I know I promised everyone some posts this weekend, but I had some beautiful-weather-induced writer’s block and just didn’t get it out. But now it’s been long enough since Annual Meeting that is now or never, and it’s time to address some remaining issues. I’ve been having a post running around in my head since I read this article by Charles C.W. Cooke in National Review talking about NRA possibly becoming a victim of its own success, but I haven’t been able to quite figure out how to pull all myÂ thoughts together. Â Cooke’s entire article is well worth your time, but allow me to quote the part that I wish to discuss in the remainder of this post:
The National Rifle Association is successful because it is popular, because its members are highly engaged, because it is defending a right that is enumerated in the nationâ€™s founding document and a tradition that is cherished by members of both major political parties, because its opponents routinely embarrass themselves with their hysteria and with their lack of rudimentary knowledge about the topic at hand, and, most of all, because it is a single-issue organization that maintains its focus. But this yearâ€™s conference was not particularly focused; indeed, at times it was almost indistinguishable from the Republican National Convention.
I’ve always given NRA a good bit of leeway when it comes to putting on Annual Meeting because they are constantly driven to bring more and more people out to the show in order to keep setting records, and a lot of people are drawn in by the speakers. Whatever the downsides to NRA’s strategy, it’s hard to argue that they are failing. Houston will be a tough number to top, but since I’ve been going to Annual Meeting, since about 2007 or so, the trend has been nothing but upwards. The first year I went, to St. Louis in 2007, the attendance number was a record, at 64,000 and change. If NRA drew that number today, all the media headlines would be how the organization is losing influence, and how it’s members are losing interest. So I understand the pressure to keep the message appealing to as large an audience as possible.
But there is taking it too far, and losing your focus. I get that NRA can’t really control what Sarah Palin is going to say when she gets up on stage, but can you tell me what it has to do with gun rights enough to retweet it from official NRA social media? I’m also concerned about Tam’s post, who notes:
Hey, you coming down to the show?” I asked the waiter at my local hipster in-town brewpub. I knew he liked guns; he’d just gotten his first AR-15 and often helped man a table at the big Indy 1500 fun shows.
“Nah,” he replied, “I’m not an NRA member. I’m pro gun, but I’m a liberal,” as though setting foot on the convention floor to look at Aimpoint scopes and the Magpul bus would be like signing on to support everything from the invasion of Iraq toÂ HJR-3.
But Tam isn’t the only one. There’s also Â this article in the TimesHerald-Record, that while a bit ignorant guns, and the gun issue, isn’t someone who I think is reflexively on the other side, because her son is a gun person:
And then stuff like last week’s big NRA annual meeting in Indianapolis and Sarah Palin’s speech about Mama Grizzlies and “clownish little kumbaya-humming, fairytale-inhaling liberals” and how we should baptize terrorists by water boarding and that gun-free zones in places like schools are “stupid on steroids.”
The crowd loved her. But I have to wonder how many people, and for how long, will continue to go for that sort of shtick. It always seems to me to be so angry, us-versus-them, and so suspicious of anything or anyone that doesn’t conform to a narrow definition of “American.”
If we’re going to have long term security for this issue, it needs to be bipartisan. I believe the Republican Party may enjoy some short-term success over the next several years, if only because of overreach by the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. But over the long-term, if the Republicans do not adjust their own message to be more palatable to younger voters, demographics will turn to the Democratic Party into the dominant party. And then what? Any strategy for preserving gun rights has to recognize that there are a lot of gun people out there who are not doctrinaire conservatives, and even liberals. I’m always surprised by how many liberal gun owners read this site.
While I recognize that the gun issue can’t stand on its own, without being part of a broader coalition, I also recognize that if you lash yourself too strongly to one ship, you’re going to be SOL if it sinks. For starters, I think it’s time to recognize that Sarah Palin is washed up; she’s a has been. But that’s just for starters. There’s a lot of people very strongly associated with NRA who I think have diminishing utility as the face of the organization.
That said, there’s a lot NRA is doing right on this front, such as cultivating speakers and spokespeople for the organization that aren’t Wayne, and don’t fit most people’s stereotypes of NRA. See this video:
Not many stereotypes on parade there, and it’s a really well-done video. But just one problem; could someone explain to me what it has to do with the Second Amendment? This was NRA’s big video this year, and they were promoting the hell out of it. But I actually liked this one much better:
I fear NRA is lashing itself too strongly to a sinking ship (the GOP coalition as it is currently composed), and broadening its message too far beyond the Second Amendment. While this might help getting more doctrinaire conservatives on board, it’s not helping cultivate the next generation of NRA members, who are going to be far less conservative (in the sense we understand the term today) than those that came before them.