With the NRA convention in Dallas over the weekend, the media have been hitting the organization, its members and civilian gun ownership in general hard for the past week. They’ve given the NRA the metaphorical full rectal examination, pointing out every flaw, blemish and polyp they could find to highlight.
HuffPost, for its part, has taken a slightly different angle on the story. They surveyed gun owners who aren’t NRA members and asked them why they haven’t joined the nation’s oldest civil rights organization.
Among the non-NRA gun owners who participated in the HuffPost/YouGov poll in April, nearly half said they didn’t think NRA membership would benefit them personally. One in four respondents selected the response “I disagree with the NRA’s political beliefs” as a reason they chose not to join. Another 22 percent of respondents said they didn’t feel that the NRA represented people like them (whether that was because they didn’t feel like they fit the demographic profile of a typical NRA member ― Republican, middle-aged, white and male ― or another reason wasn’t clear). Respondents were allowed to select multiple options.
HuffPost breaks down the responses and finds that, as far as politics go . . .
A number of write-in responses criticized the NRA’s conservative stance on gun safety and close ties to conservative politics. “[The NRA has] many stupid stances; some clips and firearms need to be banned,” wrote one respondent. Others lamented the organization’s political and business ties, noting that the NRA “is the lapdog of the gun and ammunition industries,” and “a branch of the Republican Party.”
And then there are those who don’t like the face of the NRA.
Multiple gun owners pinpointed the NRA’s CEO and executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, as the reason they declined to join the organization. LaPierre is well known for using fearmongering tactics to try to convince Americans about the necessity of guns, ranging from potential to highly improbable threats to Americans’ safety, including hurricanes, tornadoes, riots, terrorists, gangs, “lone criminals,” crime, drug gangs, Euro-style debt riots, civil unrest and natural disasters.
LaPierre’s antagonistic rhetoric has earned him enemies in high places. In 1995, former president George H. W. Bush famously published his lifetime NRA member resignation letter in The New York Times after LaPierre, in an NRA fundraising letter, referred to Bush’s federal agents as “jack-booted thugs.”
But as HuffPost found, the media pigeonhole gun owners at their own peril . . .
While the HuffPost/YouGov and Twitter polls can’t take the place of broad-scale, peer-reviewed research, the various points of view reflected in them point to a more politically diverse gun owner than is typically represented in the nation’s polarizing gun debate. That issue largely relies on the simplistic narrative that gun owners support Republican candidates and gun rights policies and that non-gun owners support Democratic candidates and gun control policies.
“It is unwise to assume that all gun owners are Republicans,” said Carson Mencken, a professor of sociology at Baylor University. Data from Baylor surveys shows that more than 20 percent of gun owners report being liberal or very liberal, while 50 percent of gun owners are conservative or very conservative, Mencken explained.
In short, there’s a vast middle/left gun ownership group out there that aren’t served by the NRA. Whether that leaves room for a new organization to fill that role — and how successful they may be in representing gun rights for those who describe themselves as liberal/libertarian/independent — is unclear at best.
But a look at the HuffPost results reveals plenty of opportunity for the NRA, too. Almost three-quarters of the respondents answered that they aren’t members because they either don’t see any perceived value in joining or think membership is too expensive. If the survey is reasonably representative and assuming a round 100 million gun owners in the US, that’s over 70 million gun owners the NRA could sign up with the right value proposition and pricing.
Then there are the inexplicables. The full 20% of respondents who either, 1) don’t know how to join(!), or 2) think that being an NRA member would advertise that they own firearms. They apparently believe that the NRA will publish the fact that they’ve joined. Or something. Again, more opportunity.
“What put me over the edge was this series of recent tragedies, both in schools and in other areas, and they just never budged,” John Liccardi, a 73-year-old hunter from Rutland, Vermont, who supported renewing a ban on assault-style weapons, including bump stocks, told the New York Times.
Liccardi, who in March penned an op-ed titled “Ashamed of the NRA” for the Vermont-based nonprofit journalism website VTDigger, wasn’t previously involved in the national gun debate in any public way.
“If there ever is going to be any progress in sensible gun ownership and control,” Liccardi explained, “it has to be from the middle ground.”
Yes, yes. The NRA has blood on its hands, hates children and eats puppies for breakfast. The HuffPost article emphasizes the NRA’s hard right political stance and opposition to further gun control laws and the like. But the HuffPost’s own research shows that isn’t even close to the reason over 80% of gun owners haven’t joined.
Is anyone in Fairfax seeing this?