The NRA Is Powerful Because the NRA Is People


President Donald Trump addresses the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in Atlanta, April 28, 2017. Trump is the first sitting president since Ronald Reagan to address the group's annual convention. (Al Drago/The New York Times)

When something awful like the mass shooting in Florida happens our nation’s media turns into a competition among pundits and politicians and celebrities to see who can be the most outraged.

Most of this outrage is directed at the NRA. You almost get the idea, from the way people like comedian Jimmy Kimmel talk about the organization, as if it were some sort of super villain unilaterally imposing its will on American politics.

We should be cautious not to take too seriously rants by pundits and celebrities in the aftermath of tragedies like one in Florida. They aren’t typically motivated by a desire for fruitful debate leading to meaningful reform. Their red-faced pique is more about opportunism. Using the corpses and carnage of a tragedy to boost ratings.

[mks_pullquote align=”left” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]Their red-faced pique is more about opportunism. Using the corpses and carnage of a tragedy to boost ratings.[/mks_pullquote]

Their rants about gun control never accomplish anything, but they do draw a crowd.

Still, the depiction of the NRA as evil incarnate is interesting and deserving of rebuttal.

Because the NRA isn’t some monolithic entity.

Much is being made of the money the NRA spends on politics. And not just gun policy advocacy any more either. The NRA has become an avatar for conservative politics in general, much like formerly single-issue groups like Planned Parenthood have for the left.

That mission creep is perhaps a topic for another post, but to the extent that the NRA has a lot of money to spend, that’s because the NRA has millions upon millions of dues-paying supporters. Yes they have corporate sponsors too, mostly in the firearms industry, but those corporations have money to give the NRA because they sell products millions upon millions of Americans want.

Critics of the NRA talk about the group’s success as though it were entirely the product of buying off politicians with political spending. That may be a convenient rhetorical device for the demagogues, but the truth is the NRA represents a political movement. It has power because of the millions upon millions of Americans who largely agree with the group’s agenda and contribute and/or vote accordingly.

People like me.

If proponents of gun control policy want to make progress they need to engage and persuade gun rights advocates. Instead they’re insulting them, which will get us nowhere.

“Until we can talk to one another like adults on all of these subjects, we should get used to mass killings like this,” the Minot Daily News editorializes today.

That seems accurate to me.