Polling on the National Rifle Association

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.

14 thoughts on “Polling on the National Rifle Association”

  1. While some malign the NRA for very specific items… overall, it’s success has been incredible through strategic planning, branding, communication, and grass-roots effort against two left coasts and a liberal mainstream media…

    There is hardly another organization in the realm of politically-charged issues that enjoys that much favor-ability. I predict there will be many studies and dissertations on LaPierre’s leadership of the organization…

    Dann in Ohio
    Proud NRA Instructor and Member

    1. I wonder how much of that was being at the right place at the right time, in one of the world’s most representative political systems? (Compare to the much more common Westminster Parliamentary system where one party or coalition gets a monopoly on legislative and executive power for the period they can hold it, and the history of gun control in them). I.e. prior to assault weapons ban every bit of national gun-control legislation passed with the NRA’s support. That bill was a step too far, especially in conjunction with my next point:

      The other thing, which the national NRA wasn’t the strongest influence as I understand it, is the national sweep of shall issue state laws. The AW ban connection here is of course the popularity of concealable < .45 ACP handguns with normal magazine capacities greater than 10 rounds. In a recent discussion that touched on the "don't use reloads" advice, in one of the discussions it linked to our host wondered about the advisability of using magazines after the sunset of the ban that were marked "For law enforcement … use only". Emily of the Washington Times series fame had difficultly just getting her gun with a 10 round magazine since D.C. has that restriction.

      An Evil Black Rifle ban is an abstract evil if you don’t own one or particularly want to. A 10 round magazine limit is very concrete when you’re selecting your self-defense handgun (unless, of course, you worship at the alter of John Moses Browning and the 1911 as I do ^_^, and I’m pretty sure the ban did wonders for .45 ACP and the 1911 platform).

  2. It’s always worth rereading the old experts:
    This gives rise to an argument: whether it is better to be loved than feared, or the opposite. The answer is that one would like to be both, but since it is difficult to combine the two it is much safer to be feared than loved, if one of the two has to make way. For generally speaking, one can say the following about men: they are ungrateful, inconsistent, feigners and dissimulators, avoiders of danger, eager for gain, and whilst it profits them they are all yours… This is because friendships purchased with money and not by greatness and nobility of spirit are paid for, but not collected, and when you need them they cannot be used…
    Fear, on the other hand, is maintained by a dread of punishment which will never desert you.

      1. Ah, but the key, which I think we’ve seen play out since the 1994 election, is that the above advice works very well when aimed at our representatives. Nothing focuses their attention more than the prospect of being forced to spend more time with their families, or as Neal Knox was fond of quoting, “When I feel the heat, I see the light”.

        And that’s a perfectly fine example of representative government in action.

        1. And isn’t it cool that a book written to make fun of 16th century Italian prices is applicable to politics in a modern republic, but with the people taking the role of the ruler?
          The people writing between 1600 and 1800 had an uncanny ability to see observe and explain fundamental human nature.

          1. James Burnham, one of the 20th century’s most important conservative political writers, authored a fantastic book, The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom, on this (although to my knowledge Machiavelli was very serious when he wrote The Prince; this wasn’t his preferred political system (see his Discourses on Livy for that), it was just useful advice for a post-republican era of history).

            Greg Nyquist, the most helpful Amazon.com reviewer, puts it just like I would:

            […] it is without a doubt the best primer on political science ever written…. Burnham is no ideologue with an axe to grind. He merely seeks to describe how politics works in the real world of fact. In pursuit of this aim, he discusses five of the most scientifically rigorous of all political thinkers: Machiavelli, Vilfredo Pareto, Gaetano Mosca, Robert Michels, and Georges Sorel. Together, these thinkers represent, according to Burnham, the Machiavellian tradition in political thought. Machiavellians, Burnham tells us, regard politics as a science devoted to describing facts as they really are, not as one may wish them to be….

  3. Generally speaking, I think the same tactics–specifically, public outreach–that make the public love the NRA also make politicians fear it.

    That’s why I didn’t support endorsing Reid (yes, I’m aware they didn’t). It would have been the opposite of the tactics that have proven effective, replacing public outreach with smoke-filled room tactics. Put it this way: if Senate Majority Leader Reid had been simply Senator Reid, the NRA would have endorsed Sharron Angle.

  4. “. . .the NRA would have endorsed Sharron Angle.”

    And thereby lost the support of at least one gun owner and NRA member, and I suspect a few more.

    When there are no plausible candidates in a race, it is OK to sit on our hands and endorse no one. That alone sends a message. Endorsing wackadoodles just because they’ve learned some elementary RKBA rap sends another message, and IMO not a good one.

    1. I’ve met Sharron Angle, and she does not come across as a wackadoodle in person. That myth was spread by Bob Cashell, the wildly corrupt mayor of Reno.

  5. I’m afraid I’m going to have to disagree. The turn-around in the gun rights movement isn’t because of what the NRA has been doing, but because of what has been going on in the states.

    If there’s a single face to put in front of the change, it’s Marion Hammer.

  6. It has been said that the American Revolution had about 33% pro, 33% opposed, and 33% “on the fence”. Apparently, though, this estimate was taken from a letter of John Adams, who was expressing his opinion of American support for the French Revolution. Other estimates put American Support for the American Revolution to be about 66%.

    To me, this sounds about right. You aren’t likely to have a successful, freedom-establishing revolution, if you have large segments of the population who either don’t care, or who are outright opposed.

    Whether it is the NRA that is ginning up this support, or if it’s coming from other factors, it’s hard to say (and it’s most likely a combination of NRA’s policies from within, trying to get love, in a positive feedback loop with individuals who are gaining a better respect for the right to keep and bear).

    But, in any case, this favorable rating is a good sign: it means that the Revolution in favor of gun rights isn’t likely to go away! And it also means we’re more likely to win. :-)

    1. Indeed, I’d say NRA triumphalism is … insufficiently supported by this data.

      One proposition that I’m confident in, though, is that this reflects the continued re-normalization of guns in American society. Given how our betters portray the NRA (something that’s been noted to be of major influence to members), it’s very significant that this large a fraction of Americans are willing to express approval of it to a random phone surveyor.

  7. I think the Marine’s new(ish) slogan might be more apt in terms of NRA interaction with politicians. The facts seem to show that NRA support can be a measurable boost and NRA opposition can be a measurable detriment, so…

    “No better friend, no worse enemy.”

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