To hear a couple of long-time civilian disarmament advocates tell it, the post-Parkland anti-gun uprising took even them by surprise. That may even be true, at least for some of them. They no doubt thought that if they weren’t able to significantly roll back gun rights in the aftermath of the horror that was Sandy Hook in which 20 young children were murdered, virtually nothing would move the anti-gun ball forward, at least at the national level.
But Jon Cowan and Jim Kessler have taken to the Daily Beast to announce that . . .
In the immediate aftermath of the Parkland shooting, we drew on our combined 50 years of experience battling the National Rifle Association to predict that nothing would change on guns.
Those same 50 years of experience now tell us we were wrong. Why? Because we have never seen the NRA more vulnerable.
Unlike most analysts, they get one thing right.
The NRA derives its power on one thing and one thing only: their ability to determine outcomes at the ballot box.
Most typically uninformed media mavens and political observers attribute the NRA’s power to the amount of cash they spread around, supporting various candidates at both federal and state levels. While their contributions aren’t insignificant, NRA cash is a drop in the bucket compared to other industries such as financial services, healthcare and real estate.
The NRA’s real power lies in its five million (now closer to six million, by some reports) members who are politically aware, fiercely protective of their gun rights and can be relied upon to vote.
In 1993, it knocked off Democratic Governor Jim Florio after he banned assault weapons in gun control-friendly New Jersey—a warning shot to blue state Democrats that even they could be beaten. In 1994, the group beat boll weevil House Democrats like Jack Brooks for supporting a crime bill that included gun restrictions, sending the message that even 30 years of pro-NRA votes didn’t mean jack if you crossed the gun lobby. Heck, even Bernie Sanders owes his first election for Congress to the NRA who called him the “more honorable choice for Vermont” when Republican incumbent Pete Smith bucked them. A Socialist is better than a Republican who messes with us, the group said.
But Cowan and Kessler think the NRA’s tactics are antiquated and they may have met their match in those plucky little Parkland kiddie gun control warriors.
On technology, here’s one of the NRA’s many dirty little secrets. Among the five million members they claim to have, only an estimated 650,000 are politically active. That’s the number of dues-paying NRA members who subscribe to their activist magazine America’s First Freedom, and—not coincidentally—their number of Twitter followers. The NRA’s trick is to make those activists feel like five million when they flood officeholders with calls and threats.
The NRA probably thought 650,000 followers was a good army to amass over nine years on Twitter. Then Parkland survivor Emma Gonzalez took seven weeks to attract her 1.5 million followers. Each of her followers—as well as fellow survivor David Hogg’s 700,000—are putting pressure on officeholders every bit as effectively as the NRA did in the past.
As for America’s First Freedom subscribers, that’s an option for members. I’m an NRA member and have never received the magazine. My recycle bin’s plenty full as it is with the other crap that mass marketers still send on dead tree. America’s First Freedom subscribers is a poor way to measure NRA membership engagement.
As for the Parkland tykes’ Twitter follower totals, please. If they think that more than 10% of their followers are doing anything more than swiping past Gonzalez’s and Hogg’s latest electronic primal screams, they’re kidding themselves.
But they also argue that demographic shifts and the NRA’s antiquated tactics have reduced their political power.
Even before Parkland, cracks were starting to show in the NRA fortress. Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey won re-election to the Senate in 2016 because of, not in spite of, his authorship of a universal background check bill. NRA-backed Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte stuck with the NRA and lost to Democrat Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire with guns a major issue. And in the wake of Parkland, Florida Governor Rick Scott’s support of modest gun restrictions will more likely help, not hurt him in his anticipated Senate run against Democrat Bill Nelson as rural areas shrink.
OK then. None of those elections occurred in a vacuum and gun rights played a relatively small roll in the 2016 election results. And if they’re right, why did nothing happen after Sutherland Springs or Las Vegas?
When Republican officeholders in places like Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio and Indiana come to realize that an A-rating from the NRA is a liability, not an asset, the NRA’s Maginot line will break. The NRA has faced difficult times before, but from our vantage point this is the most vulnerable they’ve been in our professional lifetimes. That’s why they are flipping out.
As a wise man once said, that’s just, like, their opinion. From our perspective, we don’t see much evidence of “flipping out” on the NRA’s part, not that they haven’t suffered some setbacks, both of their own making and due to the post-Parkland need to be seen as doing something. But rumors of the NRA’s decline and fall have circulated before. And they’ve almost always been greatly exaggerated.