The NRA way

Polling suggests that House icon John Dingell is in trouble in his reelection bid, and to many conservative groups, an unlikely ally is likely to speed to his rescue — the National Rifle Association.

This will drive many conservative bloggers, writers and erstwhile leaders nuts, but as a former NRA lobbyist, let me state this clearly — the NRA owes nothing to the conservative movement or the Republican Party. It is the NRA’s job to protect the Second Amendment rights of all Americans, not just Republicans, independents, Democrats or non-participants, but for all Americans.

They do that by supporting those who have been supporters over the years regardless of political party affiliation or public opinion. That is the NRA promise, and it is why the NRA has avoided the suicidal Democratic left’s legislative mayhem in the past two years.

John Dingell, David Obey and others have fought the tough Democratic Caucus battles for years supporting gun rights. Battles where there is no recorded vote for people to look up on Thomas, but battles which have been much more bruising and important than a roll call on a specific issue.

What message would the NRA be sending to these members and to their colleagues if they abandoned those who stood firm in the foxhole with them in times of need to the whim of political expediency?

Admittedly, it is probable that the Republican candidate is an NRA supporter in many of these districts, but the NRA knows that a proven friend is far better than one who is just making paper promises.

The NRA membership pays the salaries, donates the money, works the elections and responds to the NRA endorsement. They expect the endorsement to be based upon the track record of the candidate, not his or her political party. If the NRA stooped to playing partisan games with its endorsements, it would devalue both the impact and marginalize the organization’s ability to do the one thing it does best — defend America’s freedom.

From my experience as an NRA lobbyist many years ago, I will admit that in reading a list of Democrats likely to receive NRA support, I was surprised to see one name: Rep. Chet Edwards from Texas. I knew Edwards when I was the NRA state lobbyist covering Texas. I spent the better part of two sessions attempting to get legislation passed allowing the issuance of licenses to carry handguns to law-abiding citizens. I found Edwards to be uniquely unreceptive on this and other core issues. Over the course of the years, since the late 1980s, it is very possible that Edwards has undergone a transformation, and if I were still an NRA lobbyist, I might have to endorse him, but I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him.

Having said that, the fact that Edwards is reportedly in line to be endorsed sends another message to Democrats and Republicans alike — the NRA will support you even if the only reason you vote with them is because it would be against your political interests to do anything else.

In politics, friends tend to be transitory from issue to issue, and based upon perceived self-interest. The NRA is the most powerful group in politics because it turns this truth on its head through its policy of supporting friends regardless of political party or ideology. This policy gives politicians certainty in an uncertain world, and ensures that the NRA is much less likely to fall prey to short-term political winds, due to the constancy of its position.

That is the real source of NRA power, not NRA PAC contributions, nor even the 15,000 members in the average congressional district. The real source of the NRA’s power is that members know that if they stand with gun owners, gun owners will stand with them, and conversely, if they oppose gun rights, the price will be substantial.

Neither Republican nor Democrat can control this refreshingly honest approach to D.C. lobbying. They are a gun organization defending the rights of gun owners. They are neither conservative, nor liberal. They are the NRA, and everyone knows where they stand.


Rick Manning was an NRA state lobbyist for nine years in the previous century, and is currently the communications director for Americans for Limited Government.