Interest Group Politics: How the NRA Does It

Over the course of the 2006 midterm campaigns, one of the most oft-heard and spot on complaints made about some of the leading progressive interest groups like NARAL Pro-Choice and Sierra Club was that they were willing to back Republican candidates, like Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee, who had shown support for their causes, despite the fact that continued Republican control over either chamber of Congress would have set back their movements for at least another two years. On the other side of the aisle, however, groups traditionally allied with the Republican Party have shown no such propensity to oppose the GOP, at least on the federal level. To get a good gauge of the difference between these two approaches take a gander at an article Jeffrey Birnbaum pens for The Washington Post tomorrow on the NRA.

In lobbying, a threat is good for business, whether it's genuine or not.

This might help to explain the dire warnings being issued by the National Rifle Association as the Democrats prepare to take control of Congress this week.

"The new leadership could be one of the most unfriendly to the National Rifle Association," declared Andrew Arulanandam, spokesman for the NRA. "If there's an effort to pursue gun control, we will mount an active defense."

The famously combative lobby, with 4 million members, is displeased with the voting histories of House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and other top Democrats in the House and is putting them on notice that it won't tolerate passage of anti-gun measures.

The only problem: No one expects gun legislation this year.

True, a few Democrats would love to take a potshot at the NRA. But its $20 million in political firepower has long discouraged any such effort. It helped to snuff out the presidential hopes of Democrat Al Gore in 2000 and to elect dozens, mostly Republicans, to Congress.

Besides, one of the NRA's biggest backers is a Democrat, Rep. John D. Dingell (Mich.), who was instrumental in blocking the last major attempt at gun control in 1999 and will reclaim the chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee this week.

No matter. The NRA is on high alert, and its latest weapon is a pamphlet designed to send its members into fits of paranoid rage and to inspire them to open their wallets.

While it disappoints me to read about the scope of the NRA's power in Washington, there is room to learn from its actions. The fact that the gun lobby is going out of its way to oppose the incoming Democratic Congress even as some leading Democrats support their positions and gun control legislation isn't likely to make it to the floor any time soon is not unintentional. Instead, the leadership of the movement -- and the NRA in particular -- has hitched itself to the GOP and knows that it can be more successful by closely aligning with one party than by shifting its allegiances every cycle. Although conventional wisdom might dictate that such a stance would hurt those opposed to gun regulations in the long-term, the fact that the Democrats are not planning to go up against the lobby indicates that this line of thinking is incorrect.

Tags: Democrats, interest groups, NRA (all tags)

Comments

12 Comments

The NRA's real purpose.

It seems like the NRA is really about getting gun owners to support politicians, rather than the other way around. It's really just a front group for the Republican Party.

by MeanBoneII 2007-01-01 10:24PM | 0 recs
Re: Interest Group Politics: How the NRA Does It

I'm in PA....

I have seen the strangle hold the NRA has had on PA politics...Keeping an NRA friendly politican in power Arlen Spector and keeping one out Joe Hoeffel.

Personally I am sick of this shit. My 16 year old daughter goes to Springfield High School: where the 16 year killed himself with his fathers AK 47.

I want to know who are the NRA lobbyists. They make me ill and as far as this mother is concerned have blood on their hands...

by cybermome1207 2007-01-02 01:47AM | 0 recs
Re: Interest Group Politics: How the NRA Does It

It sounds to me like the NRA leaders read "Crashing the Gate" -- they are part of a movement, evil as it may be.  In contrast, grooups like NARAL, HRC, etc., continue to view themselves as narrow protectors of a single issue, disconnected from a larger movement.  

by howardpark 2007-01-02 01:58AM | 0 recs
They can be beaten

The NRA can be beaten, but it requires two things:  a direct attack and party discipline.

The NRA is an adjunct of the Republican Party.  The Democrats need to call them that, over and over and over and over.  

And, to make the point clear, Democrats have to turn down any contributions, endorsements or other support from the NRA.  They have to say that the NRA is a Republican front group and tell them to take their money and shove it.

