Opinion: NRA pushes limits of its power

Washington got hit by a storm two weeks ago with the first House vote in history to hold an attorney general in contempt of Congress, and the town is still cleaning up.

Most of the talk centers on the successful, brass knuckle, unapologetic politics played by the National Rifle Association (NRA).

The key legislative tactic used by the NRA was keeping score of every House member’s vote — for or against the contempt resolution for the Attorney General. Until now, NRA scorecards focused on bills directly tied to guns, such as bans on assault weapons, shielding gun manufacturers from liability in lawsuits and expanding the right to carry guns in national parks.

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Of the 21 Democrats who voted for the civil contempt resolution, 19 accepted money from the NRA in the last two House elections. 

Of the 17 House Democrats who voted in favor of criminal contempt, each one got campaign contributions from the NRA in the last two election cycles.

And every one of those Democrats is in a House district identified by the National Republican Congressional Committee as having a Republican or conservative majority of voters, and thus a likely pick-up for Republicans in the fall elections.

The website Real Clear Politics has pinpointed five House Democrats who it describes as being the most likely Democrats to lose their seats in the fall. 

Four of those five voted with the NRA position. Rep. John Barrow, of Georgia, one of the last remaining white Democrats in the House from the South, got $9,900 from the NRA in the 2010 mid-term election. He received another $4,000 this year from the NRA for his political action committee.

The NRA’s power to punish politicians who defy them was evident earlier this year when the group threw its money against six-term GOP Sen. Richard Lugar. In the Indiana primary, the NRA supported a Tea Party favorite, Richard Mourdock, because Lugar had voted to ban assault weapons.

The NRA put maximum political power into the Holder contempt vote in large part because it is feeling pressure from a smaller, but vocal gun rights group “Gun Owners of America.” 

GOA is picking off NRA members by charging that the NRA has become too moderate and too close to the political establishment in Washington. The group reports only 300,000 members compared to the NRA’s massive membership of 4.3 million. 

But the fear of losing members has made the NRA push the political limits in the name of self-preservation.

The line keeps getting pushed further and further into bizarre, nonsensical conspiracy theories — because that is what excites their base.

The leadership of the NRA needs members to be riled up about something so that they will continue to pay their dues. And in the post-Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, interest groups like the NRA are becoming even more powerful, with the ability to spend virtually unlimited amounts of money to support or defeat the candidates of their choice.  

So for the politicians who need the NRA’s support, the facts of the Holder case are less important than the anger and zeal the gun group displayed in showing its political muscle.

The same dynamic has been on display in recent years as the NRA lobbied in state capitols to make it legal for gun owners to shoot anyone they felt was a threat to their safety. The “Stand Your Ground Law” is now at the center of the national uproar over the shooting of an unarmed 17 year old, Trayvon Martin. 

Similarly, the NRA has used its political muscle to blind politicians to concern over the sale of extended magazine clips for handguns of the kind used in the attempted assassination of former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).   

This month, the group is lobbying to defeat a modest small arms trafficking treaty at the United Nations over concern that it is part of an elaborate Obama-U.N. conspiracy to take away guns from Americans. 

U.N. and U.S. officials have repeatedly said the treaty would in no way affect domestic gun ownership. Rather, it is designed to slow the international transfer of firearms to human rights abusers such as those in Sudan. 

A FactCheck.org report shows the NRA openly misleading voters on President Obama’s positions. In the 2008 campaign, the NRA said the Obama administration planned to “ban the use of firearms for home self-defense.” It claimed Obama would ban “ammunition commonly used for hunting.” President Obama has not proposed any such bans. 

But in total disregard of those facts, Wayne LaPierre, executive director of the NRA, promoted fear among gun owners earlier this year by saying the president is hiding “his true intentions to destroy the Second Amendment during his second term.”

The NRA’s heavy grip on the Democrats who voted against the Attorney General is just a hint of their much broader power over the House GOP.

As the power of the NRA and other special interest groups continues to rise on Capitol Hill, the public interest — good government — seems to be fading away. 

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.