In a recent poll, 1 in 5 Americans has experienced gun violence in the past 5 years. The same poll revealed that 75% of Americans are in favor of raising the legal age of gun ownership to 21 years old, and 85% were in favor of a federal law requiring background checks for all potential gun buyers, even gun show buyers. Despite the majority of Americans supporting gun reform, every gun-related tragedy since Sandy Hook Elementary School has seen a sharp rise in gun sales. So, what can explain the dissonance in American politics and ideology surrounding guns and the debate on gun reform? The answer seems to point toward the NRA.
The National Rifle Association began as an organization that taught Americans how to safely store and handle their firearms. The assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert Kennedy turned the NRA into the political tidal wave it is now. Today, the NRA is one of the most powerful special interest lobbying groups in America. The recorded contributions to lawmakers from the NRA is 3 million dollars per year, but the association is known to fund politicians in ways that are difficult to publicly track such as PAC and independent contributions, so it is likely even higher. The organization spent $20 million in the 2000 campaign as a revolt against Al Gore for proposing gun reforms in the wake of the Columbine shooting. The NRA also spent $30 million on the Trump campaign in 2016 which later tied Trump’s hands when he attempted to enact gun reform after the Parkland school shooting. President Trump met with victims of the Parkland shooting and assured them that he would enact gun reform to prevent another school shooting. However, the NRA then met with Trump, and the bill Trump proposed was stopped immediately after.
Furthermore, the National Rifle Association intimidates politicians because it has a system in which they rate politicians based on how they vote regarding gun legislation. The NRA has created smear campaigns about politicians that are outspoken against the NRA and its agenda. Many politicians are afraid of election outcomes if they are subjected to NRA-backed smear campaigns due to the mass mobilization available to the NRA through their members and their members’ votes. The National Rifle Association has been able to change American politics through monetary means as well as using its membership base to vote politicians out of office.
The National Rifle Association has the power to alter Americans’ political ideology and sentiment in the wake of mass tragedies. They have been known to blame mass shootings on the breakdown of the American family, bullying on social media, violent video games, and untreated mental illness. In the aftermath of a mass shooting, the NRA spins a narrative that politicians will use this chance to take away the Second Amendment right to bear arms which then scares its members to donate money in hopes of maintaining their Second Amendment rights.
The National Rifle Association has been able to effectively lobby against moderate gun reform that most Americans favor. The organization has monetarily funded politicians that support the organization. The politicians funded by the NRA have more campaign money to spend on advertising which can be a crucial part of winning an election. Elections have been impacted due to the NRA’s monetary force to further political campaigns. Yet, the organization’s agenda does not represent the majority of what the people of America want to see from their politicians. Despite most Americans agreeing upon moderate gun reform, this does not translate into policy or the actions of political representatives. Americans are actively experiencing a crisis of representation within their democracy which is further exacerbated by the actions of the NRA. Americans do not feel heard by their representatives which becomes worse when interest groups, like the NRA, continue to fund politicians in exchange for a lack of gun reform. These groups are diluting the voices of the American people by using their money to change politics in a way that is economically beneficial for them. American democracy is slowly eroding partially due to groups like the National Rifle Association that can bend politics to their preference with no regard for the voices of the American people. The lives of young Americans are at stake in the debate on gun reform, but sadly, they do not have a seat at the table. The National Rifle Association is able to distort American representation which has and will cost American school children their lives.
BBC. (2022, May 27). US gun control: What is the NRA and why is it so powerful? BBC News. Retrieved March 1, 2023, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-35261394
Burnett, S. (2022, August 23). AP-Norc Poll: Most in US say they want stricter gun laws. AP NEWS. Retrieved April 5, 2023, from https://apnews.com/article/gun-violence-covid-health-chicago-c912ecc5619e925c5ea7447d36808715
Mcintire, M., Thrush, G., & Lipton, E. (2022, June 18). Gun sellers’ message to Americans: Man up. The New York Times. Retrieved March 1, 2023, from https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/18/us/firearm-gun-sales.html
Meckel, L. (2022, November 14). National Rifle Association: A cheat sheet. A News Education. Retrieved March 1, 2023, from https://www.anewseducation.com/post/what-is-the-national-rifle-association
PBS. (2022, December 14). NRA under Fire. PBS. Retrieved March 1, 2023, from https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/documentary/nra-under-fire/
Thrush, G. (2022, May 28). At N.R.A. Convention, the blame is on ‘evil,’ not guns. The New York Times. Retrieved March 1, 2023, from https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/28/us/politics/nra-convention-guns.html
I love that you chose this topic to discuss. I really liked that you shared specific data that shows that while 85% of the population in favor of a federal law requiring background checks for all potential gun buyers, the NRA has been able to block the legislation that would do so. The NRA has contributed lots of funding to President Trump and organizations that could have a hand in defending guns and standing against gun reform. I also appreciated that you spoke to the point that many politicians point to video games, mental health, and social media for the increase of shootings. How many shootings will it take for the public to see the full scale of power that the NRA holds on politicians’ campaigns and moves in office? Is there anything that can be done now by the public to get the government to pass the legislation for background checks?
Mattisen, I really enjoyed your blog post. It was incredibly informative regarding how the NRA has contributed to the democratic erosion in the United States. The data you include is shocking, and paints a grim picture of the reality that Americans face with gun violence. It is incredibly frustrating when the majority of Americans are in favor of some form of gun control. I also think it’s hard to even begin to comprehend how much money the NRA has and is able to pour into elections, which in turn, has a huge influence on the outcome of races. The ability for a lobbying organization to have that much power definitely illustrates a case of democratic erosion, and I really liked the way you demonstrated that. I would love to read more about the recent lawsuits that the NRA has faced, as well as large amounts of youth opposition movements that have formed in response to recent gun-violence tragedies.
