The NRA Must Really Want to Lose the Battle for Public Opinion

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NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre speaking at the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference.

If there’s a must-read story today, it’s the Huffington Post’s long look at the National Rifle Association and its connection to gun manufacturers. In short, the NRA isn’t so much an advocate for gun owners as it is a lobbying vehicle for gunmakers and distributors. There’s too much to quote, but this passage stuck out as illustrative:

Close ties between the NRA and gunmakers go back at least to 1999, when the NRA publicly declared its support for the firearms industry as it prepared to defend itself from a rash of liability lawsuits filed by cities and municipalities.

“Your fight has become our fight,” then-NRA president Charlton Heston declared before a crowd of gun company executives at the annual SHOT Show, the industry’s biggest trade show. “Your legal threat has become our constitutional threat," he said.

From then on, the NRA has collected millions of dollars in support from the gun industry, and categorically opposed any efforts to regulate the sale and use of guns. Indeed, just seven years ago, it managed to shoot down a law that would have attached liability to gun manufacturers if their weapons were used in mass shootings.

Indeed, as the White House and its allies gears up for a big push on new control laws, it’s worth highlighting the extent to which the NRA is far more committed to the interests of gunmakers than it is the actual rights of gun owners. As Greg Sargent writes for The Washington Post, “The NRA is putting an enormous amount of firepower into defending what can only be described as an extreme worldview, one that encourages resistance to even the most sensible regulatory and public safety efforts, with the apparent goal of ensuring that the country is awash in as many guns as possible.”

To wit, this is what the NRA had to say after a meeting with Vice President Joe Biden on the question of new gun safety measures:

We were disappointed with how little this meeting had to do with keeping our children safe and how much it had to do with an agenda to attack the Second Amendment. […]

It is unfortunate that this Administration continues to insist on pushing failed solutions to our nation’s most pressing problems. We will not allow law-abiding gun owners to be blamed for the acts of criminals and madmen.

In the past, this approach has been enough to shoot down new gun laws. But after a steady spate of mass shootings, Americans might not entertain the usual “gun rights” rhetoric. Already, according to Public Policy Polling, the NRA’s standing has seen a serious decline: It now has a negative favorability rating, with 42 percent of voters seeing it positively, while 45 percent have an unfavorable view. This is a near-reversal from a month earlier, when the NRA had a positive rate of 48/41.

The more the NRA yells about threats to gun rights—and ignores actual threats to human life—the more the public is likely to turn against them, and the more lawmakers are likely to take action. The best move for the NRA would be to quietly agree to small bore measures. As it stands, it’s virtually ensuring that the White House—and its allies—will try something a little more ambitious.