What the NRA Delivers

24Feb18

In the wake of mass shootings, it’s not uncommon to see articles like this one come out discussing the number and size of the donations the National Rifle Association makes to various politicians. While these articles are informative, they don’t really reach why the NRA is so effective.

After the Sandy Hook Massacre, universal background checks were supported by 92% of Americans, but opposed by the NRA. The legislation to require them failed in the Senate, with a 54-46 majority in favor, but needing 60 votes for cloture. How can something so popular fail to be passed? It’s easy to say that it’s campaign contributions, but while the NRA’s nearly $1,000,000 in campaign contributions in 2016 is far from chump change, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to other donors, like beer wholesalers and defense contractors. Its true strength lies elsewhere.

The NRA likes to present itself as a membership organization, and while corporations are banned from donating to its PAC, much of its operating budget comes from gun manufacturers (and Russian oligarchs, allegedly). As the manufacturers provide the budget, they also set the agenda. Membership plays an important role for the NRA, though. First, they fund the PAC. More importantly, they are map pins.

When the NRA meets with a lawmaker, they know — and make sure the lawmaker knows — how many members are in the lawmaker’s constituency. The lobbyist assures the lawmaker that every one of those members has paid their $40 indicating their commitment to the NRA’s cause. The lobbyist claims (explicitly or implicitly) that every one of those members will cast their ballot largely based on the “Second Amendment issues” as framed by the NRA. The NRA trusts that most of their members are single-issue voters, and that for those who are not, a significant part, if not all, of the voters’ decisions will be based on the NRA’s grade of each candidate. Whether or not a voter supports universal background checks, a vote for them will bring down the NRA’s grade of a candidate, an idea that strikes fear into the hearts of many legislators. Though the NRA delivers lawmakers a significant amount of cash, what they promise to deliver is actually voters — voters who are passionate about the “gun rights” cause, and who arm themselves with as little information as the NRA can get away with supplying them.

So, if a 92% majority of the population (and even a majority of the NRA membership) supports universal background checks, the NRA still opposes checks, because the manufacturers who provide most of their funding do. Their promise to the legislators is that their members are too stupid to think for themselves or to look beyond a one-letter summary, and the legislators believe them and vote for the NRA’s (and gun manufacturers’) position — no matter what the members or the general public think about background checks.

I suppose that the NRA is a membership organization. They give their membership to legislators on behalf of the firearms manufactures.

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