Leave the NRA out of it

by | Mar 5, 2018 | 2018 elections, Editor's Blog, Gun Control | 8 comments

Monday morning seems a great time to attract the scorn of my friends on the left, so here goes. The gun debate highlights the problems Democrats have winning policy debates and elections. Instead of focusing on the problems and the solutions, they’ve defined it as fight between the NRA and the rest of us. That’s a losing battle, not because the NRA is so popular but because that’s not how most people understand politics.

The debate reminds me of the Democrats’ failed strategy back in 2014. The Washington Democrats and their special interest allies tried to run against the Koch brothers instead of Republican politicians. They rationalized that people don’t like money in politics and if they could demonize the Koch brothers and their millions of dollars of support for GOP candidates, then voters would vote against those candidates. It was, as Obama strategist David Axelrod said, a bank shot at best—and they missed.

Now, some Democrats and their allies in the gun control movement are trying to prove that Republicans won’t do anything about gun control because they are all owned by the NRA. First, that’s not true.  Political contributions don’t drive the GOP support of the NRA agenda. Fear of the NRA drives it. Republicans are worried that crossing the NRA could cost them an election in a primary since pro-gun activists have essentially become a powerful wing of the GOP like pro-life activists.

As an article in the N&O states, the NRA didn’t support many legislators in North Carolina and Republicans in the General Assembly are still blocking any responsible gun legislation. They are responding to their constituents, not a special interest organization. Those constituents believe an NRA argument parroted by GOP politicians that Democrats are coming for their guns. Instead of making the NRA villains, Democrats would do better to convince responsible gun owners that they aren’t out to disarm them but to protect them.

If Democrats want to win on reducing gun violence, they should come up with a common sense program and hammer it. One that could probably attract widespread support would require universal background checks, ban high capacity clips, demand a waiting period for gun purchases and ban or restrict access to military-style assault weapons. That’s a modest proposal that already has broad public support. Democrats should make opposing the measure more painful than supporting it. That’s what the NRA does.

The Republican argument is that Democrats are out to take your guns. The Democrats’ argument is at risk of becoming, “The Republicans are owned by the NRA.” If you have a favorable view of the NRA or don’t know who they are or, more likely, believe that all politicians are beholden to special interests, that argument doesn’t work. The argument should be Republicans are blocking laws to protect our families from mass shootings.

Running against the NRA might work in Democratic primaries where voters are generally better informed  and more liberal but it won’t work in general elections or policy debates. Democrats already have support on the issue of gun control. They should leave the NRA out of it. Running against the organization is just a distraction that muddies their message.


  1. Connor Haughton

    Very well articulated. I’m a far left leaning indepemdent on practically all social issues, but also a fervent gun owner and 2nd amendment advocate. I strongly agree that the Republican stance on guns does not come from NRA contributions, but from the extremely vocal and active gun owning community. Fact is, gun control activists tend to become active for a few months following tragedies, while gun rights activists are ALWAYS on guard and vocal. Republicans risk reelection by supporting any gun policy change because gun rights proponents will vote on that issue alone.

    For the record, I support 18>21 long gun purchase age, universal background checks, stricter oversight to ensure that disqualifying factors are reported to the NICS, and a red flag law like Indiana to temporarily remove firearms from those in mental health crisis, which includes due process for return of weapons.

    I oppose restriction of standard capacity (“high capacity” in gun control propaganda) magazines and bans on “assault weapons”. The features used to determine whether a firearm is an assault weapon at arbitrary at best. Numerous hundreds of thousands of law abiding civilians use them for sporting, competition, and recreational practice annually, and with less than 200 deaths attributed per year, I truly believe this country has much more pressing concerns.

    Thank you for the insightful perspective on why democrats consistently fail to enact significant change.

  2. BUBBA

    I’m sure all will be resolved, once our “leaders” “debate” the issue. Let’s see, what can we expect? Richard Burr will try to reduce the discussion to a jock-strap fratty-boy joke about shooting people in the face. Thom Tillis will opt for setting up a “one-on-one” with Dick Cheney, to get Cheney’s “unique perspective” on how to shoot the guy who just invited you to lunch in the face, after a couple of martinis.

  3. tom

    My comments should have said “might reveal.”

  4. Tom

    There is considerable wisdom in this piece and the idea of coming up with a sensible legislative program rather than going after the NRA has merit. What we cannot do is let up on the inquiry (and I doubt the FBI would let up even if “we” wanted them to) into an NRA Russian connection. We now know that the Russians had a presence within NRA circles during the 20167 campaign. We know about the connection of one or more Russian bankers (Torshin,?) with Trump campaign people at NRA events. It is interesting that some of what we are learning involves North Carolina leadership of accountability demands. Did the Russians funnel as much as $75 million through the NRA to political campaigns? Don’t know whether that is a wild claim or whether it is on the cusp of the next revelation. It would be classic Russian meddling to launder money through a domestic entity. Do we have legislators out there who have received – wittingly or unwittingly – laundered Russian/NRA money? So while we might follow the advice in this column, we should not let up on insisting that there be a full inquiry which will reveal a “really huge” scandal here.

    • Stinky

      Thank you. This was my first thought and I am happy I am not alone. THe NRA is not the organization many of us grew up with. There is no focus on hunting, gun collecting or enthusiasm rather there seems to be an emphasis on anarchy, civil disobedience and out right contempt for our government.

