For years the NRA has struck terror into the hearts of many Members of Congress. The organization’s officers and lobbyists purported to represent the interests and wishes of millions of American gun owners.
Members of Congress believed that negative NRA ratings – and a flood of NRA money – could sink their political careers faster than you could say “AR-15.”
But the American people, and Members of Congress, are gradually awaking to the fact that – just as with the Wizard of Oz – there isn’t much behind the NRA’s magic curtain but the big booming voice of a special interest bully whose power derives more from perception than reality.
It is of course true that in politics the perception of power translates into the reality of power. The problem is that once it becomes clear that you’re all hat and no cattle, the myth of power rapidly collapses into a pile of dust. That is exactly what is happening to the NRA. Here’s why.
Reason #1. First and foremost, in 2012 the NRA had exactly zero effect on the outcome of the General Election – or to be more precise, it had about .83% effect.
One of the big stories of the 2012 election was the failure of some of the big name right wing PACs to win many races. The Sunlight Foundation calculated the relative effectiveness of a number of right wing PACs and found that most of their money did not buy success.
The National Republican Congressional Committee had only a 31.8% percent success rate.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce only had a 6.9% success rate.
Karl Rove’s non-profit, Crossroads GPS, did a little better, spending $70 million with a 14.43% success rate. But his American Crossroads Super Pac had only a 1.29% success rate after spending over $104 million.
The NRA’s Legislative Institute had only a 10.74% success rate.
But the NRA main PAC wasn’t just your run of the mill failure of the 2012 election year. It won the prize for the very worst performance of the entire gang. In fact of the $11.1 million it spent, only .83% went to winning candidates.
And to make matters worse, it didn’t just have a dismal batting average; many progressive PACs spent just as much, and were much more effective.
The League of Conservation Voters raised and spent almost $11 million, but instead of a .83% success rate, they had an 83% success rate.
Planned Parenthood’s two PACs raised and spent over $11 – and had a 98% success rate.
Part of the reason for the NRA’s horrible success rate is the fact that rather than back candidates that support the Second Amendment – a goal endorsed by many of its individual members – it has become for all practical purposes a wing of the Republican Party.
But that isn’t the only disjuncture between the interests of NRA members and those of its officers and lobbyists.
Reason #2. Turns out that the officers and lobbyists of the NRA actually represent weapons manufacturers, not rank and file gun owners. That's why they refuse to support common sense restrictions on military style assault weapons, magazines that hold a hundred bullets, or background checks for anyone who buys a gun, even though most Americans – and many gun owners - support these measures.
A CBS News poll showed that 57% now support stronger laws, an 18-point increase since last April (39%). A USA Today/Gallup poll showed a similar trend, with 58% supporting stronger laws, 15 points above the level of support in October 2011 (43%).
In a CNN/ORC poll, the most pronounced shift was on support for a ban on assault guns like the AK-47, with 62% of Americans supporting such a ban, a 5-point increase from last August.
In fact, according to the CNN/ORC poll, 95% of all Americans think that everyone who buys a gun should have to undergo a background check. A December Washington Post poll shows this strong support for universal back ground checks extends to gun owners as well. Many people believe background checks are already required for all gun purchases, but the fact is that 40% of all gun sales are “private transactions” – at gun shows or from private gun sellers where no background check is currently required. That's like having two lines in airport security -- one that checks for bombs and weapons and one that doesn't. Which one do you think would be chosen by those who seek to do us harm?
And to make matters worse, databases of many states are not maintained. Bottom line: it easy for dangerous criminals and the mentally ill to buy deadly weapons.
According to the Huffington Post, a recent bipartisan poll conducted for Mayors Against Illegal Guns found that:
"Large majorities of Americans agree with the 2008 Supreme Court ruling that the Second Amendment confers an individual right to own guns, and Americans strongly oppose efforts to ban handguns," said Bob Carpenter, vice president of American Viewpoint, the Republican polling firm that joined with Democratic firm Momentum Analysis to conduct the survey. "But Americans and gun owners feel with equal fervor that government must act to get every single record in the background-check system that belongs there and to ensure that every gun sale includes a background check. Most Americans view these goals, protecting gun rights for the law-abiding and keeping guns from criminals, as compatible."
