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The NRA (more formally known as the National Rifle Association) is a prominent group when it comes to gun debates. They have worked hard to frame themselves as a group representing the interests of gun owners, while simultaneously receiving millions of dollars on an annual basis from major gun manufacturers. Is the NRA a way for gun owners to voice their opinion, or is it nothing more than a corporate lobbying group for the firearm industry?
Ultimately, the NRA falls somewhere between a public interest group and a corporate lobbying group. Of the $228 million worth of revenue the NRA reported in 2010, just under half came directly from NRA members via their annual membership fees. At the same time, a significant portion of their income came from the firearm industry, with around $40 million being donated by gun manufacturers. In some cases, the NRA also receives funding based on the number of firearms a corporation can sell. One example is Ruger & Co, a company that launched a campaign to sell one million guns and promised to donate $1 of each purchase to the NRA. In this way, the firearm industry can indirectly impact the stance that the NRA takes when it comes to policy decisions. Since the group benefits financially when gun sales are high, any laws or regulations on firearms will likely be unpopular with NRA executives.
One of the reasons why the NRA is often thought of as a lobbying group is because of their stance on firearm regulations, which often doesn't align with the opinions of gun owners. The group has opposed popular measures including requiring background checks at gun shows and banning sales to people on the terrorist watch list, both policies with over 70% support amongst NRA members and close to 90% support in America as a whole. Along with influencing policy on firearm restrictions, the group has been expanding its influence on other political issues as well. For example, in 2010, NRA lobbyists met with then-Senate majority leader Harry Reid to add provisions for gun owners to healthcare bills, political spending disclosure legislation, and even bills regarding credit card lenders.
Since the NRA isn't entirely a public interest group, we see a number of issues that arise when debates on the usage of firearms take place. The NRA usually represents gun owners in these debates, while their responses more accurately represent the views of gun manufacturers. A prime example of this was during the CNN town hall that took place immediately after the Parkland school shooting of 2018. Then-NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch was booed by crowds for her responses to questions posed by Emma Gonzalez, a Parkland survivor. Because the NRA as an organization has far more radical political views than most of its members, Dana avoided questions pertaining to the restriction of semi-automatic firearms and bump stocks. While this might not seem like a problem, Dana repeatedly stated that her responses to these questions were a representation of the five million NRA members she spoke for, which wasn't actually the case. In this way, Dana made the views of gun companies sound like the views of gun owners, hence shifting the blame for the incident away from these gun companies and onto the gun owners instead.
A Deep Dive
This section of the article will take a deeper look at a number of the topics we covered in this article. For more articles about American politics, view the "U.S. Politics" category of our news page.
NRA executives have recently come under fire for embezzling $64 million over the course of three years, which they spent on a number of lavish trips across the world. For example, Executive Vice-President Wayne LaPierre allegedly spent upwards of $500,000 of NRA money for him and his family to visit the Bahamas via private jet. Over the course of a four-year period, LaPierre supposedly spent upwards of $1.2 million of NRA funds on gifts for friends, private travel expenses, membership fees at golf clubs, lavish hotel expenses, and other membership fees.
Firearm Regulations and NRA Lobbying
Over 110 different pieces of legislation that relate to firearms have been introduced in the House of Representatives since 2019 alone. Out of those bills, a 2019 bill entitled the "Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019" received a significant amount of support from both parties in the 116th House of Representatives. The bill would have required background checks for firearm transfers in almost every scenario, with some exceptions for transfers between family members. After passing through the house on February 27th, 2019, the bill was brought to the Senate, where it was never even voted on. This may be a result of the NRA spending an average of over $700,000 on campaign donations every year, which likely deterred NRA-backed Senators from supporting gun control legislation. Another example of NRA spending can be seen with Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, who has received over $1.2 million in NRA campaign contributions over the course of his political career.
Since 2004, mass shootings have been on the rise in the United States. The average number of mass shootings in the USA from 2006-2010 was three per year. From 2011-2015, the average number of mass shootings per year was five point two. Finally, from 2016-2020, the average number of mass shootings was eight point two each year. This alarming statistic exemplifies that firearms are being used for malicious purposes at an increasing rate, a rate we need to aim to reduce as quickly as possible. The chart below shows a year-by-year breakdown of the number of mass shootings in the USA.