Is the NRA Relevant?

My recent stories for TTAG about the National Rifle Association’s PR problems have hit something of a nerve. More specifically, members are up in arms about the NRA’s flirtation with Democratic House leader Harry Reid (links here and here). The palaver over the NRA’s “carve out” on the campaign finance DISCLOSE Act has also done little to please the [formerly] NRA faithful. We’re getting a lot of feedback indicating that NRA members’ backs are getting heavy with straw. Is this a sign of big troubles ahead, or just a couple of “flyers” that are entirely besides the point? First, a few bullet points worth considering . . .

  • The rival organization Gun Owners of America is benefitting from the NRA’s perceived peccadillos
  • A significant number of people contacting us have quit the NRA over these issues
  • The NRA has apparently gone totally tone deaf over this. They’re not responding to members’ concerns with convincing arguments

Organizations such as the NRA have a certain amount of inertia, because of their size and reputation. You don’t become politically irrelevant, toothless and ineffective overnight. There’s a natural law much like the visual phenomenon known as “persistance of vision” that kicks in – you buy the NRA’s line because you have no credible evidence that they are wearing the Emperor’s New Clothes. You assume that they’re bringin’ the goods because they always have.

The persistent power of branding insulates the NRA from their own bad decisions . . . to a point. You can get away with a screw-up here and a bad decision there based on inertia. But not forever. Sooner or later, as the the Reverend Wright has opined, the chickens come home to roost. And I get the feeling, it’s about to be open season on the NRA chickens.

There’s something in society known as the tipping point. It occurs when enough people change their minds on something to shift the balance of power. I’m afraid that’s about to happen regarding the NRA, just like it is happening in the halls of Congress. (Although, with Congress, it can’t bloody happen soon enough to suit me.)

The NRA is far from irrelevant. Or impotent. If the gun rights group learns its lesson and stays away from DISCLOSE-style debacles—political payoffs and back-room deals that [at the very least] give the organization the appearance of moral turpitude—  it will remain a potent political force.

But can it? Has the NRA become institutionally immodest? Does the NRA see itself as too big to fail, which also means it’s now too big too listen to its members’ sometimes uninformed, always unyielding views?

Clearly, NRA members are turning against the mothership. Dissatisfied NRA members must decide if they want to work from within to reform the organization, or quit and support a different group that’s more responsive to their needs, and more aligned with their own views.

The NRA’s still the 800-pound gorilla in the room. But there are more and more simians vying for attention thee days: the Gun Owners of America, The National Shooting Sports Federation and hundreds of local groups, empowered by the Internet and their tightly gathered social net.

For now, this NRA Life Member is going to use TTAG’s “bully pulpit” to argue for reform from within. To that end, I encourage every NRA member to call the NRA and let them know exactly what you think in regards to Harry Reid and the DISCLOSE Act.

The NRA got it right, belatedly, on their opposition to Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court nomination. There’s still time to see them come out swinging against Harry Reid and the DISCLOSE Act. If every NRA member calls, it WILL make a difference.

If the organization ignores its members’ intransigence (a.k.a. moral fiber), members will vote with their wallets. The NRA will end up as a hollow tree trunk, dead within, rotting from the inside out.

Is the NRA still relevant? You tell me.

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