Brodie Farquhar: Who is the NRA?
March 14, 2018
Fifty years ago, I was a member of the National Rifle Association.
In the late ’60s, I belonged to a Denver-area gun club, NRA membership included. At 6’4" and 150 pounds, I was not prime material for the football team or pretty much any sport. Yet I turned out to be a fair, dinkum marksman in the prone and sitting fire-positions — nice, tight groupings.
I learned gun safety and how to control breathing and squeeeeeze the trigger. Firing from the standing position was more problematic. My upper body didn’t have the mass or strength to comfortably hold still.
I never heard word one about the Second Amendment. It was all focused on safety and marksmanship and hunting.
In 1970, I went to college and my .22 rifle started gathering dust in my home bedroom closet. With so much going on in college — classes, new friends, beer and girls — I didn’t give shooting another thought for years and decades.
The old NRA I got to know — hunting, safety, marksmanship — changed drastically in 1977, during a national convention in Cincinnati. A well-planned floor fight broke out in the convention hall, and the old guard was thrown out of power. The new leaders were focused on gun rights and an absolutist interpretation of the Second Amendment, that there should be no limitations on gun ownership.
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What happened since then is the stuff of political science legend and lore.
The NRA became a lobbying powerhouse. With ardent members and millions more sympathizers, the NRA created a passionate group of voters that in a tight political race, could tip the race to politicians with A-ratings and punish the candidate who took any position opposed by the NRA.
Initially, the NRA supported any politician who followed NRA scripture, Dems and GOP alike. Over time, the NRA became ever more conservative, ever more extreme, ever more uncompromising. They lost a few battles, like the 1994 ban on assault weapons, but they won many more.
In District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the Second Amendment gives Americans an individual right to possess firearms — a new legal concept that Chief Warren Burger had previously called a massive fraud.
Today, we find the NRA holds absolute sway over the Republican Party, blocking attempts of reform on gun control. We have 300 million guns in the country because the NRA, working with arms manufacturers, uses mass killings to scare members into buying more and more guns, out of fear that future purchases may be banned.
Perversely, mass killings are good for business for the NRA and gun manufacturers, always triggering more members and more sales. Ironically, the election of Trump was bad for sales, putting Remington at risk of bankruptcy. No one was worried, so no one was buying.
Then came the Parkland slaughter on Valentine’s Day. For the first time in decades, in the face of student-led activism, the NRA and GOP look vulnerable.
And they are. Special-elections since the Trump election have been lop-sided in favor of Democrats. Add this new passion and intensity from young people all over the country, and mid-term elections are shaping up as a historic game changer.
Both the NRA and GOP have become extreme reactionaries and no longer represent "We the People." They need to suffer resounding defeats in 2018 and 2020 to remind them that voters are in charge, not the gun manufacturers or the 1 percenters.