Rumors of NRA’s Demise are Greatly Exaggerated

A lot of ink has been spilled over Professor Adam Winkler’s WaPo article predicting the demise of the NRA. Both John Lott, Bob Owens, and Eugene Volokh have taken on Prof. Winkler’s assertions. I think one of the big mistakes Winkler makes is assuming NRA’s locus of power is rural. It is not. It is suburban. I wish I could recall the citation to support that claim, but it’s a true claim. NRA’s power is weak in large metropolitan areas centered around restrictive cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, but in other more permissive metro areas, you’ll actually find where NRA gets is numbers. In Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh metro area is where NRA gets its big numbers. I’m sure you’ll find the same thing around Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston. Probably Phoenix too.

I tend to agree with Eugene Volokh’s position, that one can’t assume public opinion among minority groups is static. NRA was doing just fine when whites had a similar polling disparity on this issue. But that’s not to say NRA doesn’t have challenges ahead. Here are, as I see it, the big threats to NRA going forward:

  • Bloomberg is able and willing to spend big on the issue, and our movement is not one of rich elites. Gun folks tend to be middle-to-upper-middle class. You’ll find some of us in the millionaire to multimillionaire class, but you won’t find many of us at all among the billionaire class.
  • NRA’s power has traditionally been rooted in its ability to cultivate and deliver a large single-issue voting base that can swing close elections. It could do that because it had members in both parties. All the positive polling and new gun owners in the world aren’t going to help us if they don’t vote on the issue. If you’re a gun owner, and still voting for anti-gun progressives because of other issues, even if you don’t really agree with gun control, your opinion isn’t worth much to the movement because you’re not voting on it. Increasingly, Democratic politicians are believing that NRA’s numbers are baked into the existing Republican numbers, and that NRA can’t find enough new single-issue voters, or enough Democratic voters, to hurt them. NRA absolutely has to find more single-issue voters among all these new gun owners and new and growing gun culture demographics.
  • NRA’s membership is aging. Young people are not joiners and they do not participate in civil society. This is a problem facing all civic organizations, not just NRA. But it’s a nut that will have to be cracked. Eventually Wayne LaPierre will need to retire and let a younger face lead the NRA. I’ve never really felt like Wayne has spoken to my generation, and I’m 41 years old. NRA is also desparately in need of fresh ideas on the technology front. If you’re still doing cold calling for GOTV you’re not reaching young people, no matter how sophisticated your cold call system may be. The Orange Postcard is an NRA institution, but if you’re using mail, you are definitely not reaching young people. All my mail goes in a box until its time to sort it, and 90% of it is junk. I don’t even bother reading mail.

So I don’t lay awake at night worrying too much about the things Adam Winkler was writing about. I worry about the things above.


52 thoughts on “Rumors of NRA’s Demise are Greatly Exaggerated”

  1. A few things:

    First, NRA’s membership in NY likely mirrors where the population is in the state with the bulk being Hudson Valley south through NYC and onto LI. They are weak because they absolutely refuse to even talk with Democrats from anywhere in the state. They are not well supported by Democrats because many do not believe NRA will support them in return even if they back them 100%.

    Second, NRA’s strategy has traditionally been to simply throw money and endorsements at incumbent officials, often in areas where it is not needed and to candidates who do not appreciate it. In places where this does not work (like NY), or when confronted with problems outside the statehouse (like the MAIG members), ILA does not respond well probably because they don’t know how. They are either unwilling or unable to put the resources they have available to better use.

    Third, I agree NRA is in the technological stone age. If they moved up to 1995 it would be a huge improvement.

    1. “They are not well supported by Democrats because many do not believe NRA will support them in return even if they back them 100%.”

      Maybe, but nationwide there are 10s of millions of Dem firearms owners’ It is a demographic that, in and of itself, dwarfs NRA membership numbers. Elected representatives, in the end, must respond to the electorate to remain in office. If you spread the NRA members across the country, the numbers per voting bloc simply cannot compare to the 76,000,000+ firearms owners that have nothing to do with the NRA. So, if things aren’t the way people want, who, really is to blame?

