Forbes Article on Why NRA Won

Forbes outlines the five reasons the NRA won the recent gun control debate. I think it’s excellent, and well worth reading:

I’m going to share with you 5 reasons why the NRA won, and they have nothing to do with the often reported reasons like their PAC funds, their ability to turn out pro-gun voters in every legislative district, and the abundance of their skilled in-house and external lobbyists, although those are all true.

They simply execute the basics extremely well. As NRA volunteer Robert in Arizona told his fellow members about the basics, “Thanks for emailing your U.S. Senator, but you have to also write a letter or send a hand written postcard. No one ever tripped on a bag of email.” The good news is the tactics the NRA employed that no one is talking about are things that you can implement in your next persuasion battle. In addition, there were some mistakes made by gun control advocates that unwittingly aided the NRA.

I think she mostly gets it right, and it’s definitely one of the most serious looks at the dynamics of the pro-gun side of the issue I’ve seen from the traditional media in this late struggle.

One thing I think Ms. Showalter might discount a bit in her piece is that quite a bit of the grassroots power in gun rights comes through spontaneous and informal organizing, which makes me wonder whether she’s ever read Brian Anse Patrick’s The Rise of the Anti-Media. Patrick argues our success largely driven by the fact that we’ve constructed our own “horizontal interpretive communities.” I think that ought to be required reading for anyone trying to understand this issue.

One of the biggest mistakes the anti-gun crowd makes is to fail to understand their enemy. NRA is a manifestation of the gun rights movement, the gun rights movement was not created by the NRA. If the anti-gun folks could wish NRA out of existence tomorrow, we would quite quickly create an alternative. I believe the role the NRA plays, and has played in the gun rights movement has been supremely important, even if they haven’t always gotten everything right all the time.

I found this article a bit amusing, because I usually tend to think NRA as a whole, by which I mean to include its members and not merely leadership, is firing on maybe 5 out of 8 cylinders on a good day, though since Obama has started this latest push, I’d say we’ve been maybe 6 out of 8 in terms of our game. There’s still room for improvement. But many of our opponents really can’t grasp the depth of this issue; they think the NRA is the tip of the spear, when it many ways, it’s really the tip of the iceberg. Sometimes I wonder if the reason they think of gun rights as a spear, rather than an iceberg, is that in their more honest moments, they might wonder whether they are passengers on a political Titanic.

15 thoughts on “Forbes Article on Why NRA Won”

  1. If there’s a single mistake the anti-gun crowd makes about the NRA, it’s that they think it runs the way their own national groups run–centralized control, run by a few activists, and largely independent of grassroots input. They never believe me when I say that the NRA gets bullied around by its members from time to time. They faithfully believe that the NRA issues orders and talking points to pro-gun people, because that’s what groups like MAIG and other left-wing activist groups do. They refuse to believe that the pro-gun movement is authentically grassroots. To believe that would produce too much cognitive dissonance. The people are against guns, after all–everyone knows that.

    Let’s just say I’m not all that eager to disabuse them of their ignorance.

  2. As NRA volunteer Robert in Arizona told his fellow members about the basics, “Thanks for emailing your U.S. Senator, but you have to also write a letter or send a hand written postcard. No one ever tripped on a bag of email.”

    Hey, I know that guy!

  3. That’s the biggest thing I run into when talking to anti-gunners. They don’t understand the NRA. They don’t get the fact that it runs because of us, not the other way around. Until they understand that fact, they will never truly beat us.

  4. I’m mulling the metaphor, “tip of the iceberg.” It doesn’t quite work for me, but it’s late, and for now I can’t think of another.

    The tip of the iceberg drifts with the 90 percent that is underwater. It doesn’t lead. Maybe the NRA does get bullied by its membership now and then (though I personally can’t think of an example since maybe 1977, and even that can be argued) but for better or worse, I have mostly seen it telling a largely inattentive membership what to think, and when to think it, sometimes playing real hardball with any dissidents who have remained awake and have enough visibility to effectively question it. In other words, it leads, in a very un-tip-of-the-iceberg way. (I will avoid any of my Old Stories, but for examples I’m thinking of it going to bat to provide cover for anti-gun pols that had been stabbing us in the back only 3 – 5 years earlier. Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey come to mind as examples of relatively recent NRA endorsees that dissidents had already flagged for what they were.) In general, people who will chortle about the “low information voter,” can themselves be led to forget things they experienced firsthand, as long as the right song-and-dance comes choreographed on a blaze-orange postcard. I call that leadership!

    1. What you dismiss as inattentive behavior from the NRA membership is perfectly logical behavior… its just simple division of labor. The “bulk of the iceberg” is busy dealing with work, family, mowing the lawn, cleaning the gutters, and the million and one other aspects of life that mean they dont have time to read the gun blogs, watch press conferences, and parse legislation. They joined the NRA so someone could do that for them… and it does a fine job of it.

      Yes, you can make a fine gourmet dinner in your own kitchen, but sometimes you just want to li e your life and let the dude at Corner Piazza Joint handle dinner. The NRA might not be perfect, but they deliver.

      1. You are absolutely, totally right, but that was part of my poorly-made point: As a whole our “movement” is not imbued with much more awareness than any other group of voters, and therefore is just as subject to manipulation for “other,” unidentified motives, as the people we like to dismiss as “dupes” or “low information.”

