As president of the National Rifle Association during the days following the tragic school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, I was on the front lines defending Second Amendment rights against President Barack Obama, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a network of gun control advocates who used that tragedy to promote a gun control agenda that, had it been in place on Dec. 14, 2012, would not have prevented the tragedy.
Obama and his allies in Congress and on the outside realized early on that to win the campaign to enact new gun control laws, they would have to convince those serving in Congress that the NRA was a paper tiger that could be ignored. The refrain began at the top and was repeated almost daily.
“The NRA may once have represented American sportsmen and women; it may once have reflected the views of its members on Second Amendment issues, but the world has changed, and that’s no longer the case.” The public was told, using questionable poll data provided by Mayor Bloomberg’s acolytes, that “most” NRA members agreed not with the association of which they were members, but with President Obama.
I was constantly asked as I traveled the country why the NRA used to support American shooters, but was today nothing but a shill for the firearms industry from which we received the bulk of our financial support. This one was easily answered. The NRA, and particularly the NRA Foundation, does receive support from firearms manufacturers and distributors, but on average that support amounts to about 3 percent of the association’s budget. And none of it goes to advocacy or political activity.
The anti-NRA drumbeat was orchestrated because the president and his allies knew that to win they would have to demonize, defang or sideline the organization and its then-4 million members, or at least convince wavering politicians that the organization is no longer relevant. I remember watching PBS the night that Obama spoke and listening to Mark Shields, a reliable Obama supporter, suggest that the NRA was no longer a force to be reckoned because it was imploding as its members were abandoning it due to its opposition to the president’s agenda.
That day, as the president spoke, some 58,000 Americans picked up their phones to join the NRA, and hundreds of thousands of Second Amendment supporters from coast to coast were planning rallies, marches and telephone campaigns to let the politicians know just where they stood. By the time it was over, agree or not with the NRA, politicians from Washington to Denver knew that gun owners and sportsmen and sportswomen did not support the Obama/Bloomberg agenda and were prepared, as they had time after time, to stand with the NRA.
When I stepped down as president of the NRA in 2013, the membership had swollen to more than 5 million men and women from all walks of life, and liberal pundits were wondering why, when a political battle over gun control ended, public support for firearms ownership usually increased. In the wake of tragedies like what happened at Sandy Hook, gun control aficionados believe they can ride a wave of popular outrage to achieve their interim and long-term goals, which include everything from bans on firearms, universal registration and eventual confiscation to “a gun-free society.”
During the debates that ensued, however, Americans actually focused on the arguments of the two sides and rejected much of what Obama and his allies proposed as contrary to the Constitution, unworkable and, perhaps just as important, nonsensical.
The post-Sandy Hook debate went the way it did for these very reasons. The longer it went on, the clearer it was to the public and to those elected to represent the public that the new proposed restrictions would not have prevented the tragedy being exploited to promote them and would do little, if anything, to reduce either crime or future such incidents. At the same time, as people contemplated the importance of the Second Amendment and the fact that many millions of Americans not only enjoy the shooting sports but rely on their right to own a gun as their final line of defense for themselves, their families and their property, they rejected the restrictions being proposed.
Gun control advocates have convinced themselves that few Americans really care deeply about the Second Amendment or have been conned by the NRA, which has, in turn, convinced politicians that it speaks for millions of Americans who not only care, but will vote for or against candidates based on their Second Amendment record.
The importance of the exit polls released this week by the NRA is that they show not only that the Second Amendment is an important issue to millions of Americans, but that the NRA is viewed as a trustworthy leader on these issues. It’s that trust, and the tens of millions of voters who look to the NRA for leadership, that makes the NRA endorsement so important to men and women seeking public office — and why politicians listen.