he would make up platform as he babbled and ranted along each day. And since he was of the “Great Conspiracy” persuasion, it was strange platform indeed. But, all of his longtime listeners, of a generally similar persuasion, came flocking to us. One day I called his show to correct a gross misstatement of our platform, and not only he, but my associates, were boiling mad at me. My associates preferred to have our platform slaughtered, rather than offend someone who was giving us literally thousands of dollars worth of free radio advertizing. And our numbers kept going up.

    But, our numbers went up so much that within a year or so the organization was thoroughly infused with Great Conspiracy believers, not to mention a generous sampling of racists, anti-semites, bizarre religious zealots, and general purpose crazies, all with loud public voices. And shortly their public presence resulted in the organization losing its public meeting venues, its access to friendly media, and the slowly growing support we had been experiencing in some areas, such as my county. Not much more than a year after that the organization had de facto ceased to exist, though technically a small handful of people, mostly dominated by the loons, kept it alive on paper. And the talk show host who had utilized the organization for shtick, had moved on to other things.

    The theme of course is that it is great to attract crowds, but sometimes you have to stop and think about who the crowds are made up of, and what the long term effect of their presence is going to be.

  8. And many gun owners think NRA is to moderate. I’m a member, but any donations go to JPFO or SAF.

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