Firearms News Investigates the NRA: Part 2
August 13, 2019
An argument consists of the three aspects. Two oppositional views and the truth. In today’s world, too many of the informational sources have a narrative that is pushed for a selfish gain. In the case of the 2nd Amendment, there are people who believe it's the responsibility of government to wield the power to control tyranny, and there are those who believe that each individual has the right to make that determination. To that end, one side has created groups to push for gun control while the other fights these efforts with their own organizations. All of these organizations have their own negative issues as they are run by people, and let's face it; people are flawed. Yet there comes a point at which an organization stops serving those it represents and makes them subjects to its will.
In a previous article, points were made that there is a set of standards by which to judge whether an organization has become so corrupted to cause harm to those who it was supposed to represent. The rules listed pertain to how the organization makes decisions that will allow the issue to perpetuate in order for it to continue to exist and maintain power over its representative group. It also pointed out the need to control the message, promote its affluence and create vested groups. An investigation of the NRA and its history as political lobbyist will be reviewed to see if those rules can be accurately applied to the NRA. Now today, the NRA and the liberal media both call the NRA a major force in getting pro-gun legislation passed and gun control legislation stopped. This discussion will be broken down on to two levels. The first level will be with the federal government in Washington, D.C. while the other covers the state level legislation. Many people will want sordid details or a “smoking gun” that directly calls the organization into question. That will be extremely difficult, as a common occurrence in the minutes of several NRA Board meetings, they go into executive session and hide all the information from even their own membership when discussing any significant topic. To say that there is a lack of transparency is an understatement.
The NRA was founded in 1871 in New York by veterans of the American Civil War. They realized that as society urbanized the ability for the populace of able bodied men to effectively handle firearms would continue to decline. This was evident in the conflict they had participated in as the more rural southern soldiers displayed a higher level of marksmanship than their Union counterparts. The organization was created to provide a minimum set of standards for both safe handling and marksmanship. This is still a major part of what the NRA does today, but that’s not all they do. As the clock moves forward through the years and there are strong examples that the organization was focused on marksmanship, and not gun rights, creating local gun clubs and organizing competitive shooting matches. First in the 1930’s and then in the 1960’s, the NRA and its leadership had a hand in crafting the National Firearms Act (NFA) and the Gun Control Act (GCA). These two pieces of legislation did restrict access to firearms but did not ban them. Karl T. Frederick, NRA president in the 1930’s worked with the government to craft the NFA. In 1968, the NRA went on record in its own March issue stating it supported the Dodd Bill, legislation that was incorporated into the GCA. Strangely enough the person who provided congressional testimony was Franklin Orth, the Executive Vice President (EVP) at the NRA. We will look more in depth at the rise in power and control by the EVP in the next article of this series.
After the sweeping changes made by the 1968 GCA, there were members of the NRA who rightfully decided to prevent the 2nd Amendment from becoming empty words written on an old piece of paper. Men like Harlon B. Carter and Neal Knox saw the need for an organization to actively defend the ideal embodied within that statement ending with “shall not be infringed”. What they overlooked was the issue of whether this organization should be separate or associated with the NRA. Carter and Knox made their case to the NRA leadership at the time and were met with harsh resistance. This friction culminated with the famous 1977 Cincinnati Revolt where Carter’s faction took over the NRA and added political action alongside its traditional training mission.
This ended the NRA as it was originally envisioned as evidenced by the massive overhaul of Article I of the NRA Bylaws. This was also the year that a young lobbyist, Wayne LaPierre was hired on by the organization. Now the firearms community would go on the offensive. Carter, now EVP, created the Institute for Legislative Action or (ILA) to lobby on Capital Hill. The NRA was focused solely at the national level with its activism at this time. Carter and Knox’s efforts bore fruit with the passing of the Firearms Ownership Protection Act (FOPA) in 1986. Although it was a major win for the organization its still had its failings. Although the NRA championed its reforms of the GCAs abuses the NRA allowed for the Hughes Amendment to be attached. (The Hughes Amendment banned future machine-gun production for civilians after May 19, 1986 and set the precident for banning firearms by type.) This, and other failures like the permanent Bush import “assault weapon” ban in 1989 can be attributed to Carter leaving the organization in 1985 while the NRA’s political focus was still in its infancy. Future leadership fell back into previous levels of minimal action and this lead up to the passing of the domestic Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) in 1994. Yes, the NRA did voice opposition but in reality it exerted very little influence as the amount of money the NRA used for lobbying and election campaign contributions were a fraction of what they provide today.
