The NRA looks to the Supreme Court for salvation

The NRA looks to the Supreme Court for salvation
© Getty Images

The National Rifle Association (NRA) couldn’t be more excited about the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre noted in a recent ad, “Our time is now. This [is] our historic moment to go on offense and restore American greatness… and put a pro-#2A [Second Amendment] majority on the Supreme Court that will defend individual freedom for generations to come.”

It’s no secret why the N.R.A. is greeting this vacancy like Christmas in July. For one thing, they’ve spent enormous resources trying to buy influence in Washington. The NRA paid out more than $55 million to elect President TrumpDonald John TrumpSarah Huckabee Sanders becomes Fox News contributor The US-Iranian scuffle over a ship is a sideshow to events in the Gulf South Korea: US, North Korea to resume nuclear talks 'soon' MORE and ensure a friendly Congress, in addition to at least $2 million supporting the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.

But the NRA’s fixation with the Supreme Court is about more than seeking a return on their investment. Put simply, the gun lobby is desperate for a big win. Almost five months have passed since 17 teenagers and their teachers and coaches were shot dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. During that time, it’s become clear that NRA’s extreme agenda — which boils down to guns everywhere and for everyone, no questions asked — is a losing proposition among almost every audience.


They’ve lost the American public. For the first time in almost two decades, the NRA is viewed unfavorably by a majority of Americans. Conversely, 66 percent of voters support stronger gun laws, the highest level ever measured by Quinnipiac.

They’ve lost state lawmakers. Since Parkland, 16 states have passed meaningful gun safety legislation — and half of them are governed by Republicans. Consider Florida, a former NRA stronghold that was once known as the “Gunshine State.” After the Parkland shooting, state lawmakers in Tallahassee bucked the gun lobby and passed a comprehensive package of gun safety laws, including raising the age to buy firearms to 21 and imposing a three-day waiting period to buy long guns. 

They’ve lost corporate support. Companies like Bank of Omaha, Delta, and Hertz have cut ties with the NRA because they don’t want to be tarnished by such a toxic brand. At the same timeDick’s Sporting Goods, Citigroup and others are leading the charge to create a more responsible gun marketplace.  

They’ve lost voters. Starting last November — three months before Parkland — the NRA’s approved candidate came up short in a governor’s race in Virginia, a U.S. Senate race in Alabama, and a House race in a deeply conservative part of Pennsylvania.

These are all places where the NRA.’s blessing was once a kingmaker. Increasingly, however, it’s a kiss of death — and the NRA knows it. They recently took down all archived candidate grades from their website. Luckily for voters, Everytown for Gun Safety was able to save them.

And they’ve lost in the courts. In case after case, the gun lobby has tried and failed to overturn common-sense gun safety laws, including background check requirements and bans on large-capacity magazines. Their latest setback came when the Supreme Court declined to review a federal court decision upholding California’s 10-day waiting period for firearm purchases.

In the wake of so many defeats, the NRA is counting on President Trump and the Senate to deliver them a Supreme Court Justice who will validate their increasingly radical and unpopular worldview. They are sure to pull out all the stops in support of nominees who would join with the court’s most pro-gun members and overturn years of established law. 

So far, the public discussion around Kennedy’s retirement has focused largely on reproductive rights, immigration, and health care. But the first step to defeating the NRA’s Supreme Court strategy is talking about it.

Contrary to Wayne LaPierre’s wishful thinking, this historic moment doesn’t belong to the NRA — it belongs to the millions of Americans who came together after Parkland and demanded that our leaders protect us from gun violence. Together, we must send the president and Senate a clear message: This country cannot afford a justice who yokes the Supreme Court to the gun lobby’s extreme agenda.

John Feinblatt is president of Everytown for Gun Safety.