And to make the message stick, the Democrats, and I mean every Democrat who holds or runs for office, has to pound that message.

I have no illusions that the Democrats will do this, but if they did, the NRA would be worth almost nothing by 2008.

by James Earl 2007-01-02 02:08AM | 0 recs
Spot on

One thing I've always thought is that Republican interest groups are much more effective than Democratic ones because they don't stray from the party line.  Groups like the NRA and the Christian Coalition, by consistently supporting the Republicans, have created the myths that some people have that "you can't be a good Christian and be a Democrat" or that "Democrats are going to take away your guns."

Our interest groups haven't been nearly as effective.  They, on the other hand, seem to support the myths that Republicans can be friendly to the environment, too, and that Republicans can be pro-choice.  That's not effective politics.  Do you think George W. Bush gives a flip if any of his party's Congressmen are pro-choice or support strong environmental laws?  Me neither.

by Tom 2007-01-02 03:31AM | 0 recs
i 'm the nra and i vote

democratic. they had mix n' mingles in several districts. all were for repub (as for as i know). my congressman was to busy to show up. they said they supported independents and demos. then in the very next sentence, they point blank said that we should not support any demos. they didn't want a demo congress. singer if you want the info pac i'll be happy to send it to you. if anyone has any questions i will try to answer them.

by bob reid 2007-01-02 04:51AM | 0 recs
Re: Interest Group Politics: How the NRA Does It

The irony is that the NRA says that we need to have guns to protect ourselves from an oppressive government that will take away our rights. The weird thing about this is that I think Ashcroft is a member of the NRA.

by JSN 2007-01-02 05:34AM | 0 recs
Re: Interest Group Politics: How the NRA Does It

The reason the NRA has any traction at all is because it appeals to an underlying paranoia which affects many people in the US.

The correct way to lessen their power is to defuse the issues. This means understanding why people think they need guns. The common ones of self protection and to ward off government (or foreign) attempts to conquer the populace are based upon fear that is not supported by actual data.

Those that are afraid that their sports uses will be restricted also suffer from irrational ideas. It is quite possible to control gun access for sport use by simple means such as gun clubs or even police certified cabinets to use at home. Either of these measures would cut down on the number of accidental shootings by children and the like.

The excessive fear that many gun owners have reflects on a defect in society which must be understood and addressed if things are going to change. It is the same type of fear that Bush used to increase his executive powers.

by rdf 2007-01-02 05:51AM | 0 recs
Re: Interest Group Politics: How the NRA Does It

I think I understand where you're coming from, because creating policy out of fear is a dangerous thing.  In fact, I'd argue that fear an important factor in creating gun control laws in the first place.  I am opposed to most gun control laws, and some might call me a radical.  I just think that owning military grade small arms is a fundamental right for people.  I don't presently own a weapon, as I am unable to budget one now, but I intend to own one later.

I think that the NRA is a crappy organization, as they are more interested in maintaining the Republican Party and protecting gun manufacturers from regulation.  I don't think that the common person benefits tremendously from NRA efforts.

by nanoboy 2007-01-02 05:56AM | 0 recs
You might have a point if...

You might have a point if the NRA did not support Dems individually, but in fact they do.  (Dingle is just one example.)

In addition to the fact that groups like the Sierra Club and NARAL do indeed inveigh against Republicans in general (why supporting some specifically) this pretty much counters your argument that interest groups politics is most effective when it is unwaveringly partisan, and I'm not surprised you neglected to mention it.

by Disputo 2007-01-02 06:45AM | 0 recs
typo

"why supporting" should be "while supporting"

by Disputo 2007-01-02 06:46AM | 0 recs
Re: Interest Group Politics: How the NRA Does It

The problem with most of the Democratic interest groups is they tend not to support challengers, unless they are  almost 80 or 90% sure they are going to win. Alot of the money tends to go into the pockets of the incumbents. An example of that is the Pa league of Conservation voters. They gave a bunch of money to candidates that didn't need it weren't challenged and already had large bankrolls.

by orin76 2007-01-02 12:23PM | 0 recs

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