      1. You are correct. And people need to remember that if it wasn’t for Pro-gun Democrats, every anti-gun piece of legislation proposed in the past 10 years would have passed the House and Senate.

        The problem is that the NRA sees more money with the far right.

  2. I agree with all your points, but remember, at the end of the day, the NRA is concerned first and foremost about increasing membership dollars. All the gun stuff comes second. There are still more dollars to be squeezed out of those over 60 Tea Party members.

    1. ^ This.

      I made a comment similar on the NRA FB page & had my commenting privileges revoked.

      I didn’t even have a chance to upload my “Life Member” certificate, lolololol.

  3. I get stopped all the time in Houston, at the supermarket, diner, or wherever, complimenting my hat.

    I wear the NRA hat every day, and wherever I go I am polite and friendly. I set a good example and share my love of freedom with anyone who asks about the hat.

  4. The other problem with those polls is that most people who want more gun control don’t understand the current laws. Once they start to be informed, they start to believe the current laws are okay, or too strict.

    I agree that we have a youth issue. Oh sure we have plenty of young gun owners. But I feel they don’t get involved. I go to my range meetings, and 95% of those attending are over 50. And when people like me do go, we are shunned because we are young.

    1. PH and I belong to the same club, and I definitely see the average 60+ gun club membership being a real drag on new ideas and changes. And it’s not just “SOME” of them. They are in leadership positions and it’s getting difficult for younger folks to break through the FUDD culture and rules. We have the “biological solution” of course, but that will take a while.

    2. I was active and even on the board for a number of years. quit when I got cancer and knew I was in for a bad time. We had people come in from time to time and suggest some event or project for the club. If it sounded good I would say fine. your in charge of it and have authority to raise fund to make it happen. You don’t see them again. They want someone else to do the work. All they want is the credit for dreaming it up. Very few are willing to go the course. Those I would help and mentor. Being retired I had the time to spend but not the funds.

      1. I suspect that not all of those who disappear were lazy jerks who wanted someone else to do all the work. From my own experience, I know that it can be difficult to organize something (although I’ve never really tried to fundraise); I’d come up with a grandiose idea, only to have it fall flat because I have higher priorities than the grandiose idea I would like to pursue.

        I wonder how many good ideas simply die because we as humans simply don’t have the time, the energy, and the resources to pursue them…

  5. It starts at the board. Until there is new, younger, more savvy members of the board, the same GOTV techniques of the 80’s are going to used today. I’ve always thought that Cox was the natural fit to take over when Wayne retires.

    The NRA should be running five digit text micro donation campaigns. For a 23 year old kid, $35 for a NRA membership can be a tough nut. Micro donations work, and they work well. It’s easy to get someone to impulse donate $5 with a simple 5 digit SMS. But, I think the oldsters on the NRA board are oblivious to some of this.

    Seeing the dumb stuff that Haynie Joaquin Jackson has said and that he’s still on the NRA board, that’s just amazing to me.

    I’d like to see Sebastian running for the NRA board or at least going on the offensive and trying to get nominated.

    R Lee Ermey is another one who needs to leave the NRA board. Here you have a board member who chooses to call Souther California home. He can’t even own the Gen4 Glocks he’s trying to sell.

    1. I’d like to see Sebastian running for the NRA board or at least going on the offensive and trying to get nominated.

      I appreciate your support, but it’s not a title I seek. At least not at this point in my life. Board members have to be able to give up a month of their lives for NRA, and I’m not there yet. There is a reason the Board leans pretty old, because they are the people with time, money and connections (which translates into money).

      I’m fine with Ermey being on the Board. He shows up to Board meetings and is involved with the organization. I consider him a model celebrity Board member.

