The National Rifle Association (NRA) is known to be one of the most powerful interest groups in America. For decades, the NRA has defended the Second Amendment right to own a gun in the US. It’s ability to influence political races across the nation, to sponsor gun-rights cases through the court system, and to affect the nation’s political discussion concerning guns is renowned. Its rhetoric is deeply entrenched in the political narratives surrounding the gun in the US, filled with fears of a tyrannical government and of the realities of an American people unable to defend itself.
On any political issue, the NRA is usually outspoken. Even throughout the coronavirus pandemic – which is not linked to gun control or gun access – the NRA was able to spin political discourse so that the threat to Second Amendment rights was discussed. At the beginning of lockdown in the US, they used fearmongering rhetoric to encourage a spike in gun sales, a tactic they are used to deploying in the wake of mass shootings. March 2020 set a record for firearms sales, with data indicating that many of these sales were by first-time buyers. By making it seem as though lawmakers would use COVID-19 as an opportunity to deny American’s their right to self-defence through the closure of gun stores, the NRA was able to use the pandemic for their own political gain. Once protests began in some states over the lockdowns themselves, the NRA welcomed the presence of armed protesters. The stay-at-home orders were compared to ‘tyranny’, and the NRA-ILA retweeted Trump’s call to ‘Liberate Virginia’. The NRA uses any political event – even coronavirus – to increase their political capital and keep the Second Amendment in political discourse.
For an interest group which continually warns its supporters of the threat of the police state, the recent displays of police brutality and oppression are an optimal political environment. This is what the NRA has been warning about: militarised police and federal agents being mobilised against peaceful protestors across the country.
Yet, the NRA has been silent. While they have tweeted approximately 30 times since the death of George Floyd, they have been vague tweets about Second Amendment rights, attacks on Joe Biden and praise for the spike in gun sales over the past few months. The police reaction to peaceful protests across the nation has not been mentioned.
This is important. The NRA refocus the national attention – wherever possible – on the need to protect the right to bear arms. But in this one, incredibly ideal situation, they have not. It fits their political narrative perfectly, but they have chosen not to act.
There are multiple reasons why they might have chosen not to speak out. One theory is that the NRA’s lack of action is because they are distracted by their poor financial situation at present. In 2016, the NRA spent $30million to help Trump get elected. Heading into the 2020 Presidential election with 200 staff layoffs, furloughs and a 20% cut in pay across the board paints a very different picture of the NRA’s influence. Given the importance of the upcoming election in November, it makes sense that they would focus all of their resources on supporting candidates across the country who will protect the Second Amendment. Unlike 2016, the NRA does not have $70million to spend nationwide; they have to prioritise.
But this doesn’t make sense given their action in other areas. The police crackdowns are the one area in which the NRA is silent. Their financial situation may be part of the answer, but it is definitely not the whole story.
Trump may have had an influence on their silence. His evident disdain for the protestors and their cause would mean that, as the NRA has thrown their support behind the incumbent President, to speak out in opposition to him would be out of character. Yet this also does not seem to be a deep enough explanation as to why the NRA has failed to capitalise on the current overreaching of state power by militarized police forces across the nation. A more appropriate and accurate explanation would be that the NRA simply disagrees with the cause that the police are cracking down on; the Black Lives Matter movement. For the NRA, a tyrannical and overreaching government would be acceptable, as long as its oppression is aimed at those the NRA also disagree with. Some right-wing fundamentalists have stated that Trump has not gone far enough in his action against the Black Lives Matter protestors, encouraging him to sanction using more force than he has already, despite protestors across the country – even outside of the White House – being tear-gassed and arrested in droves.
When the issue is looked at from this perspective, the NRA simply appears to be upholding these right-wing calls. The lack of action against what is evidently a tyrannical government, a government using unreasonable power over its citizens, shows the race-driven elements of the NRA’s politics. Tyranny, independence, and defence are just empty buzzwords for the group if they don’t apply to the nation as a whole. The NRA has always warned their supporters to be wary of tyranny. By not speaking out against the police crackdowns or actions of the Trump Administration towards the Black Lives Matter protests, the NRA is throwing doubt upon the principles they claim to hold dear.
Whether this will have any impact on the influence the organisation holds, however, is an unlikely outcome. Like many other flaws with the NRA, they will be buried beneath the patriotic aura that the organisation emits. While this lack of action concerning the recent police crackdowns shows the NRA’s political posturing to be shallow, the NRA will carry on as usual.