Two things about the Trump-NRA show merit further comment. First – why did the NRA decide to endorse The Grump at such an early date? They endorsed McCain in October, also waited until October to endorse Mitt in 2012. And it wasn’t as if they were waiting to see whether the opposition (a.k.a. the ‘foreign-born’ Obama) was ever going to merit their support, right? The other issue is more generic, namely, how come Trump has been pandering to the NRA with his endless appeal for the right to carry a concealed (or open) gun? Now you might think the answer to that question is obvious, but I got news for you – it wasn’t always that way, not at all.
The NRA was founded by a New Yorker, General George Wingate, who commanded a Civil War regiment of volunteers, none of whom seemed to know how to fire a gun. So Wingate started the NRA in 1871 and opened a shooting range at Creedmore, Long Island (fittingly, the current location of a state mental hospital) in 1872. In 1907 the NRA teamed with the Civilian Marksmanship Program that was chartered by the U.S. Government, and began holding national shooting matches at Camp Perry, Ohio. The CMP was also authorized to distribute surplus, military rifles to civilians who were members of local, NRA clubs.
From the ratification of the Constitution in 1788 until the Heller decision some 220 years later, nobody, including the NRA, seemed terribly worried about the ‘right’ of Americans to walk around with a gun. And even the President of the NRA stated during his testimony about the 1934 National Firearms Act that he did not believe “in the general promiscuous toting of guns.” He further stated that CCW should be “sharply restricted.” Following this line of reasoning, after the passage of the basic law regulating gun ownership, GCA68, a law generally supported by the NRA, the organization largely continued to steer clear of the issue of guns for self-defense, offering its membership a new magazine, The American Hunter, beginning in 1973.
The sea-change in the NRA’s stance is usually ascribed to the installment of new, more politically-combative leadership at the Cincinnati convention in 1977, when two activists, Neal Knox and Harlon Carter, took control and re-oriented the organization towards open and continuous political warfare against anyone who proposed gun regulations of any kind. And this new strategy placed the NRA squarely in the middle of a growing political current based on conservative social issues that started with Reagan and continues to the present day.
The alignment of the NRA with social conservatives also made a significant difference in the organization’s bottom line. In 1986 the NRA took in $66 million; by 1998 it had doubled to $131 million. In 2004 the Line 12 of the 990 was at $170 million and by 2013 the total revenues had shot up to $347 million, of which $183 million represented dues. Know what happened in 2014? F0r the first time since the 1980s, if not earlier, total revenue dropped 10% and dues declined by almost 25%.
I don’t know whether Hillary’s decision to go big-time for more gun regulations will reverse the 2014 numbers, but I suspect that the decision to give Trump an early nod is driven as much by bottom-line concerns as by anything else. And since Trump is facing his own fundraising shortfall, you can bet that he’ll use the NRA endorsement to try and ramp up his own bottom line.
The NRA has never backed a Presidential candidate who has been as loud and as energetic in defense of gun ‘rights’ as Donald Trump. They have also never endorsed a candidate who owns public-accessed properties that don’t allow guns. That’s right – Trump’s hotels and golf clubs are gun-free zones. But when you’re short of cash, you do what you have to do: hold your nose, ignore the stench and get out of town as fast as you can. Couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch.