The Corner

What Do People Think the NRA Does Exactly?

Over at Mediaite, Noah Rothman records a conversation from CNN:

President Barack Obama’s nominee to become the next Surgeon General, Vivek Hallergere Murthy, appears unlikely to be confirmed for the post on Monday. A CNN panel confirmed that even Senate Democrats are weary of voting to confirm Murthy because, as CNN anchor John King put it, “his only crime is he agrees with the president” and the National Rifle Association opposes his nomination. King asked if Obama’s cabinet is now in the midst of a “hostage crisis” with the NRA as captors.

If you have spent even a small amount of time looking at how the NRA’s activities are typically covered in the media, you will recognize that language such as ”hostage crisis” is sadly par for the course. In the imagination of the press corps, the NRA is always overriding the people in some way or another, and politicians are always being “intimidated” by it (usually to the extent that they are forced to “pander.”) Still, I wonder: Do the outfit’s smarter critics write and speak in this way because they don’t know any better or because they recognize that it is effective in riling up their allies? The NRA is an advocacy group, not an enumerated branch of the government, and it achieves its legislative goals by telling the public how their representatives voted on a particular question and then comparing those votes to its agenda. This works pretty well, not because the NRA has magical powers but because the right to keep and bear arms is popular in the United States and because people tend to vote for pro-Second Amendment politicians. Indeed, as Rothman notes, Politico’s Manu Raju asked,

“Why walk the plank if you’re a red state Democrat when the NRA is actually scoring this vote? Harry Reid wants to protect his vulnerable Democrats in tough races.”

One has to ask, “Protect them from what, exactly?” Does Raju believe that the NRA is likely to shoot the Democrats if they go against its will? Or is the NRA perhaps going to score the vote and then tell people how each senator voted? You know, like any public advocacy group might do? To “score a vote” is merely to record and to publicize the legislative process. If Harry Reid is worried that his colleagues may lose their seats then he is ultimately worried that the people and his agenda are out of sync — a problem for a body that is responsive to the public. It seems reasonably obvious that the NRA’s saying “Congressman X voted like this!” will be futile if the public’s reaction is, “we don’t care.” 

The NRA will be always be unpopular among those who dislike guns and who wish that the United States regulated firearms more strictly. One would expect this to be the case, much as one would expect the ACLU to be unpopular among those who cherish the PATRIOT Act and NORML to be unpopular among drug warriors. But it is one thing to disapprove of a group that works against your political preferences and it is quite another to presume that it must be somehow insidious or illegitimate. If President Obama’s nominee goes down, there will be only one group to blame: The People.


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