Quartz contributor Elizabeth MacBride attended the NRA annual meetings and convention in Indianapolis back in April. It’s apparently taken her nine months to recover from the experience and synthesize her thoughts about the horrors she witnessed there.
She seems to have concluded that the source of the NRA’s power isn’t its money or its five million members and their propensity to vote for candidates who support their gun rights. Instead, as she sees it, the Association’s influence stems from algorithms, fear, racism, misogyny, nativism, and a pervasive culture of violence.
Everywhere I looked, I was surrounded by foot soldiers of the NRA.
A paunchy man walked by wearing a too-tight t-shirt that read, “Ho ho ho, now I have a machine gun.” A man with a Gettysburg beard stood to one side. At the nearby Palmetto State Armory booth, two young men caressed AK-47s on display.
I had gone into the convention hoping to answer my questions about how the NRA, a relatively small organization (representatives claim around 5 million members, but the figures are not confirmed) wields so much power.
In the 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court ruled on an individual right to bear arms rather than a state militia’s right to be equipped. But since the late 1960s, the NRA has blocked gun registration and licensing systems, stymied enforcement of existing laws by hamstringing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), and undermined public-health approaches to gun violence.
The NRA is at the heart of an American gun culture that has given rise to a societal tolerance for horrific shootings. Yet in the past two decades, the association has morphed into something even more powerful: a machine for right-wing America.
Members of the NRA may not look like much individually. But under one of the most gifted political organizers in US history, current NRA vice president Wayne LaPierre, they remain core to US president Donald Trump’s re-election campaign, even after a year in which the NRA was rocked by grifting scandals. Militarized and steeped in a hierarchical culture that celebrates violence, NRA-member voters are also likely to quickly support war.
I went into the convention thinking there were two forces at work that can explain the NRA’s power and LaPierre’s longevity: Weaponized right-wing politics, and the gun industry, which provides the bankroll. My hypothesis proved to hold up.
But I also learned that 15 acres of guns is not all about politics. Nor is it all about guns.
– Elizabeth MacBride in The NRA’s most powerful weapon is not a gun