As US mourns shootings, NRA in turmoil but influence remains

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For a brief moment in 2012, it seemed that the national impasse over guns was breaking.

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Adam Lanza, a 20-year-old gunman, forcibly entered a Connecticut elementary school and killed 26 people, mostly children, with an AR-15-style rifle. Fly flags at half-staff. A sporting goods chain suspended the sale of similar weapons. And longtime gun-rights supporters of both parties in Congress said they were willing to consider the new law. Then-President Barack Obama said the issue was complicated, but that everyone was bound to try.

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Then, a week after the bloodshed in the Sandy Hook primary, America’s most powerful gun lobby made its public position known and exposed the effort.

“The only thing that stops a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun,” National Rifle Association CEO Wayne Lapierre said in a defiant speech. Blamed video games, cowardly lawmakers, the media and a perverted society for the massacre. Calling Armed Guards to Schools Across America

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Nearly a decade later, the nation is at another crossroads. On Tuesday, a gunman killed at least 19 children with a similar weapon at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, in the nation’s second mass murder this month. This time, however, Lapierre didn’t need to address the bloodshed—the organization’s Republican allies in Congress did.

“The problem starts with the people. Not with guns.” Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville, who has an A-rating and an endorsement from the NRA, told reporters Wednesday, clearly summarizing the position of many in the GOP, especially the party’s recent turn. And assuming it’s right.

“I’m so sorry that happened. But guns aren’t the problem, okay. People have a problem. That’s where it starts. And we’ve had guns forever, and we’ll continue to have guns.”

A lot has changed since Sandy Hook. The NRA is on the ropes after a series of costly financial scandals and lawsuits. And a rising gun control movement has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into political campaigns to counter his message. For example, the group Moms Demand Action was formed the day after the Sandy Hook shooting.

“And how many children have to die?” founder Shannon Watts said this week.

“How many more parents, teachers, shopkeepers and worshipers should our leaders take to do something? Any senator who favors the gun lobby, who prevents life-saving change, is choosing to genocide and gun industry profits over the precious lives of our children. ,

But even as mass shootings continue, one thing remains the same in Washington: Republicans and Democrats both agree that there is little chance that a law tightening gun laws will be passed by a narrowly divided Congress. .

The gridlock, which persists even when public opinion supports some of the stricter gun laws, provides testament to the lasting influence of gun rights groups, which have spent $171 million lobbying the federal government since 1989.

“I want to be more optimistic. But I don’t think that will change,” said Sen. Chris Koons, D-Del.

The NRA is not the same powerhouse it once was, and in its wake, further right gun groups have gained, like America’s Gun Owners, which bills itself as a “no compromise” gun lobby.

There are several gun rights coalitions operating at the state level, which also wield heavy influence in legislatures. But in 40 years of working to loosen gun laws, the NRA has largely set the cultural tone on the right and is still the most prominent.

“You don’t need the NRA, in fact, to lead now because opposition to gun laws is now a litmus test of conservatism and the Republican Party,” said political science professor Robert Spitzer. at the State University of New York in Cortlandt and author of five books on gun policy.

“As we’ve seen it stumble in recent years, it’s not like gun culture has completely weakened,” says David Yamane, a Wake Forest University sociology professor who studies American gun culture. “There are other membership organizations that arose or evolved to fill some of the gap that the NRA used to serve.”

According to an analysis of data from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, the NRA has built up a well of goodwill by distributing more than $70 million to advance the political ambitions of Republicans, who currently serve in Congress, often By running ads attacking Democrats. Tracks political spending. Analysis shows he spent a comparatively small $171,000 helping pro-gun Democrats, who are currently in the House or Senate.

The gold-standard support of the NRA is also sought by Republican candidates, particularly in primary elections, where they serve as a cultural shorthand for what it means to be conservative. Getting bad letter grades from the organization can be a major source of concern.

Still, as the NRA gathered in Houston last week for its first conference since 2019, current and former board members say the secretive organization will face a growing crisis.

The New York Attorney General’s office sued to dissolve the organization. The court proceedings revealed how Lapierre and others invested millions of dollars in lavish personal visits to associates and no-show contracts, among other questionable expenses.

This led the organization to file for bankruptcy in 2021. But a judge dismissed the case, which had been brought by Lapierre without the consent of the NRA board, ruling that it had not been filed in good faith.

The financial difficulties have led to mass layoffs, slashing programs and a sharp drop in political spending, which peaked in 2016 when the organization spent $54 million, most of it helping Donald Trump win the White House. used to help

NRA contributions have declined sharply over the past two years, according to campaign finance data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics.

“The NRA is really becoming a shell of its former self,” said former NRA board member Rocky Marshall. “It cannot fulfill the mission of the NRA as all the money is being spent on lawyers.”

Marshall is making a push to replace Lapierre with former Texas GOP party chairman Alan West. Marshall is also hoping to step back from the culture wars and find common ground with gun-safety advocates. “Instead of being antagonistic or defensive, we need to have a dialogue because there is much more we can do to stop this kind of gun violence.”

One area where the NRA remains formidable is federal government lobbying. In 2021, the organization spent nearly $4.8 million more than its previous records set in 2017 and 2018, records show.

Firearms themselves are also part of the culture. Gun purchases increased drastically during the pandemic, and the 2021 National Firearms Survey found that 81 million Americans are gun owners. While the NRA claims only a fraction of that, about 5 million, as members, are vocal.

NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said the announcement of the group’s demise was “wishful thinking on the part of our opponents.”

“The reality is quite different and the results speak for themselves,” he said.

Still, an NRA brand that some see as toxic has presented an opportunity for other gun-rights groups, including some that strike a more measured tone.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, which represents gun vendors, spent more than $4.8 million on lobbying last year, reaching parity with the NRA. It avoids heated partisan rhetoric and its influence continues to grow as the NRA star is reduced.

“We are not going to contact anyone who disagrees with our approach or our industry,” said Mark Oliva, NSSF’s managing director of public affairs.

The Gun Rights Movement is also having success at the state level, where it has focused on repealing laws that require a permit to carry a concealed handgun.

Roughly half of the states in the US have withdrawn such laws, with Texas, Indiana and Tennessee all doing so in the past year.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is expected to soon issue its biggest gun ruling in more than a decade, making it easier to publicly carry guns in some of the nation’s biggest cities.

For gun owners traveling from across the country for the convention, the NRA remains a Loststar. Barbara Gallis, 75, of Racine, Wisconsin, said she is concerned about allegations of mismanagement, but is not sure whether “any other organization has the influence to support gun rights.”

“What other way do we have? Where shall we go?” he said.

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