Gun owners were outraged when the City of San Francisco passed a unanimous decision to officially brand the National Rifle Association a domestic terrorist organization in 2019—and the outrage was justified. The NRA has been an American institution for 150 years, an unflinching champion of the Second Amendment, and a trailblazer in shaping smart public policy. The NRA ultimately dropped its lawsuit challenging the decision while, simultaneously and inexplicably, claiming victory.
I miss the real NRA.
Whether San Francisco city council members realized it or not, they were firing upon a wounded target, landing an unneeded round into a body already spiraling to the ground. The National Rifle Association, as we used to know it, no longer exists. It is bleeding out on the battlefield.
The weapons in the NRA’s political arsenal that it once wielded so effectively—its omnipresence in the halls of Congress, its ability to make or break political candidates, its vast network of loyal American voters—those weapons are gone. The NRA is now caught in an unrelenting crossfire of lawsuits and mass desertion that could reasonably, within the next few years, lead to the NRA closing its doors forever. The faith of its membership has eroded so badly that one of the group’s former top donors, David Dell-Aquila, is now campaigning to convince elderly members to write the NRA out of their wills and is now suing the NRA for fraud.
How and why the NRA imploded will be argued for decades, probably in the courts, but Americans need to focus on a much more urgent matter. Gun owners need political protection. Who will fill the void?
As the NRA pens the finishing touches on its own obituary we have to salvage what we can from the wreckage. Gun owners must figure out which strategies made the NRA a once-masterful force, which strategies led to its seemingly imminent demise, and how the next gun rights group can do better. That has never been more important than it is today.
The NRA did three things right:
- The NRA was never silent. The NRA has been loved by some, hated by others, but ignored by no one. They demanded a seat at hostile politicaltables and refused to be silent.
- The NRA refused to compromise. While some people may see this characteristic as a weakness, I believe it was one of the NRA’s greatest strengths. The NRA learned a lesson from the systematic dismantling of the tobacco industry in the 90’s that began with one small concession.
- The NRA fought a two-front war. The NRA capitalized upon the dialectical nature of politics by dividing its resources between lobbying current lawmakers while simultaneously campaigning for (or against) political candidates.
The NRA’s successor must adopt these same strategies because the political tactics to strip away gun rights are increasingly aggressive and insidious. A recent scheme, orchestrated by New York’s State Comptroller, seeks to use the marketplace to do what the government could not. Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli personally wrote tonine banks pushing them toward “implementing a system that could reject the purchases” of guns or ammo when customers pay with MasterCard.
The sad irony is, just as the NRA appears finished, the need for the NRA has never been more urgent.