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As the US mourns shootings, the NRA is in turmoil but influence remains

HOUSTON – For a brief moment in 2012, it seemed like a national truce was about to break out.

Adam Lanza, a 20-year-old gunman, broke into a Connecticut elementary school and massacred 26 people, mostly children, with an AR-15 rifle. Flags flew at half-mast. A sporting goods chain stopped selling similar weapons. And longtime supporters of gun rights from both parties in Congress said they were ready to consider new legislation. The subject is complex, said then-President Barack Obama, but everyone has an obligation to try.

Then, a week after the bloodshed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the most powerful gun lobby in the US made its public position known and the effort unraveled.

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” said Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association, in a defiant speech that brought together video games, cowardly legislators, the media, and a perverted society for the carnage were blamed. while calling for armed guards in US schools

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Nearly a decade later, the nation stands at another crossroads. A gunman killed at least 19 children with a similar weapon at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, Tuesday, in the second mass killing this month. This time, however, LaPierre didn’t have to address the bloodshed — the organization’s Republican allies in Congress did.

“The problem starts with people. Not with guns.” Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville, who has an A rating and an NRA endorsement, told reporters Wednesday, bluntly summarizing the position of many in the GOP, especially given the party’s recent turnaround to the right. “I’m very sorry it happened. But guns aren’t the problem, okay. people are the problem. That’s where it starts. And we have always had guns and we will continue to have guns.”

A lot has changed since Sandy Hook. The NRA is on the ropes after a series of costly financial scandals and lawsuits. And a burgeoning gun control movement has poured tens of millions of dollars into political campaigns to counter its message. The group Moms Demand Action, for example, was formed the day after the Sandy Hook shooting.

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“How many more children have to die?” founder Shannon Watts said this week. “How many parents, teachers, shoppers and believers and lives must it take for our leaders to do anything? Any senator who sides with the gun lobby blocking life-saving changes prefers the carnage and profits of the gun industry to the precious lives of our children.”

But even if the mass shootings continue unabated, one thing remains the same in Washington: Republicans and Democrats agree that there is little chance that laws tightening gun laws will be passed by a tightly divided Congress. The gridlock, which persists even as public opinion supports some tougher gun laws, is testament to the enduring influence of gun rights groups, which have spent $171 million lobbying the federal government since 1989.

“I want to be more optimistic. But I don’t think that’s going to change,” said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del.

The NRA is no longer the force it once was, and other right-wing gun groups have won in its wake, such as the Gun Owners of America, which describes itself as an “uncompromising” gun lobby. There are several gun rights alliances that operate at the state level and also wield enormous influence in legislation. But in 40 years of working to relax gun laws, the NRA has largely set the cultural tone on the right and is still the most prominent.

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“They really don’t need the NRA to lead anymore, because opposition to gun laws is now so much a litmus test of conservatism and the Republican Party that it’s developing its own momentum,” said Robert Spitzer, a political science professor at the State University of New York at Cortland and author of five books on gun policy.

“As we’ve seen over the past few years, it’s not like gun culture has been weakened overall,” adds David Yamane, a Wake Forest University sociology professor who studies American gun culture. “There are other affiliates that have sprung up or grown to fill some of the gap that the NRA used to serve.”

The organization has built goodwill by spending more than $70 million to further the political ambitions of Republicans currently serving in Congress, often through ads that attack Democrats, according to an analysis of data from the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics tracks political spending. They’ve spent a comparatively small $171,000 to help gun-friendly Democrats currently in the House or Senate, analysis shows.

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The NRA’s gold-standard endorsements are also sought by Republican candidates, particularly in primary elections, where they serve as a cultural shorthand for what it means to be a conservative. Getting a bad grade from the organization can be a cause for concern.

Still, like the NRA gathers in Houston this week For its first convention since 2019, current and former board members say the secretive organization is facing a growing crisis.

The New York City Attorney’s Office filed a lawsuit to disband the organization. Court cases have revealed how LaPierre and others tens of millions of dollars diverted for lavish personal travel and no-show contracts for employees, among other questionable expenses.

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This led to the organization filing for bankruptcy in 2021. However, a judge dismissed the case, which was filed by LaPierre without the approval of the NRA board, ruling that it was not filed in good faith.

The financial difficulties have led to mass layoffs, a slashing of programs and a sharp drop in political spending, which peaked in 2016 when the organization spent $54 million, most of which helped Donald Trump win the White House .

NRA contributions, which once earned the goodwill of generations of lawmakers, have plummeted over the past two years, according to campaign finance data compiled by the bipartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics.

“The NRA is really becoming a shell of itself,” said former NRA board member Rocky Marshall. “She can’t fulfill the NRA’s mission because all the money is spent on lawyers.”

Marshall supports a push to replace LaPierre with Allen West, former leader of the Texas GOP party. Marshall also hopes to pull away from the culture wars and find common ground with gun safety advocates. “Rather than being antagonistic or defensive, we need to have a dialogue because there’s a lot more we can do to prevent gun violence like this.”

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One area where it remains impressive is in lobbying with the federal government. In 2021, the organization nearly broke its previous records set in 2017 and 2018, spending over $4.8 million, records show. Firearms themselves are also part of the culture. Gun purchases grew tremendously during the pandemic, and a 2021 National Firearms Survey found that 81 million Americans own guns. While the NRA only claims a fraction of that, about 5 million, as members, they tend to be vocal.

NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said explanations for the group’s demise were “wishful thinking on the part of our critics.”

“The reality is very different and the results speak for themselves,” he said.

Still, an NRA trademark that some see as toxic has an opportunity for other gun rights groups, including some that are adopting a more dovish tone.

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The National Shooting Sports Foundation, which represents gun dealers, spent over $4.8 million lobbying last year, achieving par with the NRA. It has avoided heated partisan rhetoric and has had a growing influence since the NRA star has waned.

“We will not take a disparaging approach to those who disagree with our views or our industry,” said Mark Oliva, executive director of public affairs at NSSF.

The gun rights movement has continued to have success at the state level, where it has focused on repealing laws requiring a license to carry a concealed handgun. About half of US states have reversed such laws, including Texas, Indiana and Tennessee in the past year.

The Supreme Court, meanwhile, is expected to deliver its verdict soon largest gun judgment in more than a decadewas expected to make it easier to carry guns in public in some of the country’s largest cities.

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For gun owners who have traveled from across the country to attend Congress, the NRA remains a guiding light. Barbara Galis, 75, of Racine, Wisconsin, said she was concerned by the allegations of mismanagement but wasn’t sure another organization “has the clout to support gun rights.”

“What other way do we have? Where are we going?” she said.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/05/28/as-us-mourns-shootings-nra-in-turmoil-but-influence-remains/ As the US mourns shootings, the NRA is in turmoil but influence remains

Sarah Y. Kim

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