After Texas shooting, spotlight on NRA: Leading gun lobby and its outsized influence in US politics explained
With an estimated five million members, the National Rifle Association often plays kingmaker at the polls; its ability to pour in millions into lawmakers’ coffers makes the gun rights group a massive power player in US politics
With yet another mass killing in America, this time in the state of Texas, the spotlight is yet again on the National Rifle Association (NRA).
The powerful gun lobby – the biggest and most high-profile gun rights group in America – is set to hold a meeting in Houston just three days after the Texas massacre with former president Donald Trump headlining the convention, and with state Senator Ted Cruz and Governor Greg Abbot slated to appear.
But what is the NRA? Why is it mired in controversy and why does it have such an outsized influence in US politics?
Let’s take a closer look:
As per BBC, the group was founded in 1871 by two US Civil War veterans as a recreational group designed to "promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis".
The idea was to educate a new generation of marksmen, whether for war or hunting or recreational target shooting.
As per NPR, the two former officers were motivated by their despair over their wartime recruits' poor shooting skills. An official study estimated that Yankee troops fired 1,000 rounds for every bullet that actually struck a Confederate soldier, as per NPR.
To quote from the NRA website: "While widely recognized today as a major political force and as America's foremost defender of Second Amendment rights, the NRA has, since its inception, been the premier firearms education organization in the world."
When did it get involved in politics?
In 1934, the NRA began writing to members with information about upcoming firearms bills. It supported two major gun control acts: the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA) and Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA) but became more politically active following the passage of the GCA in the 1970s.
Why is it so influential?
The NRA is estimated to have around five million members. A huge power player in Washington as well as state level around the country, its endorsements or lack thereof – it famously assigns lawmakers grades from A to F – are thought to make or break a candidate’s chances in an election (particularly in Republican polls).
That the group has poured millions of dollars into the coffers of US Senators – mainly Republican but also Democrats in swing states – may explain the reluctance from lawmakers to do anything that upsets the group.
Fight of its life
All this comes in the backdrop of the organisation being involved in arguably the fight of its life and being mired in financial scandals.
New York Attorney-General Letitia James sued the NRA in August 2020, alleging executives diverted tens of millions of dollars for lavish personal trips, no-show contracts for associates and other questionable expenditures. NRA chief Wayne LaPierre and three others who have worked for the organization were also sued.
The NRA countersued, alleging James — who once called the NRA a “terrorist organization” — was motivated by political hostility. That case is pending.
The group, which is headquartered in Virginia, filed for bankruptcy protection in New York (where it was chartered as a non-profit) in January.
Even so, the NRA in January claimed it was in “its strongest financial condition in years” — but the coronavirus pandemic and mounting legal costs have hurt.
The organization reported total assets of about $203 million, liabilities of about $153 million, and $31 million in bank loans, said in court papers it saw revenues drop about seven percent because of the pandemic. To cut costs, it laid off dozens and canceled its national convention.
Earlier this month, a judge denied its bankruptcy filing – and with it the NRA’s bid to reincorporate, where else, but in Texas.
How has the NRA responded to the shootings?
With thoughts and prayers, of course.
“Our deepest sympathies are with the families and victims involved in this horrific and evil crime,” the NRA tweeted. “On behalf of our members, we salute the courage of school officials, first responders and others who offered their support and services.”
The group called the massacre “the act of a lone, deranged criminal” and said it would “pray for the victims, recognize our patriotic members, and pledge to redouble our commitment to making our schools secure.”
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