Why is the National Rifle Association so powerful?

Whenever a mass shooting occurs, and talks of gun control dominate water coolers, Internet message boards and political talk shows across America, one group that always seems to enter the conversation is the National Rifle Association.

As I mentioned yesterday, they’re the group that lobbied for the 1996 law that prevents major government research wings from studying gun violence.

But what makes them so powerful? How are they, a group with just five million members, singlehandedly able to sway politicians and affect policy?

The answer seems to be their fierce and unrelenting dedication, the loyalty of their members, and their focused goal of advocating for a single issue — protecting the Second Amendment.


NRA headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia

A look at the organization’s website will tell you that it was first chartered in New York in 1871, founded by Union soldiers William Conant Church and Gen. George Wingate.

While many describe the NRA as the nation’s foremost defender of gun rights, the group characterizes itself as the premier firearms education organization in the world. They arrange competitions, train hunters, publish magazines and organize youth programs.

The NRA didn’t really start dabbling in politics until 1934, when it began mailing out legislative facts and analyses to its members. In 1975, it formed the Institute for Legislative Action, its main lobbying and campaign operation. And this is where you really start to grasp the expansiveness and complexity of the NRA, and why it is so influential.

The website for the ILA is surprisingly informative. It provides a description of every major issue regarding guns, an overview of every piece of gun-related state and federal legislation, and a state-by-state fact sheet of gun laws.

What other subdivisions exist within the NRA?

There’s the Civil Rights Defense Fund, which has provided 10 million dollars since 2001 in support of cases that defend the right to bear arms. Essentially, if the CRDF discovers a case that could jeopardize or reinterpret the Second Amendment, they step in.

And then there’s the NRA Foundation, a tax-exempt organization that donates to all types of causes. Since 1990, it’s raised more than $267 million in funding.

The NRA invests in elections, too. In the 2012 general election, its political action committee spent $11 million, in which all but $2 million was used specifically against Democrats. This should come as no surprise, as it’s generally Republicans who support gun rights and Democrats who advocate for tighter gun control laws.

The committee, called the Political Victory Fund, ranks candidates based on their views on gun control, and endorses every race, making it nice and easy for their members to know who to vote for.

In short, the group is dedicated. If you get on their bad side, they have the resources to propagandize against you and damage your reputation.

And while most advocacy organizations lobby for several issues relating to their cause, forcing them to delegate their resources, the NRA can focus their attention around the clock towards just one — guns, guns and more guns.

Basically, there are three groups of people in life you don’t ever want to piss off: The NRA, the mafia and Star Trek fanboys.

But if you do cross one of them, may you live long and prosper.

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