  5. My favorite quote in the article:

    “Michael Bloomberg has tons of money and holds himself in high regard”


  6. IMO the NRA is not extreme enough. all they do is stem the coming tide. our guns rights have already been eroded. how about repeal of hughes? disban/weaken the ATF? repel EO on sporting arms imports?

    the NRA is the least worst organization we have. it only maintains the current state of affairs and doesnt push the pendulum in favor of direction

    1. The NRA – like our whole community – pushes where we can possibly get traction. You have to time things for when they are ready, or risk overplaying your hand and losing credibility. It’s not about avoiding risk; it’s about avoiding tactics which diminish your power of persuasion.

      Example (mentioned in the article): The AW ban was not going to pass this year, in this bill or any other. It was a massive over-reach. Pretty much everyone knew it, so much so that even harry Reid pulled it from the original bill. But it was put up as a floor vote, anyway. It poisoned the overall bill. Everything that was attached to what once had the AW Ban was also poison. The stealth gun control measures in Toomey/Manchin might not have been so widely noted if the AW ban had never come up, at all. It is quite possible that something would have passed this year had the gun control people not over-shot their mark and gone for broke with an AW ban. Think about that: the primary reason (probably) we don’t have more laws against us is because the other side lost their power of persuasion by poisoning their own well. They misread Newtown. Had they gone for background checks first and only – ignoring bans and the like – they would have passed something like Toomey/Manchin and all it’s stealth provisions.

      Apply that lesson to the NRA and machine guns. They – as citizen representative – can ask a friendly lawmaker to introduce a bill that overturns the MG restrictions. It would not pass either chamber. Would not even come close. So we gain nothing, but also open the door to claims we are “extremists”. Without significant long-term education, most Americans simply are not going to accept ‘machine guns on the street’.

      We don’t want the NRA to make the mistakes the gun control people make. The next time Toomey, Manchin or anyone puts up a gun control package of “sensible” reforms, we will all know the real end game as described by the people behind the moves. They cannot unring that bell. Likewise, if the NRA pushed legislation that causes a knee-jerk reaction in most people, they would also lose credibility. In this debate, credibility matters.

      Before taking too hard a view of the NRA, keep in mind they have been pushing a system recognition of carry permits between states. That is a big deal, and would be a huge win. They are pushing it because it actually could pass in the next few years. One thing at a time.

      I am not an NRA spokesperson, model or even an apologist. Frankly I think they have been asleep at the wheel post-McDonald in educating people about a civil right. They have been reticent to actually go on TV nationwide and run ads that say, “This is a civil right” and to frame the restrictions against it in harsh historical terms. I think that might soon change, but we’ve been wasting time in between. The grassroots groups can only do so much. The big guns are needed for that kind of transformation.

      1. Great point: We need PSA’s on radio/TV/internet educating people on the reason and need for a strong Second Amendment. We need to do this between the Aurora’s and Newtown’s, so when the next evil idiot strikes, the low-information voter has a point of reference for our arguments. The Rob Lowe’s of the world could be our celebrity spokesmen, and the Julie Golob’s could appear on the mom blogs.

        We might have trouble getting the Leftist media to run our ads in the first place, but this is a campaign well worth implementing!

  7. Post-9/11 and post-anthrax, does anyone in an elected official’s office ever trip over a bag of snail mail either? When I read cautions on my employees’ websites about physical mail being substantially delayed, I assume that rather a lot of it is round-filed. If it isn’t, I’ll start following up the e-mails with letters.

    1. I’m sure “tripping over a bag of snailmail” was a metaphor.

      The point is to maximize the amount of work you force legislators and their staff to do. That’s what will get their attention and make them remember us.

      Email is better than nothing, but it can be replied to with an effortless click of a mouse. A snailmail letter first clutters up the office in some way, then requires someone to physically transcribe your return address to generate the otherwise automated reply. It is a pain in the ass. An email is a minimal pain in the ass, easily forgotten.

      BTW, they don’t care what you think, much beyond thumbs-up, thumbs-down, if that, so don’t waste your time with a “long, thoughtful letter,” regardless of your medium. Your goal is to register thumbs-up or thumbs-down, and maximize the amount of work that must be done to acknowledge the communication, while minimizing the amount of energy you expend yourself.

  8. I didn’t originate this, but swiped it and sent it to 2 different newspapers, first time in 2002. It also shows why we win:


    You published a letter in your May 8 edition from a John J. Burkhart that maligned the National Rifle Association and its members. Just who IS the NRA, anyway? Let’s see:

    The NAACP claims to be the largest and oldest civil rights organization, with a membership “exceeding 500,000” and was founded in 1909.

    The ACLU claims to be “the nation’s foremost advocate of individual rights”, but can muster only a measly 275,000 members. It was founded in 1920.

    The Southern Poverty Law Center claims “more than 400,000 individual supporters throughout the country”, but is a realative newby at only 25 or so years old.

    Who does that leave?

    Why, the largest civil rights organization in the country, by far- The National Rifle Association. Its 4 million plus members dwarf the puny size of all three of the above-mentioned groups. It was formed in
    1871- thirty-eight years before the NAACP.

    Add up the 1,175,000 members of the above groups and add the “million” members of the ANTI-civil rights group Handgun Control and they’re STILL not as large as the NRA.

    The above numbers can be verified by perusing the groups’ respective Web Sites.

    To answer my own question above: “I’m the NRA” (along with 4+ million others).

Comments are closed.