That is directly contrary to the positions of the NRA’s high command.
The goal of the officers and lobbyists of the NRA is not to protect the rights of gun owners; it is to maximize the profits of weapons manufacturers and arms dealers.
They love to frighten law-abiding gun owners with the prospect that common sense measures to reduce gun violence put America on the “slippery slope” to end the right to bear arms and to the confiscation of your hunting rifle. Their attempts to develop paranoia about confiscation – and about government tyranny – are good for business; it’s that simple.
After the Sandy Hook tragedy, the NRA’s fear-mongering caused a massive spike in the sales of semi-automatic assault weapons.
And the reason the NRA is so keen on preventing a new assault weapon ban is that its customer base is shrinking from about 50% of the population forty years ago, to about a third. And that base of current gun owners already owns a whopping 270 million guns. In fact, with 5% of the world’s population, America already has about 50% of the world’s guns. One way to continue to raise the profit margins of gun manufacturers is to sell increasingly powerful, expensive guns like the “Bushmaster” that was used to kill the children at Sandy Hook elementary school.
The problem for the NRA’s officers and lobbyists, is that events like the Sandy Hook massacre make it crystal clear that there is no relationship between the NRA’s defense of semi-automatic weapons that can fire off dozens of rounds in a few seconds, and the weapons everyday gun owners need for hunting or for their personal safety.
No one uses a “Bushmaster” to shoot ducks. And there are not many Americans who keep a loaded semi-automatic assault weapon under their pillow for self-defense.
And there is another reason why all the talk about “slippery slopes” increasingly rings hollow.
Reason #3. The Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia vs. Heller made it crystal clear that the Second Amendment does in fact protect the right to own guns for hunting and self defense. It also made clear that this right does not preclude the government from imposing common sense regulations on the sale and performance of weapons that can be marketed to the general public – nor does it prevent the passage of laws that prevent dangerous individuals from buying a gun.
The Supreme Court decision makes the “slippery slope” argument – the fear that the government is on the verge of confiscating their guns – into complete hogwash.
As more and more Americans recognize that their right to own guns is not jeopardized by common sense measures to curb gun violence, it will be harder and harder for the NRA leadership to continue to frighten gun owners with the phony specter of confiscation.
Reason #4. The NRA is led by officers and lobbyists that have lost touch with the reality of the American electorate. NRA Executive VP, Wayne LaPierre’s press conference immediately after Sandy Hook was completely tone deaf. It didn’t demonstrate an ounce of empathy for the six-year old children who were murdered – or for the grief felt by their families. Instead it focused entirely on promoting the sale of more and more guns.
That might be good for short-term gun sales, but it continues to unmask the massive gulf between everyday Americans -- including the millions of everyday American gun owners on the one hand, and those on Wall Street that make hundreds of millions of dollars selling weapons like the “Bushmaster” on the other. The “Bushmaster” – or AR-15 – has no purpose other than killing the largest number of human beings in the shortest possible period of time.
And it turns out we haven’t had to wait long to see the image of the NRA’s invincibility dissolve before our eyes.
For years the NRA has had a net positive rating with the public. No longer. A recent poll from Public Policy Polling found that in the period following the Sandy Hook massacre, support for the gun advocacy organization fell from 48 percent to 42 percent, while negative views increased from 41 percent to 45 percent.
For decades, the conventional wisdom in Washington has held that if the NRA opposed a gun bill, it was doomed. But there is a new reality in America. The faces of the children and women who died at Sandy Hook – and the faces of all of those who are dying in cities across America every day – have transformed the debate.
Increasingly, the struggle to reduce gun violence is being seen for what it is. Instead of a fight between gun owners and the “government” – it is becoming a battle between the rights of innocent victims of violence and the profits of weapons manufacturers.
And with every passing day, more and more politicians are beginning to realize that the NRA is nothing more than “the Great Oz.”
Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on He is a partner in Democracy Partners and a Senior Strategist for Americans United for Change. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer.