In the wake of the awful Newtown (Conn.) elementary school massacre, the familiar notion that the National Rifle Association has “hijacked” American gun politics has echoed across the land. One representative example: Will Bunch, a senior writer at the Philadelphia Daily News, opines: “It’s time to marginalize a fringe group called the NRA.”
The NRA deserves to be ostracized, Bunch writes, “pushed to the far fringes for promoting hysteria and enabling violence, drowned out by the voices of the majority of Americans who desperately desire gun sanity.”
Viewers of NRA honcho Wayne LaPierre’s press conference Dec. 21 will recall a similar sentiment expressed by Code Pink protesters who held up a banner declaring, “NRA kills our kids.”
The NRA does not murder children, and saying so only makes a mockery of reasonable advocacy of firearm regulation. The NRA does promote hysteria.
The gun-owners’ lobby continually (and disingenuously) suggests to its members, and the broader fraternity of firearm fans who take their cues from NRA headquarters in Fairfax, Va., that the federal government is on the verge of confiscating all guns. This extreme contention, for which the NRA has not a scintilla of evidence, helps make the debate about gun regulation shrill and unproductive.
Still, the NRA is not a “fringe group.” It does not distort democracy by means of especially diabolical deployment of campaign dollars or some special voodoo spell it casts over lawmakers. It plays the game of single-issue politics with fierceness and lack of shame. The strategy works. The 4 million-member group is feared because of its unrelenting focus and its ability to mobilize voters to mau-mau any legislator who strays from its rigid no-gun-control gospel.
And one other thing: The NRA enjoys broad popularity. Ouch, that’s got to hurt a lot of liberals’ ears. According to the latest from Gallup: “The National Rifle Association continues to enjoy a majority favorable image in the eyes of the American public, as it has in all but one of the seven surveys in which Gallup has measured it since 1993.”
Here are some details from a Gallup poll administered Dec. 19-22—that is, after the Newtown massacre.
• Fifty-four percent of American have a favorable opinion of the NRA, while 38 percent have an unfavorable opinion. These ratings have fluctuated since first measured by Gallup in 1993—from a low of 42 percent favorable in 1995 to a high of 60 percent in 2005.
• Favorable opinions of the NRA are much higher than average among the 45 percent of Americans who report having a gun in the household. However, one in four people with a gun at home view the NRA unfavorably.
• Republicans, who are much more likely to own guns than Democrats, have favorable views of the NRA at a rate exceeding 80 percent. Less than 40 percent of Democrats have a positive view of the group. A slight majority of independents have a pro-NRA opinion.
These figures explain why the Republican party opposes tougher gun control: A majority of their supporters favor the NRA. Democracy in action.
If they are ever to regain political momentum on the national level, gun-control proponents will have to be more honest, and less hysterical, about their opposition. In America, for better or worse, guns are mainstream, and the NRA is not going away.