by David Safier
I've been hearing from groups wanting more regulation on gun purchases that the NRA isn't nearly as powerful politically as it claims, that its endorsement doesn't guarantee a win and its condemnation doesn't mean a loss. An article on the McClatchy site, NRA clout rooted more in its tactics than its election spending, appears to confirm that the NRA's power comes more from fear than from actual clout.
It doesn't spend much on federal races.
[T]ax returns show the NRA spends far more on staff than on federal races. In 2010, for example, the NRA spent $51.6 million on salaries and benefits for its employees, including more than $1 million for Kayne B. Robinson, the executive director for general operations, and nearly $1 million for Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre.
That election cycle, it reported spending less than $8.4 million on independent campaigns for congressional candidates, according to campaign finance data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. The NRA handed out $1.28 million directly to federal candidates, 70 percent of it to Republicans.
And its power to stifle gun control legislation is based more on its reputation for swaying elections than for its actual power.
Robert Spitzer, a professor at the State University of New York at Cortland and author of "The Politics of Gun Control," said that the NRA's electoral influence has been exaggerated, adding that the group's "bark is a lot more annoying than their bite."
Part of the NRA's power stems from memories Democrats have of two major political losses: the 1994 GOP takeover of the House of Representatives and Al Gore's defeat in the 2000 presidential election. According to political lore, both stem from Democratic support for gun control - a factor Spitzer said has been overstated.
Grijalva is quoted in the article, referring to the stong negative response he got to a letter supporting the UN arms trade treaty.
"That's the kind of thing you combat on a daily basis," Grijalva said. "They'll contact their membership: 'He's taking away your guns.' Exaggerations. Their influence is not about politics - it's about threats."
It may be the NRA's power is based more on its ability to convince everyone how powerful it is. Think of it as a retelling of the Wizard of Oz as the Wizard of Uzi. It's time to take a look behind the curtain and see how much of the NRA clout is an illusion.