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Single-Issue Solidarity Behind NRA’s Clout

A visitor handles a revolver at a Smith & Wesson display during the NRA Annual Meetings and Exhibits on April 14 at America's Center in St. Louis, Mo.

Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, calls on Congress to address gun violence at a news conference on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. More than 20 family members and victims of mass shootings across America joined him.

Audio

Aired 12/19/12

The National Rifle Association says it will hold a major news conference Friday -- a week after the school massacre in Connecticut -- and that it is "prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again."

The 4 million-member organization is known in Washington as a lobbying force so powerful, it quashed any gun control debate for nearly two decades.

A Gun Control Demonstration

On Tuesday, gun control advocates gathered outside the Capitol. Next-of-kin of shooting victims formed a procession to the microphone.

"My name's Jerri Jackson, and my son Matt McQuinn was 27, and he died in the Aurora shooting on July 20," one woman said. "In addition, he saved his girlfriend."

Twelve people were killed in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shootings earlier this year.

"My father was Professor G.V. Loganathan," Uma Loganathan said into the microphone. "He taught civil engineering at Virginia Tech and he was killed on April 16, 2007."

Thirty-two people died that day in a mass shooting at the university in Blacksburg, Va.

Others mentioned shootings you would probably barely remember, if at all.

Then Andrei Nikitchyuk said his son "miraculously survived" the shooting last week at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

The event was organized by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Its president, Dan Gross, didn't attack the NRA. He simply offered an invitation "to anyone who loves to hunt, who owns guns for any lawful purpose, to join us in having this national conversation to make this the better nation that we need to be."

Effective Advocacy

Gross suggested that the NRA leadership is more extreme than many of its members. But that has been a tough sell.

The NRA ranks among the most effective advocacy groups in America. It reaches its members almost every way imaginable: high-quality magazines, Web TV, gun club affiliates for local bonding, and national conventions every year -- a festival of guns and those who appreciate them.

The whole thing is wrapped in patriotism.

"We're the longest-standing civil rights organization in the U.S., proud defenders of history's patriots, protectors of the Second Amendment," says one promotional video.

Nina Kasniunas, a political scientist at Goucher College in Baltimore, uses the NRA as a showcase of advocacy techniques -- everything, she says, down to the swag that members get.

"When they see the T-shirt, when they see the baseball hat that says the NRA, there's kind of just like a wink and a nod -- sure, you know, 'We're in this together. We are the NRA,' " she says.

And it's through that slogan -- that solidarity -- that the NRA gets its clout. It grades lawmakers -- grades them harshly. It supplies volunteers to political campaigns. And it educates its members on how to vote -- using extensive mailing lists that candidates both covet and fear.

All for a single issue: guns.

Too Much Credit?

In this year's campaign, the NRA ran ads like this one: "Obama put two justices on the Supreme Court who threaten our right to self-defense. Defend freedom. Defeat Obama."

The NRA spent $18 million in disclosed funds. Significant money came from gun manufacturers and from Karl Rove's secretive Crossroads GPS organization.

At Brigham Young University, political scientist Kelly Patterson says it is possible to give the NRA too much credit.

"Many of these members of Congress already came in predisposed to see the National Rifle Association's agenda a certain way and to be sympathetic toward it," Patterson says.

But it's also true that the NRA has more clout than liberal groups.

Matthew Vadum, senior editor at the Capital Research Center, which tracks liberal advocacy groups, says their core issues, like environmental regulation, usually come with economic costs.

"If they win, that is going to cost people money," he says. "You don't have this kind of conflict on the right, when you're advancing what some people call gun rights."

The question now is whether the NRA's core issue comes with a new and different kind of cost.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit www.npr.org.

Comments

Avatar for user 'llk'

llk | December 19, 2012 at 11:05 a.m. ― 1 year, 10 months ago

The Second Amendment is no longer necessary, and now does more harm than good. That's what I believe, but I respect the right of Second Amendment advocates to defend it. However, I would really like to know where and why they draw the line between the right to own the minimum amount of firearm power necessary to adequately defend their homes, and the right to own the most powerful, most violent, most brutally destructive military-grade weapons imaginable.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | December 19, 2012 at 1:20 p.m. ― 1 year, 10 months ago

Ilk, What is it that make you believe there is no chance of intolerably abusive government in the future?

My interpretation of the line is; A private citizen should be able to arm himself to such a level as to have a reasonable chance, with the active participation of his community, at repelling the invasiveness of a government "that has become destructive of these ends" and they have decided it "is the right of the people to alter or abolish".
Where exactly that line is would take a lot of debate. It largely depends on what we arm our individual soldiers with.
To me it is clear that WMD and heavy bombers are not in that list, but that target pistols and shotguns are inadequate.

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Avatar for user 'DeLaRick'

DeLaRick | December 19, 2012 at 1:37 p.m. ― 1 year, 10 months ago

IIk,

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! Of course the 2nd Amendment is necessary. How else are we going to keep British soldiers off our backs?

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Avatar for user 'Really123'

Really123 | December 19, 2012 at 1:41 p.m. ― 1 year, 10 months ago

benz72- I see your point and do not dispute that a scenario like that, however remote, could possibly occur. What I see though is gun owners fighting for thier right to own guns, and that's it. Nothing else. To an outsider like me it seems like you have NRA members out for themselves. They are just fighting for guns. There's no sense of justice related to any social or government issue, just the threat of violence. If your going to wrap yourself up in the flag, don't you at least need both?

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