Carter’s departure left a void in the organization’s leadership at a crucial time. Wayne Lapierre saw an opportunity and began his rise to power. By 1991, he had earned the position of EVP and saw a need to brand himself and rebrand the NRA. He then created the NRA Foundation, giving a third entity as a means of fund raising. An investigation of the financial dealing of the NRA will also come in a later article. By 1999, he was voice of the NRA even though it didn’t have a decisive direction. Although Lapierre called the ATF “jack-booted government thugs” after the Ruby Ridge and Wako incidents, in May of 1995 he testified before Congress supporting background checks for all firearms sales at gun shows including between private individuals. He has been economically involved with members of the established opposition including Karen F. Thomas who has ties to Hilary Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council.
Then the political winds and attitudes in this country shifted with two events. The steady rise in concealed carry permit states, affirming the right to self-defense and the expiration of the AWB in 2004. Gun sales and ownership have been on the rise ever since. Even as late as 2008 the NRA still seemed to be testing the winds by taking limited actions. When the Supreme Court decided on Heller vs DC, the NRA, who mostly avoided the case now rushed to champion this new opportunity. Now that the NRA had precedent on its side it would push for more court cases and raise more money. They used the events of Barack Obama’s reelection and the Sandy Hook tragedy to their advantage. In the January 2013 meeting, the first after Sandy Hook, not one of the Executive officers offer a word of condolence or sympathy about the tragedy. All of them talked about the upcoming fight. Vice President James Porter II, specifically commented about the 280,000 new members added in the month since the shooting and how the NRA would by like Horatius, the famous savior of Rome, regarding the 2nd Amendment. Yet outside sources show that the amount of money the NRA used to lobby on Capital Hill only mildly increased and was not the majority source of funds from the gun rights community. The NRA displayed similar rhetoric after the Trump campaign’s 2016 victory. Again, claims were made by President Allan Cors that it was the NRA members of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania that made those victories possible. Trump received that earliest endorsement the NRA has ever given and yet it seems that they never asked for anything in return.
Regarding all current federal legislation, there has been a disturbing trend. Despite investing more money into lobbying for legislation the NRA has yielded little results. Perhaps thats because in 2018 alone the NRA was involved in the lobbying of 292 bills between the two chambers. Looking through open sources most of the bills have little to do with gun rights. In January 2015 the House passed a bill for National Right-to-Carry reciprocity (NRC) and again in 2017. Yet despite their quick action similar bills dragged through the Senate, the notations made by the ILA reports to the Board, from early 2015 all the way up to today, are eerily concise from a top legislative priority to a pair of mentions to call the Senate for a vote. Those calls for a vote have one made in September of 2017 just prior to the Las Vegas shooting and in September 2018 where passage is all but impossible. Why didn’t the NRA take full advantage of its ‘immense’ political influence to get the bills passed and onto Trump’s desk to be signed into law? Perhaps it was never the their real focus, only President Oliver North makes the only internal reference to concealed carry and the NRC at the January 2018 meeting, which followed its underscored inclusion in their Las Vegas shooting statement. All the while, from January 2015 to now, there have been several references made by senior leadership regarding the hunting community and industry.
What’s also very unsettling is that the ILA doesn’t actually employ any lobbyists. They only use contracted lobbying firms to reach politicians. Even the former head of the ILA, Chris Cox is registered with the NRA, after him and Lapierre the NRA only employs around ten lobbyists for all of their federal lobbying. Only one, Gordon Speed, actually has a public profile stating which states he is assigned. Others are specifically assigned as directors for hunting or land conservation to just name two. This is the level of manpower that spent five-million dollars lobbying each of the last two years. Compare this to the amount of money they spend on campaign contributions and the NRA seems more like a Republican politician’s ATM. It doesn’t matter how much money is given to the NRA as their measured effectiveness doesn’t seem to change even as more money flows in.
At this time we will not discuss the situation revolving around the Hearing Protection Act (HPA) in this article. The treatment of the suppressors legislation deserves its own article. Please follow our news outlets for when the complete story is made available.
The level of involvement by the NRA at the state level is one filled with contradictions so the positive points will be made first. Yes, the NRA more recently has been active in filling lawsuits against legislation that negatively affects the gun community at the state level. The earliest court challenges found at the time of this article being written was the NRA lawsuit against the city of San Francisco in 2005. Yet, that is wear the positive point ends. The reports by the ILA at the NRA board meetings clearly show that their are multiple legal challenges being made but many are spearheaded by state level associations. Can you really call that activism?
