It’s hard to remember but less than two years ago the boys in Fairfax were sitting on top of the world, enjoying not just the election of the first President who they endorsed before he was even the Party’s candidate, but also experiencing a level of access that was the envy of every other lobbying group in and around Washington, D.C.
Then in quick order we had Vegas, then Parkland, then Santa Fe, then Maria Butina, then 3-D guns, and ‘America’s oldest civil rights organization’ finds itself in a dizzying free-fall which may be dragging the NRA down to a level of public criticism and condemnation which it has never experienced before.
Earlier this week our friends at the Center for American Progress released an internet survey showing that a majority (54%) of the 1,000 sampled voters held an ‘unfavorable’ view of the NRA, with 57% saying that corporations should not provide benefits to NRA members. To be fair, the polling company, GBA Associates, works for Democratic candidates, and the respondents’ political leanings were more blue than red, which certainly skews the results somewhat. On the other hand, if this survey is at all representative of the current national mood about guns, the NRA has some catch-up work to do, because even Republican-leaning voters are expressing unease about the current stance and direction of the gun-rights organization.
The real issue, of course, is whether the NRA is feeling this discontent here it counts most – in the bottom line. In 2016, the organization’s total revenue was $366,889,703, of which $181,265,880 came from membership dues and event revenues and $124,433,466 represented contributions (along with some $28M in advertising fees, etc.) For 2015, total revenue was $336 million, derived from $180M in dues and revenues and $95M from contributions.
Unfortunately, as impressive as these numbers appear, digging a bit below the surface shows that the emperor may be starting to lose some of his clothes. Revenue from dues are flat, which means that membership isn’t increasing. And while contributions increased substantially from year to year, other revenue vehicles, such as their vaunted Carry Guard insurance program, isn’t ringing bells at all. In fact, what has really created a storm cloud on the group’s financial horizon is their inability to put together a liability insurance package covering training and media communications, both of which could cause significant financial problems in the years ahead.
Don’t get me wrong. The NRA happens to be without doubt the best membership organization of all time when it comes to the care and feeding of its members. I also belong to the Audubon Society, the Wilderness Society and the National Parks Foundation. Know how often I hear from those groups? Once or twice a year. How often do I hear from Wayne-o or Chris Cox? Multiple times every day. Anyone who wants to believe that the NRA is teetering around on its last legs is somewhere in the middle of a dream sequence that has no reality behind it at all.
Even if it turns out that the House goes from red to blue because a strong gun-control message works in swing districts here and there, this doesn’t mean that a new, gun-control alignment will suddenly appear on Capitol Hill. Right now, the Blue Dog Coalition, a Congressional group which calls themselves ‘conservative Democrats,’ has 18 members, of whom several, in particular Mike Thompson from California, have been fighting the good fight for gun reforms over the last several years. But to win back the House, this group would find themselves augmented by additional members coming from districts where gun control will never be the order of the day.
Like it or not, a majority of Americans believe that a gun represents a good thing to have around the house. This trend didn’t reverse when Democrats last controlled the Hill, and I wouldn’t be quite so quick to consign our Fairfax friends to the ash-heap of history – there are still lots of Americans around who love their guns.