Just over a year ago, the National Rifle Association, torn apart by infighting and bankruptcy filings, appeared to be a weakening force in the United States.
But this weekend, tens of thousands of supporters, including former President Donald Trump, flocked to the annual convention in Houston, Texas, in a testament to the enduring political clout of gun rights groups.
back last week’s massacre At an elementary school in Texas, experts say the NRA’s institutional problems have not diminished its political clout.
“The NRA is still a mess financially and legally,” said Robert Spitzer, a professor of political science at SUNY Cortland and author of several books on gun control. “But it keeps making statements, it keeps donating to politicians – it keeps wielding power.”
The NRA has existed since 1871. But it didn’t become a political force until 1977, when Harlon Carter – who shot and killed a 15-year-old boy at the age of 17 – became the head of its operations.Under Carter’s oversight, the organization Membership tripled to 3 million and focus its resources on fighting attempts to regulate gun ownership.
The NRA used to be relatively bipartisan when it comes to donations and lobbying. In recent years, however, it has been inextricably linked to the Republican Party.
Since 1989, 98 of the top 100 recipients of NRA funding in Congress have been Republicans, according to publicly available data analyzed by OpenSecrets, which monitors political spending.
Democrats have so far failed to persuade a senior Republican to back their call for stricter gun laws in the wake of the Texas shooting.
Sen. Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, was a major recipient of NRA funding, benefiting from more than $13.5 million in donations over his career. Romney said last week that he would not support a bill that would expand background checks on gun buyers unless he could amend it.
Senator Thom Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina who was helped by the NRA’s $5.6 million payout, said last week: “We need to avoid . . . we have to say all this It can all be solved with a gun in no one’s hands.”
Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri who has earned $4.6 million in NRA payouts over his career, warned Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer last week that rushing through gun legislation would trigger a flurry of “no” votes.
The association has spent heavily on Republican presidential candidates, including spending more than $31 million to support Trump’s 2016 candidacy.
Trump said Friday at the NRA convention: “The various gun control policies pushed by the left are not going to help prevent the horrors that happen. [in Texas]. “
Recently, however, the group has started to struggle financially and has had to rein in its political spending.
Its revenue has fallen by nearly a quarter since 2016 to $282 million, according to NRA tax filings, while its membership has grown from nearly 6 million Just under 4.9 million. It spent just $17 million to support Trump’s re-election in 2020.
Meanwhile, its chief executive, Wayne LaPierre, was accused by a former business partner of the NRA of using members’ money like his “personal piggy bank.”
In 2020, New York Attorney General Letitia James accused the group of widespread corruption and sought to bring it to an end. she claims The NRA paid LaPierre’s personal travel consultant $13.5 million to charter a private jet for him, his wife and niece, and he used a yacht owned by the NRA contractor during his trip to the Bahamas. Lapierre called the allegations a “serious weaponization of legal and regulatory powers.”
The NRA, which did not respond to a request for comment, said James’ allegations were politically motivated and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year so it could be restructured in Texas instead of New York.Judge deny its permission this way.
Protesters gathered outside the NRA’s annual meeting in Houston slammed the group for advancing the meeting, which promised “14 acres of guns and gear,” shortly after the Uvalde massacre.
“I think it’s shameful,” said Kim Milburn, a resident from the Houston area who was protesting the meeting. “They could have moved it to a week, two weeks. People haven’t even buried their children.”
Still, the members’ enthusiasm for the organization doesn’t seem to be deterred.
Kyle Campbell, a member from Texas, said: “I bet if you dig into the NRA’s finances, someone has done something wrong.” But he added: “The NRA is important because it’s in a At the forefront of all struggles against the Second Amendment.”
The group also continued to win on policy, even in polling show Most Americans favor stricter gun laws.
In 2004, then-President George W Bush allowed the ban on assault weapons to lapse — since then, gun murders have doubled and “active shootings” have quadrupled, by numbers From the FBI and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2013, the NRA’s opposition played a key role in defeating Democratic Senator Joe Manchin and his Republican colleague Pat Toomey’s proposal to expand background checks.
It may be on the verge of its most important victory in years. Later this year, the conservative-majority Supreme Court is expected to rule in a case brought by the New York State Rifle and Pistol Club against the state’s restrictions on carrying concealed handguns in public places.
However, many experts say the NRA’s greatest success has been shifting the debate about gun control from a policy issue to a more cultural one.
“The NRA has been making up the narrative for decades that guns are part of American social identity,” said Kerri Raissian, a professor of public policy at the University of Connecticut.
University of Arizona professor Jennifer Carlson added: “The movement the NRA created — the gun culture that the NRA sowed — will endure with or without the NRA.”