The National Rifle Association is positioning itself for the fight of its life. With this current national push to address gun violence by the majority of the nation, they have put everything on the table…”All In” as their 2012 election motto says. So in looking at them, what do we really see? Three things show up on the surface. First, the NRA is a powerful lobbying organization, gathering tens of millions of dollars from NRA members and, more importantly from gun manufacturers, retailers and special interest groups. They constantly tout their success when it comes to fundraising and leveraging politicians.
Second, they like to show the power of their membership…the grassroots of the NRA and third we see the political and philosophical makeup of those members.
Of Clout and Credibility…
David Keene, CEO of the National Rifle Association says the organization will “punish” Congressmen who don’t toe the NRA line…Congressmen who, in the face of national pressure to solve the problems of gun violence choose to vote to solve the problems and not support the NRA’s intransigent positions. Never mind that, over the past 15 years those intransigent positions have changed, many 180 degrees. Their position on background checks is an example. In 1999 Wayne LaPierre said “it’s reasonable to provide mandatory instant background checks for every sale at every gun show. No loopholes anywhere, for anyone.” Today he says it wouldn’t do “any good to extend the law to private sales between hobbyists and collectors.” He called the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) “a failure.”
It brings up the question of influence by a group which has a fluid, often changing set of working principles, those foundation issues with which it threatens Congressmen with the “wrath of the NRA” should they ignore NRA demands.
The Federal Election Commission records the fundraising and expenditures of PACs. The NRA Victory Fund is one such PAC [Committee ID : C00053553]. Through the reporting period of January 1, 2011 through December 31, 2012 the NRA PVF brought in $14,379,498 and expended on behalf of their position $11,159,493. What happened next is a matter of statistics and interpretation. Suffice to say the NRA-ILA has a differing view of their success in the 2012 election cycle than the hard data shows.
Much of the results of spending for any election can be boiled down to a few variables. 1. Candidate supported or opposed, 2. How much was spent to assist or oppose that candidate, and 3. Election success. It is pretty simple. A PAC…any PAC picks those in whom they believe in the horse race, they put their money down and, after the finish line either cash in their tickets or they toss them in the garbage.
One group which does a very good job of looking at the races, looking at the money and seeing who was good [or bad] at their job is the Sunlight Foundation. In December, after the 2012 election cycle they graded the success of most ALL of the PACs, no matter the special interest. One of the most glaring examples of “money spent – win” ratios was American Crossroads, Karl Rove’s baby. It spent $104,746,715 and its supported candidates won exactly ZERO races. Because they donated a broad group of candidates, their spending did net a 1.29% success rate. How could it possibly get worse than that?
But we are interested in the NRA Victory Fund and its success. So let’s take a look at the National Rifle Association of America Victory Fund. Remember that $11,159,493 mentioned three paragraphs up…well, they delivered a success rate of 0.86% based on monies spent and success.
While the NRA did spend some money on winners [they had 27] their spending on these “givens” for the GOP doesn’t outweigh the monies spent on opposition. Looking at those races where they spent over $10,000 [either support or opposition], they spent $8,560,000 opposing SIX candidates that won won their races and spent $108,000 on TWO winning candidates that they supported. They spent $1.900,000 on candidates they supported but lost.
On the other end of the spectrum, of the 17 candidates that the NRA supported WHO LOST, they spent an average of just $2,191, including one candidate for whom their contribution was -$35.79. Yes, they apparently took lunch money from Missouri House candidate Roy Blunt.
0.86% Success Rate. Less than ONE PERCENT. But you can be sure the NRA fundraising machine is touting their prowess in “stopping Obama from getting their guns” – if they would only send just a little bit more.
Who is the NRA?
The question is pretty simple…who is the NRA? In their national press releases and in the words of their three spokespersons, David Keene, Wayne LaPierre and Ted Nugent they speak as one voice…an absolute coming from the “hardworking, honest, responsible, wrongly maligned American gun owner.” Let’s see.
The NRA says it has over 4,500,000 members though those numbers have been questioned by many. But, let’s take their 4.5 Million at face value for a moment. Most sources say there are between 60-80 Million gun owners, Gallup tells us the number of households in America with guns is 47%. The Census Bureau tells us that there are 114,761,359 households in the United States with 2.6 people per household. My calculator tells me that 54 million households have at least one gun.
The Injury Prevention Journal, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the General Social Survey and population figures from the U.S. Census Bureau tell us that the number of U.S. households with guns has declined, but current gun owners are gathering more guns. So, a steadily smaller number of households have guns, and we see, from internet gun fora, from media, from being in a gun store that those households are consolidating the ownership of guns.
Now, if you ask the question “how many guns do you have” on the gun fora…they won’t answer, they will tell you it is a dumb question, that it is nobody’s business. BUT, if you ask them for pictures of their favorite guns…you will see HUNDREDS, and folks will proudly show the 30 copies of their AR-15. Go figure.
Gun owners are an interesting lot. If you listen to NRA spokes-guys Wayne LaPierre or Ted Nugent you would believe that ALL gun owner walk in lockstep, that all gun owner will support anything that the NRA says. Nothing can be further from the truth.
According to exit polling in the 2008 election, 58 percent of suburban Republicans claimed gun ownership versus 27 percent of Democrats. Further, the Democratic Party of today includes fewer Southerners and fewer conservatives, and, consequently, contains fewer traditional gun-owning demographics, but “There is this kind of suburban gun owner who isn’t part of the traditional gun-culture demographic, but it’s hard to nail how that group breaks down.”
What this means is that gun owners are not unified. A percentage of them are liberal [studies suggest from 33-40%], a percentage of them are hunters [the Ducks and Deer crowd as I recently saw it called] who believe their guns are OK but those other people’s guns…not so much. Then there are the retired target shooters who shoot nothing but 22 rifles, scoped for 50 yard targets…they are called tack drivers. Then there are those folks who are not “gun enthusiasts” but gun owners who use their guns as tools. Police, farm hands, and those in the middle; neither pro gun nor anti gun, but have a gun in their bedside table or under the blanket in the closet to protect their family. The split that gun owners have regarding background checks is telling. While the NRA opposes background checks…85% of their members support it.
The NRA has 4.5 million members and since there are between 60-80 million gun owners – JUST SIX PERCENT of gun owners are NRA members. Add to that the ineffectiveness of the NRA lobbying campaign, with less than ONE PERCENT success for $11millon spent, the message is beginning to come out of the fog. The NRA is supported by just six percent of gun owners and has lost its iron grip on politicians. The NRA is acting like the old high school football hero…still recalling the prowess that he had long ago, but the moves don’t work any longer, the cheers come from a smaller and smaller group and the victories are all in the faded yearbook…
McAllister is a life long liberal, environmentalist, Eagle Scout, and even gun owner – born in Harlan, Kentucky and has lived in Southern California, New York City and now resided in Lexington, Kentucky as a Systems Analyst.
You can read more of McAllister’s observations and opinions at Shoot From the Left Hip.