I think in this day and age, this is an extremely important topic. I think the NRA’s involvement in politics, especially regarding funding for representatives, is often overlooked for how crucial their contributions can be. Even though Democrats, independents, and Republicans who support gun reform laws can receive contributions from other high election contributors, these special interest groups do not have as much influence as the NRA. I think it was especially important to point out the aspect of the NRA’s website that rates representatives based on their stance and actions taken pertaining to gun control. I think this is a very important way the NRA communicates easily with its members, allowing members to form opinions and conclusions on representatives based on one political topic, instead of the platform they stand for or are running for. I appreciate how you pointed out how this can be detrimental and harmful for American democracy. I also enjoyed how you drew attention to this partisan issue in a non-partisan manner, simply stating the facts. I think no matter what your political beliefs are, it is important to see how the NRA can control the political arena. One way I think the blog could be improved would be to analyze and include more details on how this erodes America’s democracy. One question that came to mind was how the NRA spending influenced an election in a specific case. Overall, this was a very informative blog post.
You bring up a number of valid points. It’s frightening to think about how much money giant organizations like the NRA are funneling towards political campaigns while also potentially altering political outcomes. I definitely agree with you on the fact that the NRA has successfully spun the narrative around gun safety and turned basic safety into a threat such as losing your right to the second amendment. What is most frustrating to me is that a majority of the reforms that more left leaning politicians and the general public (including myself) want to pass are restrictions that could be easily enacted, such as raising the minimum age to purchase a gun to 21. I believe that even this proposal would be the bare minimum. I don’t believe anyone absolutely needs to possess an automatic rifle, and it has been proven time and time again that the general public should not have access to such weapons. We hear of a different mass shooting every week and it is clear, like you mentioned, that our political representative have been bought out by a greedy, self-interested organization.
Your blog post about the NRAs’ contribution to democratic backsliding in the United States is timely and poignant. I recently wrote a paper on how San Deigo has proven to be a national leader in implementing “red flag” laws. The NRA has successfully lobbied to influence legislation on both the local and national levels. The NRA has controlled the narrative on gun rights versus gun control by blocking most efforts at serious gun research, lobbying to restrict access, and chocking off funding for research. Furthermore, they have infiltrated the identity of many Americans, which has caused the gun violence epidemic. There are more guns in the United States than citizens. The capitalist consumerist culture feeds into the NRAs’ gun culture narrative that breeds fear and mistrust, leading to more profound polarization. The NRA feeds into fear-mongering propaganda because it is profitable, period. After much time reflecting on the gun violence crisis, I think the issue rests on those on the opposite side of the NRA debate to find a new and clever way to approach this conversation. It is infuriating on one level, yet it is no different than those who fight for women’s right to bodily autonomy. The burden is at our feet to communicate so that those indoctrinated can begin to hear another way. This challenge is daunting and endless to get others to see how individual rights and the collective whole can co-exist.
Talking about the NRA is an interesting angle to take a stab at Democratic Erosion in the United State. I’ve long wondered what effect their constant lobbying and powerful election influence have on our elections, so this was an interesting read for me. Although it’s deeply concerning, I do find it interesting just how much influence the NRA can exert on elections especially given that the majority of the American populace does not share their views. Turns out that having a mobilized voter base on populist platforms is helpful, who would have thought? It’s also interesting the way they’re able to shift the narrative from ‘gun violence’ to ‘mental health crisis’ so quickly, even in media outlets that would generally be less sympathetic to their views. Special interest groups absolutely pose a serious threat to our democracy, so thank you for covering it!
Oh! I also wanted to mention that I thought it was interesting that so many Americans support gun reform. Growing up in Idaho has, I think, really tilted my view of how most people feel about guns. Where I grew up, almost everyone is, if not a gun fan, than at least a strong opponent of gun reform. It’s cool that many people support changes, and by the same token, equally disgraceful that special interest groups are able to undermine the will of the majority in that way.
This was an absolutely awesome post to read, because it seems like no one really talks about just how much influence the NRA has in our political system. I think part of that ties into your argument, where the NRA can kind of pay to win and pay to not be featured in media as much as other NGO’s. Having a statistic as large as 85% is crazy, and knowing that the government isn’t going to do anything about it is even crazier. I hope that eventually something will change but based on some of the politicians that we currently have in office my expectations are low.
I also forgot to ask, is there anything that you think can be done to fix this? or are we doomed to be at the mercy of the NRA until they run out of money (which won’t happen)?
Good post! I think that the issue of corporate influence on democracy is a very important issue in America. I like how you included the part about how the NRA literally ranks politicians by how much they like them, and the runs smear campaigns on those that they don’t like. Things like this is why the NRA gets so much media attention compared to other negative influences on the government; they are very open and unapologetic about their attempts to influence democracy. This post made me think of a chart I saw a while ago that showed that regardless of how much public support a bill has, it only has a 30% chance of passing. Do you think other special interests groups have a similarly negative effect on democracy, and just choose to stay hidden? Or do you think that the NRA is the worst offender?
I really appreciate you approaching democratic erosion from this lense. I have truly never thought to look at causes of erosion and consider interest groups like the NRA in the equation. It is truly scary to think of how much influence these companies have over politics purely out of fear and worry that they will not get funding or be ridiculed. I wonder though, why and how reform is not taking place even if the majority of Americans support and even want to push for gun reform. Do you think that it is just because Conservaties tend to show up stronger in the pols or have more power in the legislature?