Fallout from the Senate’s defeat of President Obama’s gun-control initiatives shows why the National Rifle Association wins on this issue.
Without reviewing all of the structural and legal reasons the pro-gun side has gained the upper hand (I’ve previously addressed the topic here and here and here), today let’s look at three less-obvious reasons the NRA has so much success.
1. “The NRA” is much more than the NRA. The gun-rights lobby says it’s gained hundreds of thousands of new members since the December elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn., bringing its dues-paying rolls close to 5 million. That, however, does not begin to capture the extent of popular opposition to greater restrictions on gun ownership.
As I’ve written, the NRA’s increasing shrillness reflects, in part, its effort to defuse more-strident organizations, such as Gun Owners of America. But beyond the NRA (which has hundreds of politically active local affiliates) and GOA, there are millions of gun owners who don’t pay dues to anyone yet still bring pressure to bear. Pay a visit to GunsAmerica.com, an online marketplace of the sort that would have seen some of its transactions curbed by Obama’s failed push for comprehensive criminal background checks. The site’s blog emphasizes that many gun owners actually resent the NRA’s taking credit for activism carried out by unaffiliated individuals:
“Everyone thinks that it was the clout of the NRA that won this battle, but we firmly believe that it was you, the first and most persistent voices on those Senate and Representative phones early on in the fight. If it wasn’t for you, we wouldn’t have won this round. Tens of thousands of GunsAmerica members had clicked on the links to contact representatives long before the NRA even came out with a public statement [at a Washington press conference on Dec. 21]. They can pat themselves on the back next weekend in Houston [at the annual NRA meeting], but it is you they should be thanking.”
2. Many gun-control advocates seem more interested in performance art than serious advocacy. A coalition of liberal groups, including Occupy the NRA, MoveOn.org, the Other 98%, and We Act Radio, are planning a demonstration in Washington today during which they will deliver “NRA checks and post-mortem victim photos” to K Street lobbying firms that have taken money from the NRA. (The organizers embargoed the names of targeted firms, but they will be known to anyone familiar with the influence industry.)
“The goal,” according to the groups’ announcement, “is to drag the lobbyists out of the shadows where they prefer to operate and expose exactly how the National Rifle Association subverts democracy.”
Subverts democracy? After more than four months of speeches and rallies, including an impassioned State of the Union address by the president, the Senate considered a series of gun-control proposals and turned them down. (A Republican filibuster didn’t come to pass.) Meanwhile, at the state level, Connecticut, New York, Colorado, and Maryland have taken steps toward tightening their gun rules. New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California, among others, are likely to follow. What we see here is democracy in action. I suppose that some oversize “NRA checks” delivered to lobbyists may give a few demonstrators a temporary thrill. It’s tough to embarrass Washington lobbyists, however, and this kind of display seems to underscore a lack of seriousness on the anti-gun side.
3. Americans really dig their guns. This is a bitter pill for many blue-state liberals. But big swaths of the country are deeply enmeshed in the gun culture. Not crime culture, gun culture. There are 300 million firearms in private hands, and not even the most aggressive gun-control proponents are talking about confiscating a single one of them. A certain percentage of that vast arsenal is bound to leak into the black market via theft and illegal trafficking. That’s the considerable price we pay for the freedom to own firearms that’s protected by the Second Amendment. Many people, including, presumably, shoppers at GunsAmerica.com, believe that price is worth paying. Among the items advertised on the site: 100-round AR-15 magazines. Retail price: $199 apiece. Why someone needs (or wants) 100-round magazines is something of a mystery to me. But there they are, and they’re going fast.