The NRA is "Winning" the Gun Control Battle if It Loses, Or Something

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 18 2013 10:49 AM

The NRA Is "Winning" the Gun Control Battle if It Loses, or Something

This Chris Cillizza/Aaron Blake item takes a strawman argument -- "the NRA is losing in the fight over the proper place for guns in American society" -- and doesn't bother to refute it.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.

Let's start with some context. The Republicans control the House of Representatives, and the Democrats' current Senate majority depends on a large number of "red state" members who are up in 2014. Under those circumstances, any new gun control legislation will be tough to pass. In the last two decades, gun control/background check/mental health-and-guns legislation has only passed when Democrats controlled Congress: 1993 and 2007. In 2011, after the shooting of Gabby Giffords, there was absolutely no momentum for any congressional gun control bill. The gun control status quo, since 2000, has been: Nobody mess with the NRA. (Even the post-Virginia Tech mental health bill was watered down with the NRA's cooperation.) Gun control advocates don't think they can philosphically obliterate the NRA this year. They think, maybe, they can outrun them and pass the first gun bills of any kind since The Cosby Show was on the air.

But Cillizza and Blake propose that "the inside-the-Beltway crowd and those who have been longtime advocates of more gun control laws" overstate the NRA's weakness. The evidence:

- According to polls, the NRA, as an institution, is either marginally less popular than it was two years ago, or it's dramatically less popular. Cillizza and Blake cite a Gallup poll that finds the NRA's net favorable number falling from +26 in 2005 to +16 today. It's doing better than it was when the Brady Bill was passed. Interesting, but not sure how it debunks the "inside-the-Beltway crowd" who think the NRA's faded a bit.

- The NRA claims to have signed up 250,000 new paying members and 400,000 new Facebook members. "It’s not unreasonable to think the NRA will add more members (and raise more money) in 2013 than in any year in recent memory," they write, although the NRA won't comment on fundraising numbers.

- Any gun control legislation is likely to be "small bore."

[T]he organization almost certainly recognizes that some sort of measure(s) restricting gun rights is likely to be made law. Given that, the NRA’s goal — unstated, of course — is likely to keep what Congress passes on the small side in terms of impact. So a ban on high capacity ammunition clips might be acceptable, but a new version of the assault weapons ban wouldn’t be.

What's the basis for this theory, that the NRA assumes something will pass? The NRA's stated position, and the thrust of its ads, is that the only gun legislation it will accept is funding for armed guards in schools. After meeting with Vice President Biden, the NRA immediately issued a statement condemning the White House's war on the Second Amendment, and NRA President characterized apart from armed guard funding as "basically feel-good measures that allow them to say, 'Look, we've done this.'" The NRA represents an industry that will lose money if a ban on high capacity magazines goes through.

I just don't get the argument that the NRA is "winning" if it loses something legislatively but gains members. Here's a comparison: Planned Parenthood. For a very long time, Planned Parenthood's federal funding, and its funding in the states, was controversial but not seriously endangered. In 2011, Republicans gained power and started peeling back the funding. Private donations to PP surged. But by becoming a partisan football -- Democrats for PP funding, Republicans against -- the group got weaker. The NRA's great victory, from 2001 to 2012, was keeping gun control off the table. In the long run, if we're back to the 1990s status quo where politicians feel free to attack the group, how is it "winning"?

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.