The National Rifle Association (NRA) doesn't speak for gun owners, not even for its members. The NRA speaks for gun makers and gun sellers. And the message is simple: buy more guns.
For many, the name NRA brings images of commandos and vigilantes, of survivalists and trophy hunters. People see the celebrity faces, the bombastic Charlton Heston, the wild-man Ted Nugent. They rarely see the what the NRA really is: the organization of Glock, Remington, and Smith & Wesson.
The NRA comes off as crazy to many of us, because, well, it is crazy. Opposing background checks on all gun sales -- crazy. Opposing gun owners having to notify police when guns are lost or stolen -- crazy. Supporting gun ownership for people on terrorism watch lists -- double crazy.
But crazy can be good strategy as they surely know. Not wanting to see the door cracked open even an inch, the NRA fights any and all restrictions on guns and actively works to loosen those that exist. A good starting position. Even if the NRA loses a skirmish here or there, the Guns "R" Us nation they've helped create is protected.
The NRA can get away with crazy because they are both very well-funded and because they downplay who they really work for, who they really represent. They are fundamentally a business lobby group, but unlike your usual business lobby group they claim to represent the customer. In this way their crazy doesn't taint the companies relying on them to create markets (as if selling guns isn't taint enough).
Nearly a hundred makers and sellers of guns, ammunition and gun accessories contribute to the NRA. Gunmaker Beretta gave the NRA $1 million dollars in 2008 alone. The infamous Blackwater Worldwide (their new weasel name is Xe), has given over half a million. Fifteen of the companies giving the NRA money make assault weapons. Dozens make or sell high capacity ammunition magazines. Could that be why the NRA is so opposed to restricting them?
Once an organization that claimed to not be affiliated with any gun companies, the NRA has received tens of millions of dollars in contributions from them since 2005 alone. Any company giving $25,000 or more gets to be part of their "Ring of Freedom." Giving $5 million or more gets you dinner at headquarters with the NRA CEO. Five million dollars before the CEO will have dinner with you? I guess that shows how much money there is in guns and how lucrative it is lobbying for rich gun makers.
The NRA gets money from its regular members as well, but what the NRA doesn't do is represent their views. Polls show that NRA lobbying has been out of step with its members' beliefs. This year's poll of gun owners by Republican strategist Frank Luntz shows the continuing disconnect.
Nearly 75 per cent of NRA members support background checks for all gun owners, 64 per cent agree owners should have to report lost or stolen guns, 71 per cent are against terrorism watch list members owning guns. Almost all NRA members believe that states should make their own laws for concealed handguns while the NRA has been lobbying for federal legislation that would force concealed handguns on everyone.
And would gun owners support the NRA position that the country's national public health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), shouldn't work to prevent violence and injuries? The NRA lobbied to have the entire injury prevention section of the CDC shut down but settled for having Congress defund the violence prevention program. Congress also forbid the agency from supporting gun control as a possible path to injury prevention.
The NRA's fingerprints are all over the CDC restrictions, or should I say gun manufacturers' fingerprints. Such is the influence of big corporate money. Gun money has bought politicians, silenced agencies, shifted politics to the right. It has kept dubious second amendment half-truths ringing in everyone's ears, disguising them as full truths through repetition. It has limited the political viability of serious gun control.
Once an organization that supported common-sense gun regulation, the NRA now sells guns at any cost. Once an organization that opposed guns being carried around in public, it now wants to arm as many Americans as possible. Once an organization of reasonable gun use, it is now behind the unreasonable number of guns and gun deaths the United States is famous for.
We need to start seeing the NRA for what it is: a marketing and lobbying machine for the gun industry. When we recognize that the NRA is just trying to make money for gun makers, all their crazy starts to make a little sense. A little.
Kapil Khatter is a family physician who writes about health and corporate accountability, here and at illgotgains.com.