The National Rifle Association is gaining new members at a pace likely not seen before. How do I know this? There are three reasons. First, I've seen it before. Every time gun rights are under severe threat, the NRA adds large numbers to their membership roles. Every time. Second, since the Parkland shooting, Google reported severe spikes in the search term "NRA membership." I doubt these folks were using the term "NRA membership" while looking to buy a new washing machine. Third, anecdotal observation of social media, blogs, gun forums and more would also suggest such a trend.
To those who are new members of the NRA, welcome! To those who have rejoined after their memberships lapsed, welcome back!
Here are some things you should know about the NRA that most people, including many of its members, don't:
1. The NRA has always been an organization focused on marksmanship and gun safety. The NRA started in 1871 when two Civil War Union Generals got together to promote marksmanship training after seeing their troops shoot poorly in the war. From that day forward, the NRA has never strayed from its mission of being the premier firearms training organization in the country.
2. The NRA is one of the oldest civil rights organizations in the United States. The NRA has recognized from its beginning that the 2nd Amendment is one of the most important safeguards of freedom and liberty. Its founders fought to uphold the Union and abolish slavery.
3. The NRA didn't enter the political arena until it was over 100 years old. As a result of gun control threats in the 1970's, the NRA formed the NRA Institute for Legislative action (NRA-ILA) and the NRA Political Victory Fund (NRA-PVF).
4. The NRA is one of the largest membership organizations in the country. With over five million members, the NRA is certainly the largest organization supporting any individual constitutional right. It is only outsized by groups like AARP and the AFL-CIO, as well as AAA.
5. The NRA is actually made up of many different organizations and departments with completely different functions. Structurally, the NRA is a 501 (c) 4 not-for-profit corporation. In addition to that main body, there is the NRA-ILA, which is the political wing of the NRA formed in 1975. Coupled with the NRA-ILA is the NRA-PVF, which is the political war chest of the NRA. It is money through this entity that flows directly to political candidates. Money in this fund comes from members and non-members alike.
Beyond that, the NRA has four different 501 (c) 3 (tax exempt) organizations that were established for safety, education, training, legal defense, voter registration, and other non-partisan activities. Money contributed to these entities comes from corporations, members, and non-members through various fundraising activities. It goes towards things like youth and women's safety programs, competitions, education, voter registration, engagement in legal cases regarding the Second Amendment, and even the upkeep of NRA's Whittington Center, which is a world-class shooting facility in New Mexico.
The NRA has hundreds of employees working in these departments that manage its millions of members, not to mention it has a hundred thousand plus NRA instructors. NRA employees oversee programs for women and youth, sanctioned shooting competitions, and the tens of thousands of clubs and businesses who affiliate with the organization. They engage in fundraising, do legal work, publish multiple publications, sell advertising, recruit members, and manage volunteer recruiters. They maintain any one of three national firearms museums, develop policy and safety programs for hunting, handle the NRA's many insurance programs, establish standards for and promote safe ranges, and much, much more. And yes, they engage in lobbying at both the federal and state levels. The NRA employs accountants, HR professionals, field staff, sales people, customer service representatives, attorneys, photographers, curators, IT staff, law enforcement personnel, and a number of other professionals.
6. It is its members, not the money or the leadership, that make the NRA so powerful. The five million plus members of the NRA represent the over 100 million gun owners in the United States. That's one third of the entire country's population. The money the NRA gives to politicians is nothing compared to the influence they represent in terms of individual voters. When an NRA lobbyist scores a vote, politicians know that they will be held accountable to these voters for their actions. The Left can scream and march in the streets, but politicians know that there are many more citizens who will write, volunteer, donate, and, most importantly, vote for leaders who support their Second Amendment rights. The power of its membership at the ballot box is the true strength of the NRA.
7. Politically speaking, the NRA is a single-issue organization. If you like guns, the NRA is on your side whether you are gay or straight, black or white, religious or atheist, Democrat or Republican. Despite what many would like to believe, it is not the National Republican Association. The most recent case in point was when NRA backed Democratic Sen. Harry Reid who often voted in favor of legislation it supported. The NRA has a policy of endorsing incumbents who have good track records with the organization. It could be argued that Sen. Reid was the key reason the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban was not brought up for a vote to be renewed. The NRA likely lost tens of thousands of members over this stance, but they remained true to their non-partisan support of politicians who did what it lobbied them to do.
8. The NRA is required in its by-laws to hold an Annual Meeting. As an NRA member, you can attend the Annual Meeting for free. There you can see acres and acres of displays related to firearms and ammunition. You can also attend the actual Annual Meeting where leaders give reports to members and vote when necessary for policy changes. Best of all, you can hang out with tens of thousands of like-minded, freedom-loving patriots in one of the safest venues on the planet. The next NRA Annual Meeting is in Dallas, Texas, May 3-6. Be there!
9. Zero dollars from membership dues go towards politics. Probably the biggest shocker of all is that not one penny from a member's dues goes to NRA-ILA or NRA-PVF. They are separate entities and engage in their own fundraising. This is why members receive direct mail and other forms of solicitation. Dues go towards every other aspect including insurance benefits for members, its magazines, and other general expenses. For life members, the NRA actually incurs a liability for those memberships. With a life membership, the NRA is on the hook for all the benefits and the magazine for that member for the rest of his or her life. So, if you want to support the NRA in the political arena, it's not enough to just be a member, you have to give additionally to NRA-ILA and NRA-PVF.
From this Patron Life member to the newest of members, welcome to the organization! Now, get involved and make a difference.
10. Oh, and by the way, we're also twice as big as the largest army on earth.