Since the Newtown shooting, the NRA has come in for a lot of flak. Vice-President Wayne LaPierre was called a "gun nut" by the normally-right leaning New York Post and Obama claimed that the organization had "willfully lied" to defeat his background check bill.
All of that testifies that the NRA is influential, perhaps more so than ever before, and their membership rolls continue to increase. The group was instrumental in "getting the last few votes we needed to defeat Manchin-Toomey," according to Michael Hammond of Gun Owners of America, not to mention "responsible for how appallingly weak our gun laws are," says Ladd Everitt of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
Given their influence it's worth asking whether the NRA's sway is positive, and whether they represent the views of most American gun owners. The group is either "hideous" or "a good ally" to gun owners, depending on your point of view.
64% of Americans believe the NRA has been a positive influence on America, according to an online poll with over 600 responses conducted by Politix.
But liberals, even liberal gun owners, maintain that the NRA speaks for only a tiny minority. "The NRA has 4 million members, so it represents only a tiny sliver of Americans," says Dan Baum, a self-described liberal who loved guns and author of Gun Guys. "Only 4 percent of gun owners belong to the NRA." He added, "the NRA is hideous."
The group represents the gun industry and the far right, not average gun owners, says Ladd Everitt of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. "When you look at what their revenue source is, an increasing source of their revenue is from the gun industry. As people buy guns the NRA prospers. They're not even trying to hide that anymore."
But the NRA gets less funding from the gun industry than from gun owners, points out Michael Hammond of Gun Owners of America. "As far as I know, they don't receive much money from the gun industry...I think most of their money comes from their membership. The left has created that narrative."
Even if they are mainly funded by members, they're not speaking for those members, claims Everitt. "74% of NRA members support a universal background check, so the NRA is not even speaking for their own members on some issues. The NRA leadership is far more radical than average gun owners and even average NRA members."
The group has moved to the extreme right, adds Everitt. "They have Glenn Beck as their featured speaker for 5th year in a row. They're not even trying to reach out to mainstream Americans."
Both pro-gun and gun control groups agree that the NRA has changed, but whether that's for the better depends on which side of the gun debate you fall.
The group has become a better defender of gun owners after being burned by compromising with Democrats, says Hammond of Gun Owners of America. "After Columbine NRA endorsed 90% of Clinton's gun legislation. After Virginia Tech they negotiated with Chuck Schumer...I think they learned from that, that for Chuck Schumer gun control is just a platform for more gun control."
Gun Owners of America would say that, says Ladd Everitt of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. The NRA has been "pushed from their right flank by even more radical groups like Gun Owners of America." What that's meant has been "radicalization" so that the NRA no longer represents ordinary gun owners.
When did the NRA move right? Gun Owners of America date the change to an epiphany in 2007, when the NRA realized compromise with Democrats was disastrous. The CSGV's Everitt puts the change much earlier, in 1977.
"Prior to 1977 it was a much more moderate organization that was focused on the sporting aspect of shooting," says Everitt. "Then you had this big schism in 1977 when the organization was going to build a new headquarters at Colorado Springs. The hardliners won control of the organization. The rest is history. Since then they've been a far right organization, more of a shock troops for the right wing."
The NRA credits itself with teaching "freedom to future generations," Jeremy Greene, the NRA's director of marketing, told Politix in a statement. They've also had a positive role in promoting gun safety with programs like "Refuse to Be a Victim," which teaches adults self-defense, and the Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program which has taught gun safety to over 25 million kids.