Let’s look at two examples of how the NRA has been involved with state-level infringements on the 2nd Amendment. Back in 1989, a few days after the Purdey mass shooting in Stockton, California, one city in Ohio pushed for its own version of the assault weapons ban. When pro-2A residents lobbied to oppose this, they contacted NRA headquarters for help. The local NRA officials attended a few rallies organized by the local gun rights activists, but did little else. Due to the persistence of 2A supporters, the proposed laws were defeated, but the NRA claimed credit. (Incidences like this have been repeated, seemingly countless times, across the country since that one of 30 years ago.) The NRA still holds a lot of rallies and promotional events but its very hard to gauge their effectiveness. Then the NRA pursues lawsuits in the courts. There is serious problem with that strategy and its because at this point the NRA is playing defensively. A law is already on the books and now NRA is wading through the long and very expensive process of appeals to challenge each law’s constitutionality. These challenges often take a few years for them to run their course and nobody really knows what the outcome will be in the end. A recent case in point is the new serious of laws that just went into affect in the state of Washington, particularly I1639 which deals with. The law is a riddled with overreaching restrictions, conflicting processes and missing information. The NRA challenged it in court only on one particular issue, the raising of the age requirement to purchase a rifle. There are several other facets that are far more valid arguments like the new state required background check that will interfere with the ATF timeframe guidelines for which a firearm can be transferred. Nobody should be prevented from buying a firearms because the regulatory agencies can’t act in a timely manner. One can easily view this as a strategy with a specific design. Legal challenges done in this way provide a window of opportunity to make claims that the NRA is defending the 2nd Amendment for a positive creditability. All the while providing an underlying reason for the NRA to solicit its membership for more money.
What about the pro-gun state legislation that gets passed? Well this is where the unknown heroes of the 2nd Amendment fight the trench war. The state pistol and rifle associations across this country are the major reason why our community has had the successes in protecting our rights. Multiple organizations across the country were contacted in order to get a description of how these groups coordinated with the NRA. Maybe the word “coordination” is a little too strong to describe this relationship. The lobbyists of those state organizations all had one common thread to describe their relationship with the NRA. It was “conditional” and by that there are two parts. Starting with the NRA headquarters in Virginia there is no coordinated communication with these state groups. There is no central planning or strategy. No effective involvement or none at all.
There is one means of communicating between these organizations and its through the ILA representative. All of the state lobbyists that were reached made it clear that this relationship is very important if they want any help from the NRA. If this relationship is strained there is not much mutual support. So it is paramount to have a good working relationship with the ILA representative. Even if that is happening there is one major factor in dealing with each representative. Whether or not this person have the time to help. Most states in the US have to share their ILA representative with other states. That number currently varies from three to four states in each grouping. The reason why this is an estimation is that the NRA doesn’t provide such information. In the recent past however, it was not unheard of to have a single ILA representative covering 8 states, yes that’s not a typo! Under those circumstances that’s 16 legislative bodies at an average around 40 or so politicians per body making it this individual to try and communicate with 640 politicians or their staffs a year? Now this doesn’t factor out how many of the politicians are anti gun. Still the time to travel to each state and meet with these legislators during their perspective sessions seems a daunting task to actually be an activist. It reads more like a description of a delivery person running their errands dropping off campaign checks and reminding these politicians of their NRA Report Card grade. The reason for the change in coverage sadly is not that the NRA realized it needed to be more involved after some major tragedy resulting in increased pressure but the fact that too many of their own representatives complained about their workload! So the change was merely done to prevent burnout and personnel issues.
The NRA does have other personnel assigned to each state as you can clearly see in the back of each monthly publication. These state representatives and others like the ILA Grassroots coordinator are there for either the purpose of public relations promotional events or fundraising for the NRA. In contrast to the lack of information regarding state legislative support the NRA does list the number of people assigned to these endeavors to collect funding than actually putting that money to use. As of January 2019 the ILA has 7 regional coordinators, 147 FrontLine Activist Leaders, utilizes over 1.2 million volunteers and a mobile phone app. The ILA has a lopsided manpower issue to say the least.
How does this make any sense? It does on two points. First, by the NRA making claims about their lobbying in states, regardless of the actual involvement, it maintains that status of being cornerstone of defenders for the 2nd Amendment. Shameful self-promotion. The Mainstream Media plays into this idea as it feeds into their argument that the NRA is the only reason for why gun control bills are being blocked. Their egos can’t bring themselves to recognize the possibility that most people in this country believe in the right to bear arms. These elitists won’t acknowledge that their viewpoint is in the minority. Also if this view is correct, how can you fight a resistance that has no centralized control? Each state Rifle and Pistol Association is like an resistance cell of freedom fighters and as of right now they are in control of the majority of states.
Like the federal government, you can have access to vast amounts of money and still use it so inefficiently that you are always asking for more as the NRA income has trended steadily upward for several years.
In summary, the history of the NRA’s work of political activism has been presented and reviewed along with their lobbying. Their current level of engagement with both state and federal legislation leaves much to be desired. If you don’t believe in the arguments presented here then you are free to keep on blindly supporting the NRA and all of its actions, both positive and negative. If you feel that the organization no longer serves your interests but you are not sure what to do then by all means support your state level organization. Give them your time, donations (both monetary and physical), or your voice. Many are currently structured to only be involved in the state level of politics. Maybe its time for that to change and these organizations begin engaging with their U.S. Senators and Representatives. There is a lot of power in these groups directly representing their electorate to these officials. That goes back to an old saying that all politics are local and maybe its time to reinforce that.