    2. The NRA’s board is at least 10 times too large for it to have any effect on the running of the organization (there’s quite a bit of research in this area, since there are a whole lot of corporate boards that have been captured by management).

      I’m a decade and a half older than our host and I’ve never felt Wayne LaPierre “has spoken to my generation”….

      For the time being, I’m not sure the NRA is the answer to many of our questions—did they play any significant roll in the Colorado recall elections? Are they now making a big deal about Obama and Hillary! publicly calling for the confiscation of the nation’s handguns and semi-auto long guns?

      Building up net based grassroots efforts is probably a better approach until illness or death pries nominal control of the NRA from Wayne LaPierre’s hands; he’s only 66, that could be a long time. And the most important part of that would be de-linking the NRA from Ackerman McQueen, for that’s a large part about what Beatbox notes about membership dollars.

    3. “R Lee Ermey is another one who needs to leave the NRA board. Here you have a board member who chooses to call Souther California home. He can’t even own the Gen4 Glocks he’s trying to sell.”

      Are you telling me that Californians should be disqualified from NRA board membership? If so, why?

      Just so you know, California’s people are not all Feinstein-bots who support the oppressive laws in this state. Gun owners here hate them, and we tell our legislature so.

  6. “NRA absolutely has to find more single-issue voters among all these new gun owners and new and growing gun culture demographics.”

    Or, alternatively, the NRA can lay off social conservativism and GOP partisanship and focus on gun rights and ownership in an inclusive manner. This is the challenge: what does the NRA have to do to get blacks, women, immigrants, and the LGBT to join? Hint: “get them to be conservative” is the wrong answer.

    1. This right here.

      Let’s look at it this way: The hardcore social conservatives are going to assuredly vote for the candidates strong on guns anyway. It’s not a bad idea to acknowledge them and their support, but you don’t need to pander to them on a constant basis.

      Know what scared the antis and their media lapdogs the most? The inclusion of more Gun Culture 2.0 folks in the public face of the organization. Notice how the anti-gun media had to throw out the Uncle Tom card for Colion Noir, or personally went after other commentators: They’re genuinely scared that they offer the best chance for the organization to appeal to younger, libertarian or independent-leaning folks, and from some research I’m seeing, millennials are not quite the bulwark of support the antis were hoping for.

      And with all that said, I think Winkler’s article is utter trash. What I have yet to hear, is an explanation for how if demographics have been working against the NRA, how are gun rights from both a public opinion and legislation standpoint actually the strongest they’ve been in decades? Clearly there are a lot of folks out there that the antis think are in their camp that might not be the most honest on those surveys, or perhaps, those surveys frame the questions in such a way that of course respondents are for “gun safety”, but in reality don’t know exactly what they’re saying they support.

      1. “The hardcore social conservatives are going to assuredly vote for the candidates strong on guns anyway. It’s not a bad idea to acknowledge them and their support, but you don’t need to pander to them on a constant basis.”

        Yes, but those social conservatives are more likely to pay dues. It’s all about increasing donations. This was a strategic decision made back in 2008

    2. Can you show us a case where the NRA backed a non-firearms ballot measure? Can you show us a donation the NRA has made to socially conservative lobbying organization. Can you show us a public statement the NRA has made for or against a non-firearms social issue?

      I often hears these claims, but, when asked for specifics the details get sketchy and can’t be supported.

      1. Maybe because youre makjng a strawman argument. Your first two challenges aren’t relevant, really, as I’m talking about recruiting and branding, not policy or scoring or endorsements. the latter challenge cuts right to the branding issue; the best and obvious example is Ted Nugent and then any handful of speakers at the convention.

        1. Okay, these claims are thrown out there all the time and no one can cite specifics. Ted Nugent is an NRA board member. As for the other speakers, be specific on which ones. The NRA has speakers at the NRAAM who are staunch supporters of the second amendment. That’s not to say those speakers are single dimension, those people have various issues they support and back, but, the NRA has them there for one reason.

