The NRA Is Losing Its Grip on Gun Owners

US President Donald J. Trump
AP Photo

President Trump is addressing the NRA convention for the third year in a row. Meanwhile, the NRA’s popularity has plunged to record lows.

The NRA spent $30 million to elect Trump in 2016, and they are getting their money’s worth. “You have a true friend and champion in the White House,” President Trump told the NRA Convention in 2017. “You came through for me, and I am going to come through for you.”

It’s extremely alarming that the person elected to our nation’s highest office is beholden to the NRA. In recent years, the NRA has become a fringe organization peddling a “guns everywhere” ideology that’s increasingly out of touch with the views not only of the majority of Americans, but also the majority of gun owners.

It wasn’t always this way. Once, the NRA balanced the interests of its owners with an openness to commonsense regulations. Today it’s interested only in maximizing profit of gun manufacturers while minimizing accountability. And the American public is taking note—the organization’s reputation is in tatters, and shows no sign of rebounding.

Favorability Tanking

Members with an “A” rating from the NRA now hide their endorsement.

In the span of a year, the NRA’s reputation has plummeted and failed to rebound, with 53% of those polled viewing the organization unfavorably and only 34% viewing it favorably. The NRA is now viewed by half of voters as primarily a political lobbying organization, rather than an organization for gun hobbyists.

In the wake of mass tragedies like those in Parkland, Florida, voters have grown tired of the organization’s fear-based agenda. They want to elect politicians who will take a stand for gun safety—not line their pockets with donations from an organization that exhibits blatant disregard for public health and safety. Mark Pocan NRA F (1)41 percent of voters report that they would be less likely to support a candidate if they knew the candidate had accepted campaign donations from the NRA, while only 16 percent report that it would increase their likelihood of supporting the candidate.

Unsurprisingly, the NRA has become a major net-negative for those associated. Members with an “A” rating from the NRA now hide their endorsement, while other members proudly wear the NRA’s “F” rating as a badge of honor. The NRA even went so far as to remove old grades from their website so they can’t be used to tarnish their champions.

Mired in Legal Trouble

“NRA executives have flagrantly ignored our campaign finance laws and undermined the integrity of our election system…”

For the past year, the NRA has found itself mired in legal trouble, from its lawsuit in a Virginia court with its longtime PR company over unpaid contracts to its association with Maria Butina, who in December 2018 pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy and acting as a foreign agent on behalf of the Russian government to influence the 2016 presidential election through the NRA.

These legal difficulties are happening in the context of a larger internal squabble at the NRA, as a small number of executives and contractors have been exposed for siphoning off millions of dollars in contracts.

Last but certainly not least, just this week the Campaign Legal Center and Giffords Law Center sued the Federal Election Commission for failing to take action against the NRA for using shell corporations to illegally coordinate campaign spending with seven federal candidates between 2014 and 2018.

“In a desperate attempt to hold onto power and influence, NRA executives have flagrantly ignored our campaign finance laws and undermined the integrity of our election system,” said Adam Skaggs, chief counsel of Giffords Law Center. “The Federal Election Commission must bring illegal campaign conduct into the light of day and we are proud to join with Campaign Legal Center in calling on it to uphold the laws that protect the legitimacy of our democracy.”

Failing in Its Basic Objectives

During the 2018 midterm elections, gun safety groups including Giffords spent more money than the NRA.

Perhaps because of its tanking favorability and legal issues, the NRA is far less effective than it once was. The organization is consistently failing to achieve its basic objectives—despite the fact that for more than two years, the NRA has had a direct line to the president, one they spent $30 million electing. For years the NRA had Republican House and Senate leadership in their pocket. And yet, their two biggest legislative priorities, concealed-carry and silencers, were left to quietly languish on the legislative floor.

Now, they have even less influence over Congress. For the first time in recent memory, gun safety groups like Giffords outspent the NRA in the 2018 election, and voters elected a new gun safety majority into the House of Representatives.

That happened because the gun safety movement kept the pressure on its lawmakers, making it clear the NRA doesn’t speak for the American public. Giffords helped educate the public about how these bills could impact public safety — and we made sure Members of Congress knew we ready to hold them accountable if they voted with the NRA. The silencer bill didn’t move beyond the committee level—with Giffords Senior Policy Advisor David Chipman serving the witness for the Democrats—and while the CCR bill passed the House, it didn’t have enough votes to pass the Senate.

A New Option for Gun Owners

“We’ve found that many gun owners are frustrated that the gun lobby claims to be speaking for them…”

In recent years, the NRA has consistently taken a stand against commonsense gun safety laws, like universal background checks, that are supported by the majority of gun owners. Many gun owners are fed up with the NRA’s extremist agenda and seeking a middle ground that balances their interests as gun owners with policy changes like funding federal gun violence research and enacting extreme risk protection orders. Earlier this month, Giffords launched Minnesota Gun Owners for Safety, a coalition of hunters, sport shooters, and collectors coming together to advocate for commonsense gun violence prevention laws and promote safe and responsible gun ownership. In January, Giffords launched a similar group in Colorado.

IMG_5480“We’ve found that many gun owners are frustrated that the gun lobby claims to be speaking for them,” Gabby told the New York Times. “So one important goal for us is to provide more gun owners the opportunity to share their ideas and experiences, and take action. The gun lobby can’t hide behind money and extremist rhetoric when gun owners are coming together to push for responsible ownership, laws that save lives and a deeper appreciation for what it means to own and use firearms.”

As the president addresses the NRA, it’s worth remembering that the NRA is an extremist, fringe organization on the decline. Gun owners frustrated with the organization can and should stand with the majority of Americans who support commonsense gun law laws.

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