(By Deutsche Welle) The NRA has evolved from a sporting association to the leading advocacy group for gun rights in the US. Scott Melzer, author of the book “Gun Crusaders: the NRA’s Culture War,” discusses the NRA’s ideology with DW.
DW: How did the National Rifle Association (NRA) reach a leadership position among organizations that represent gun owners and gun rights in the United States?
The organization has been around for 140 plus years. It has had different identities over those years. Since the 1960s and 70s when gun control really came on the radar in the United States after the political assassinations and other events, that’s when the NRA began to change its identity from just kind of a hunter and sports shooters group into this politicized gun rights group. So essentially they’ve been around forever, and they were the first organization that took a stance and they’ve just grown since.
Who are the members exactly of the NRA? Do we have any sense of the demographics of the members or what their political leanings are?
The NRA has never shared any information about their membership. From my own research, I would say that if you look at the membership, the more committed members – what I found – were also the most deeply conservative. They have a conservative political ideology that extended well beyond gun rights to many other issues, which isn’t surprising, because it’s been evident – and my research emphasizes – that the gun debate is very much intertwined with American politics. And the way the NRA argues that guns should be defended, it resonates with conservatives.
They argue that gun rights defend and protect all other individual rights and freedoms. And that fits with a conservative philosophy of government out of our lives, citizens shouldn’t be dependent on government for protection via gun control or social services, instead they should rely on themselves for protection and for their incomes and so forth.
The most committed members I found were the most conservative, but even the less committed members still lean to the right. They were politically kind of center right I would say. I didn’t encounter any liberals, when I was doing research on the NRA and interviewing NRA members. I attended some NRA annual meetings – they gather tens of thousands of people. It’s overwhelmingly white and mostly men and mostly conservative. Those demographics mirror gun owner demographics as well in the United States.