          Now, either you can back up this statement with specifics:

          “the NRA can lay off social conservativism”

          Or you can’t. Show us where the NRA took or publicized a position on a non-firearm social issue.

          1. You’re changing the topic to avoid the issue – my grudge isn’t with policy positions. You show me where the NRA focused it’s messaging around firearm rights only and so pushed out a board member or conservative speaker for pushing red meat conservativism. The nuge is extremely relevant because he’s a public figure and a leader of the org, so shapes tone and the brand.

            1. So unless the NRA tells gun supporters you don’t like to get out they’re not open enough. Hypocrite, 100%.

              1. Name calling doesn’t help, friend. We’re on the same side here and the topic is changing US demographics and diversity of NRA membership. There is zero disagreement on firearms policy.

          2. Sarah Palin. She has done NOTHING to advance gun rights in her entire life. She is there purely to appeal to the NRA’s new Tea Party base. Harry Reid has done far more than her.

              1. All I could find was that she allowed carry in City Hall and the town library as mayor of Wasilla. Not a tough sell.

            1. Google is your friend:

              “Governor Sarah Palin announced the State of Alaska will join the multi-state amicus brief authored by the State of Texas in support of the Second Amendment right of individual Americans to bear arms. The Texas amicus brief in the case Washington, D.C. v. Heller will be filed by February 11, 2008.”

  7. If anyone is mistaken in thinking the NRA’s base is rural, that may result from a constant undercurrent of it appearing to try to appeal to an entirely social conservative audience, that would be stereotypical of the culture described by author Joe Bageant in his book “Deer Hunting With Jesus.” I don’t believe that culture typifies “suburban” America, unless that suburbia is made up of rural people who moved closer to a big city to find employment.

    I believe it was someone here, some time ago, who quipped (or quoted?) that the NRA National Conventions were starting to look more like CPAC than CPAC does. I have wondered out loud more than once why personalities like Jerry Boykin and Franklin Graham have been recruited as attractions at those NRA NatCons. It all gives an appearance of an organization that claims to be the premier “single issue” organization in the country, yet panders to a very specific set of unrelated issues for recruitment and attraction.

    1. I know I’ve made that comment a few times on here.

      Has anyone watched all of the speeches at the NRAAM? They’re all on YouTube if you want to check them out. With the exception of Sheriff Clarke and maybe one or two others, the guest speakers at the NRAAM spend probably 80-90% of their speech throwing red meat out there for the social conservatives, not talking about the 2A.

      No, the NRA isn’t getting involved in other socially conservative issues, at least not when it comes to donating or endorsing candidates/legislation. But the marketing and branding is blatantly obvious.

      1. Also, with the exception of Clarke, where were pro-gun Democrat politicians like Jim Webb? By not at least inviting them NRA sends a very clear message that pro-gun Democrats are not welcome.

        1. “Where were pro-gun democrat politicians” You mean like Harry Reid?

          You can blame the nra for a lot, but not for dems sucking on gun rights.

          1. Harry Reid has done more to protect gun rights than most congressmen, republican or democrat. The NRA abandoned him because he didn’t fit their republican-only model.

            The NRA needs to take some of the blame here. Pro gun democrats are not going to get any support from the NRA. And the NRA has made sure that their endorsement is something that more and more pro-gun democrats don’t even want anymore.

            A few election cycles ago, an NRA A rating was something Dem. politicians for president bragged about. Now it is an albatross.

            1. NRA’s members forced Harry Reid to be abandoned. There were plenty of people in the organization that thought doing so would be a mistake. You’re assuming that this is happening in a top-down fashion, when it is happening more in a bottom-up fashion. NRA reflects its membership, not the other way around.

              1. Right….because the membership profile changed as the NRA has sought out more Tea Party members. And let’s be real, the leadership is supposed to make those tough decisions based on what is best for the larger goal. They could have done more to explain the dangers of a Majority Leader Schumer.

