This op-ed was originally published in Politico on January 29, 2013 at http://www.politico.com/story/2013/01/this-is-not-your-fathers-nra-86885.html
For years, Washington largely turned a blind eye to the epidemic of gun violence in America, and it’s no great secret why: Democrats and Republicans alike were scared silent by the perceived power of the national gun lobby. The National Rifle Association spent countless election cycles and millions of dollars casting itself as a political juggernaut that House members, senators and even presidents should defy at their own peril — and for the longest time it worked.
Not anymore. As it turns out, the tiger is made of paper.
The 26 lives that were lost in a sleepy town in my state, and the NRA’s bizarre conduct in the wake of this tragedy, have caused people to begin to see the NRA’s true colors. It is an organization fueled by fear and funded by those who profit from America’s increasing fascination with military weaponry. And it is an organization with rapidly atrophying political muscle. When it comes to policy or politics, this simply isn’t your father’s NRA any longer.
The NRA was founded as an organization to improve soldier’s marksmanship, and for most of its history, it supported regulations on gun ownership. But today, the organization has become a captive of the firearms industry, reaping millions of dollars each year from gun manufacturers. The NRA has even devised a program by which the organization receives a portion of gun sales from selected manufacturers, giving the NRA a direct financial incentive to promote policies that sell more guns.
Indeed, maybe these funding sources explain why the NRA, once a voice for sensible gun reform, now leads the fight to oppose criminal background checks for gun purchasers — even while a recent study shows three-fourths of its own members support this common-sense protection — and has fought for legislation to allow firearms in day care centers. The NRA, with its financial coffers lined by increasing gun sales, speaks less for gun owners and more for gun makers.
This disconnect from responsible gun owners may explain why the NRA’s long-heralded political power is significantly waning. In the 2012 election, the group put nearly all its resources into defeating President Barack Obama and focused on states with high gun ownership rates, like Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. It lost, badly, in nearly every state and race in which the group invested. In fact, the NRA won only 20 percent of the Senate races in which it spent money in 2012. That’s a pretty miserable success rate for an organization that was once feared by Democrats and Republicans alike.
The NRA’s downright disturbing behavior since the Newtown, Conn., massacre can possibly be explained as a desperate defense mechanism of an organization that has lost step with average gun owners and lost sway with the swing electorate. The NRA must know, deep in the recesses of its Virginia headquarters, that Newtown was a breaking point in America’s relationship with guns. Ours will always be a nation that values the private right of citizens to bear arms, but after the tragedy at Sandy Hook, we will no longer tolerate the ease with which dangerous people can possess and dispatch weapons of mass violence.
The NRA knows the gun control tide is ebbing away from their organization. Communities across America have watched us in Newtown, as we continue to convulse in grief over 26 innocents lost, and decided that they do not want to be next. And the first step toward giving them that assurance is to weaken the NRA’s hold on Congress by exposing them for the paper tiger they have become.
Chris Murphy represents Connecticut in the U.S. Senate.