  5. jay ligon

    Democrats running against the NRA face some big problems. Gun owners represent only about a third of Americans, and NRA supporters tend to be on the extreme right. Their mind-bending logic seems to be that gun owners are patriotic Americans who keep and bear arms so that they can kill representatives of the government if one comes to their front door. This raises the question: if they love their country, why do they want to kill their government?

    NRA has convinced its members that Obama, like a country doctor who makes house calls, would one day ring their doorbell and take their guns away from them. He didn’t. He was busy turning our Democratic Republic into a fascist, socialist, Nazi, Muslim caliphate dictatorship. That endeavor left him with too little time to take our guns. “Man needs to know his limitations,” Clint Eastwood once said as blew away someone who had been very bad.

    Last week, the NRA nightmare scenario – government taking peoples’ guns – was articulated at a meeting in the White House, but it wasn’t the black dictator; it was Donald who expressed his preference for taking guns without due process. It was a stunning policy position from a man who collected more than $30 million from the NRA and who has taken mostly positions favorable to gun people.

    Democrats have very little credibility with gun lovers and many gun lovers are single-issue voters. Democrats will not change their minds, even if they do not disagree with gun ownership.

    Republicans have their vote, and NRA money has made a difference everywhere including here in North Carolina. Both of North Carolina’s senators have taken $ millions from the gun lobby, and they will never support even reasonable restrictions on gun ownership. What gun makers want, they get.

    There are at least 350 million guns in the United States, about one for each American, but only about one in three Americans own guns. The few gun owners own a lot of guns, while the majority of Americans are unarmed.

    More than 90% of Americans advocate reasonable restrictions on gun ownership: keeping guns from the mentally ill, away from violent felons and away from terrorists. In 2017, Congress repealed a restriction against putting guns in the hands of mentally ill people along party lines. Those who love guns, love them deeply. Those who don’t care about guns, don’t really care about gun legislation. So while they support restrictions on gun ownership, they don’t care enough to punish the legislators who appease the gun lobby.

    Running against the NRA is a no-win strategy for Democrats because there has been no price to pay for creating our present circumstances – periodic bloodbaths in cities in America. We get mass murders in churches, nightclubs, schools, at country music concerts, in movie theaters, and on military bases.

    Before we can bury our dead, the NRA goes on the offensive with aggressive messaging, and the GOP responds to the NRA by delaying any dialogue, any legislative action or allowing any solutions to what has clearly been an epidemic of violence unique to the United States. It is an odd political stance. Americans demanded a cure for AIDs, a serum to fight polio, and a solution to the danger presented by lawn darts. But we see the bloodshed in our streets and public places, and we go on as if the problem has no solution.

    When auto deaths reached 50,000 per year, safety regulations were enacted to reduce the mortality rate. The response worked. Seat belts, airbags, and other safety measures reduced deaths by automobiles. We do not address the 30,000 gun deaths in America, because, unlike automobiles, guns are mentioned in the Constitution and there is a gun lobby which has dominated the public perception of the issue.

    Voters have not punished recalcitrant Republicans for their cowardice and their receptivity to NRA money, and single-issue gun owners have rewarded gun supporters. After a mass murder, the NRA repeats the argument that more guns will solve the problem of guns. Many people believe it.

    Some believe the unbelievable. Some believe that Sandy Hook was not a tragic massacre; it was a ruse perpetrated by gun control advocates who hired actors to play dead children. The ghouls on the right manufacture shameless insanity and they get away with it, and our electorate rewards inaction on this issue.

    We must manage our various political psychoneuroses and delusions as best we can. Americans are more gun crazy than any other people in the world and more than is healthy for us.

    In spite of tens of thousands of deaths each year, Democrats spending all their political capital on guns in a race against a candidate who accepts money from the prepetrators and fosters the raging epidemic, will not get more Democrats elected. The electorate will punish the candidate offering a solution. The NRA has a huge megaphone, and they will murder you with it.

  6. Bob

    Agreed. The NRA represents a lot more things to rural whites than gun ownership. The NRA represents their patriotism, fear of losing their sovereignty, and their racism. You won’t take any of that away from them and, if you try, you’ll lose. But you can convince them that sometimes people they like and agree with go too far with a good thing. Stick to what is in the common interest, Dems, at least on gun control. I was relieved when I read this blog. When I started, I thought Thomas was going to recommend arming teachers again. (Still shaking my head over that one.)

    • Chaboard

      “Stick to what is in the common interest, Dems, at least on gun control. ”

      That’s what we’ve been doing for 20+ years. Most recently in the bipartisan bill post-Sandy Hook.

      Common interest won’t work until the NRA lock on power is broken. Actually running against the NRA may or may not be a bad idea, but the reality is we have to beat the NRA into submission somehow before we get ANY common interest legislation through.

      And we KNOW from vast experience that just running on a package common-sense controls with broad bipartisan support will NOT do that. Universal background checks polled last week at 97% per Quinnipiac…..they are not only DOA, they are dead BEFORE arrival.

      I’m open to alternatives….but at some point you are left having to call out the devil. I think with the charge led by a bunch of teen mass shooting victims it may well be the time.

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