Liberals have applauded the highly public financial and legal peril gripping the National Rifle Association, seeing the possible demise of the gun lobby as the path to stricter gun laws.
But, it turns out, the NRA’s message has become so solidified in the Republican Party that even if the organization implodes on allegations of lavish spending and embezzlement, its unapologetic pro-gun view will still live on, as that the heated debate will intensify. changes from Washington to the states.
Not even the shift of power to Democrats in the White House and Congress has been enough to push through new federal restrictions, and states continue to pass laws with far-reaching protections for gun owners.
Always confident, the NRA, which is based in Fairfax, Virginia, says the suggestion that it is backing down is a magical thought from the left. The group promises that it will come out stronger from its failed bankruptcy effort, particularly as it seeks to relocate to the state of Texas, resolutely in favor of gun rights.
The enduring nature of the NRA’s influence is an example of how difficult it is to regain control from an entrenched lobbying power that has taken deep roots in the American political system with relentless money, organization, and messages.
“The NRA accumulated an impressive mountain of power over the course of 40 years. And despite its recent fall from grace, that power does not disappear overnight,” Sen. Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, said in a interview.
Not to say there is no hope for gun control, far from it, said Murphy, whose own views are shaped by the massacre of 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012, and the subsequent (successful) effort. of the NRA to stop gun legislation in the aftermath.
He said the Democratic gains in Congress, despite the NRA’s efforts to detain the candidates, are a measure of a change in dynamics. Another is a change in some public opinion. A 2019 Gallup poll found that the percentage of people watching the NRA favorably fell below 50% for only the second time in three decades.
“There is no question that their political strength has been reduced,” Murphy said, adding that Georgia’s special election for the United States Senate, won by Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in January, is a clear indication of that. . “Democrats who support universal background checks are winning across the country, even in states where the NRA would have been thought to have absolute dominance.”
One of Biden’s first executive orders was gun control. On Monday, the Justice Department announced model legislation for red flag laws, which allow police to request that firearms be removed from people who may pose a danger to themselves or others.
In March, the House passed two bills that require background checks on all firearm sales and transfers and allow an extended 10-day review for gun purchases. But the legislation faces strong headwinds in the Senate, and some Republican support is required to pass.
At the same time, however, the NRA has been growing, with an additional 225,000 members paying dues since January, its ranks now swelling to more than 5 million. Its embattled leader, Wayne LaPierre, has led fundraising efforts for nearly three decades, selling himself as an aggressive guardian of the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
He positioned the lobby as the main antagonist of the Democratic administrations. Then, in 2016, the organization spent more than $ 30 million on behalf of Donald Trump’s campaign, according to data from the Federal Election Commission. The effort paid off: After back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, Trump seemed inclined to take action on extensive background checks, but backed down after a phone call with the NRA.
But those successes were happening while the NRA had big internal problems. By 2018, the organization was short of $ 36 million due to generous spending. A class-action lawsuit by members followed in 2019 for mismanagement and lack of transparency. And then Democratic New York Attorney General Letitia James sued to disband the group, arguing that it was “riddled with fraud and abuse.” In DC, the attorney general sued for improper diversion of funds.
The NRA filed for bankruptcy in January, but the effort was rejected by a judge. During the trial, an embarrassing statement emerged from LaPierre in which he said he had borrowed a friend’s 108-foot (33-meter) yacht for hiding multiple times between 2013 and 2018 after threats following multiple mass shootings.
Even with that internal turmoil, the NRA has also been behind hundreds of successful efforts to loosen gun laws in states, most recently working to persuade states to drop the requirements that people receive training and pass gun checks. background to carry concealed pistols.
Six states have passed laws eliminating or weakening concealment permit requirements this year, the most recent in Texas. About 20 states now allow people to carry concealed weapons without a license.
Four more states have passed laws prohibiting police from enforcing federal gun laws, a preemptive opportunity against any new measures passed by Democrats.
The NRA is far from the only pro-gun group at the table in state legislatures right now. In Utah, one of the first states to remove permitting requirements this year, it was just one of at least six gun rights groups that spoke in favor of the bill on Capitol Hill, and it wasn’t the most outspoken.
The number of states generally in favor of gun rights outnumbers those that pass gun control measures from 40 to 10, although the latter have more people, so the country’s population is evenly divided between the two fields. And a Pew Research Center report published in April found that the number of Americans favoring stricter gun laws has dropped this year to 53%, up from 60% in September 2019.
“Gun rights, the Second Amendment, the right to own and bear guns is bigger than any organization,” said Jordan Stein, communications director for Gun Owners of America, one of those groups.
Gun owners would continue to fight if the organizations that often help them organize and coordinate around the problem left, he said.
Recent gun sales suggest a new zeal for owning a gun. Gun dealers sold more than 2 million firearms in January, a 75% increase from the same month last year and the best-selling January on record, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, an industry trade group. Meanwhile, the FBI reported 4.3 million firearms-related background checks, the highest monthly total since the system was created more than two decades ago.
While the NRA is easily the best-known gun lobby, Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, said the real actors are state gun groups.
“Groups that work at the state level are much more powerful than they used to be,” Horwitz said. “Even if the NRA retires tomorrow, and it may be, (Senate Republican Leader) Mitch McConnell will continue to control whatever the Kentucky Gun Rights Alliance is, and the Ohio Legislature will contact the Buckeye Firearms Association. .
“We are in a generational battle,” he added. “Guns in America will be a great fight for a long time.”
Despite his problems, the NRA remains confident in his prowess.
The organization, which in January reported total assets of about $ 203 million, liabilities of about $ 153 million and $ 31 million in bank loans, said in court documents that it saw revenues fall by about 7% due to the pandemic of coronavirus. To cut costs, he laid off dozens of employees and canceled his national convention.
Last month, a federal judge in Dallas dealt another blow to the lobby when he dismissed his bankruptcy case, finding that it was not filed in good faith.
But it has also balanced its budget and is back in the dark again after years of deficits.
“Along with our typical excellent report card on legal and legislative progress and victories, the track record is clear: The NRA is as strong and effective as ever when we confront President Biden’s anti-gun agenda,” said Andrew Arulanandam, managing director. of the NRA for public affairs.
“Any suggestion to the contrary is an illusion of our adversaries.”