                It is too easy to say “The members wanted it” like the NRA leadership is powerless.

                Same with Ted Nugent. The policy folks could detail to the nominating committee how he is actually hurting the cause, but they wont, because he draws membership dollars.

                  1. Of course they should, but their growth strategy seems to be about the short-term dollar and not securing its long-term relevance. (to your original point).

                    1. I agree with you about Ted Nugent and Brandon Phelps. But NRA would have been foolish to ignore tea party types, and they would be foolish to alienate a huge part of their membership in pursuit of a different “big tent” that may or may not be there.

                      Of course, if they got better at micro-targeting and analysis, that might help them go after different types of people at the same time.

                      You won’t get any argument from me about NRAAM. I’d like to see it do more to promote a bi-partisan image.

            2. Harry Reid? You mean the Harry Reid who rammed through ant-gun court appointees by abolishing the filibuster? The Harry Reid who backed every Obama anti-gun executive action? That Harry Reid?

              Maybe someone got a clue about Harry Reid’s true nature.

                1. When will innocents start realizing that voting one way on bills with “Gun” in the title matters not at all compared with confirming judges who will strike them down before the ink is dry, or passing budgets that fund the bureaucracies that will write the regulations to make gun ownership impractical?

                  And he was doing that while NRA was servicing him.

        2. Brandon Phelps. Illinois democrat and champion of the concealed carry bill the courts forced on the state. He worked hard to make a it a real gain for gun owners.

          The NRAAM should be used to reward people like this.

  8. “Orange Postcard”? First time I ever heard of this “institution,” really. I’ve never been to a big NRA convention, nothing outside a “Friends of the NRA” Dinner-fundraiser. They’re too far away and politics-oriented.
    What I have noticed moving away from the city/suburbia nexus to the country/rural region is that there’s a huge attitudinal shift in just 20-miles of driving. Out here in flyover country I’m only thirty minutes from the hated City, but it’s a thousand miles mentally.
    People are not especially noticeably or outwardly more conservative (how would that manifest, NRA t-shirts?), and they are as fluent in urban computer-speak and tech-culture as anyone in the Bay — but their hobbies and sports and activities and JOBS are decidedly not the kind of cubicle/paper-shuffling that exists within the City Walls.
    They do ride bicycles but often for many-many miles, so it’s not just PC virtue-signaling (and the bike weenies are still jerks), they also ride big loud motorcycles and in packs. They drive little econo-boxes until they grow up and buy a truck – and a ranch or farm to live-on/work-on. They ride horses, still – it’s not just for little girls. They shoot bows-and-arrows in school and then go to hunt with them – and everybody has guns. There’s a thousand square miles of very rugged country-mountain stuff as a huge backyard, and it’s criss-crossed with rough roads, so that keeps the relative population low at any given time besides weekends. Trucks with lift-kits are not just Suburban-Poseur Signaling, either.
    Anyhow it’s a very different from the blinkered, concretized mentality of the Urban Space we esacaped, which most Country People I talk-to, both young and old, find dangerous, decayed, ugly and unfriendly. They have self-selected and live out here on-purpose rather than go to the bright-lights just thirty minutes away. Bright-lighters come up here to gawk and gape and think they are superior. They’re not.
    If the Anti-NRA people are centered in the city and its fiefdom exurbs, it’s because they are part of that machine. But people escape from that all the time and especially the young who want to experiment and live a fuller life: with guns, with trucks, with Freedom that the oppression and conformity life in the City demands and prevents.

  9. I think the NRA’s problem with younger voters is not lack of support. The majority of polls have shown that the strongest support for gun control is actually from baby boomers and that millennials and those under 40 are generally more supportive of gun rights. I think the big issue is many younger people don’t want to spend the money or don’t have the money to join. This is not just associated with the NRA but can be seen in many things- Cable subscription, church membership, etc..

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