The NRA On Trial: Figuring Out What Comes Next

While the NRA continues its legal struggles, attention has, finally, been diverted from that slow-speed train crash long enough to ask the big question: what happens if the NRA doesn’t survive?

Not the trial, the loss of confidence and contributions from former members who are too-disillusioned to risk supporting the organization whose leadership seems determined to try and remain unchanged.

The NRA’s “not another inch” 2A stance over the past three decades helped create a political juggernaut that could make or break a political career. Today, however, the now equally-obvious profligate spending habits of the not-for-profit’s leadership has turned off many former supporters.

It’s been testified to in court, so it’s no secret that the NRA has lost considerably more than a million members over the past three years. Those losses translate into the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars of membership dues and contributions.

Between the lost membership dollars and tens of millions spent on legal fees during that time, the NRA is, by most financial standards, a shadow of itself.

The thirty million-plus dollars spent to support Donald Trump’s successful 2016 campaign are simply not there for this election. NRA officials say they’ll put most dollars into “down ballot” races, not the top of the ticket. With fewer dollars to spend, the most effective use of funds with the most commensurate long term impact will be spent there.

But that’s reason enough for concern in in Washington where influence is measured in support. Support is another way of saying “money.”

Anti-Second Amendment groups view this fiscally-challenged NRA as their best opportunity in years to make significant advancements toward limiting gun rights. For other pro-2A organizations, the NRA’s situation represents both a challenge and an opportunity.

The challenge comes as they attempt to pivot or expand their efforts to supplement the NRA’s diminished political clout. Unfortunately, the area where they’re most needed requires the biggest capital requirements: the national campaigns.

Stepping up their financial game means actively recruiting contributors, individual or corporate. That’s something they try to do gingerly. Looking to expand at the detriment of the NRA isn’t without some peril. The organization still has millions of members.

But the opportunity to expand their own reach, influence, and membership by filling that void — with former NRA members — still exists.

No one’s actually admitting those efforts, but it’s not coincidental that many groups have significantly raised their profiles when it comes to 2A protection efforts. That’s not saying they’ve not been active before. But their representatives are now more visible in more places than ever before. And they are, quietly but actively, reaching out to former NRA supporters.

For former NRA members seeking organizations they feel will more responsibly represent their common interest, these smaller organizations may offer just what they’re seeking: more transparency and responsible leadership.

Extremely light traffic at a scaled-down NRA membership display at SCI last weekend made it obvious that NRA memberships — even at significantly reduced prices — weren’t high demand items, even among a group where staunch Second Amendment support is never in question.

That’s not to say anyone, including the organizations trying to fill the void, are pulling against the NRA’s survival. That’s not the case.

From the Second Amendment Foundation to the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s new PAC and Gun Owners of America, leaders are all quick to point out their preference would be that the NRA be restored to its former stature. Their work today, they say, is to assure gun owners and 2A supporters that they’re not without representation, despite the NRA’s current distractions.

After all, as Second Amendment Foundation founder Alan Gottlieb told the Washington Post last weekend “the NRA’s strength has not been the headquarters, NRA’s strength has been the membership.”

The SAF, primarily known for its very successful legal challenges to gun rights impinging legislation, has significantly stepped up efforts its on behalf of gun owners and its visibility. Both those efforts appear to have paid off commensurately. According to OpenSecrets, SAF revenues were up well over 60 percent from 2016 to 2022.

A portion of those increased contributions have come from inside the firearms industry. Few are willing to admit it, but many companies quietly closed their checkbooks to the NRA when large-scale “irregularities” began to surface in late 2016.

Some of those companies have held their NRA contributions in escrow, hoping the NRA could work out its issues. Others, in continuing to support 2A causes, quietly put funding into other organizations.

Meanwhile, as the trial grinds on in New York City, exhibitors of everything outdoors- from outfitters and guides to fishing boats and RVs – are together in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania for the NRA’s Great American Outdoor Show. They’ll be there through February 11 in a marathon nine-day consumer extravaganza.

The show dwarfs other consumer outdoor events. More than nine halls at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex will be filled with guns, archery gear, tackle, tree stands, and more. There will be major entertainment and newsmaker events.

One event that’s likely to get plenty of attention and media coverage is the NRA Presidential Forum, set for Friday, February 9.

Former President Donald Trump is set to appear. If you’re planning on attending, please be aware that the secret service will be in charge of the large arena of the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex (and much of the surrounding area) for the Trump appearance. That means everyone will be screened via magnetometer before entry. That means firearms, firearm accessories, knives and other items will not be permitted.

Here’s the full list of prohibitions for the event if you’re planning on going. Don’t say we didn’t tell you ahead of time.

And, as always, we’ll keep you posted.

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