A lot of ink has been spilled over Professor Adam Winkler’s WaPo article predicting the demise of the NRA. Both John Lott,Â 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.