Understanding the drop in gun sales and the rise in NRA membership

It is perplexing that as gun sales in the United States decrease, membership in gun advocacy groups is on the rise. How do we reconcile these seemingly opposing trends?

The apparently contradictory implication of these metrics is the result of a rise of gun owners that had as of yet simply owned guns but now also align themselves with gun-advocacy groups. What has compelled gun owners to take this step from ownership to advocacy?

Throughout the Obama administration, there was a steady rise in guns sales across the country. This rise was amplified following mass shootings due to a fear of legislation for stricter gun laws. [1][2]

This rise, however, has not continued into the Trump administration. [2] Gun sales have decreased, and this decline holds even following mass shootings. As Alvin Chang from Vox reports, there has even been no spike in gun sales following the shooting at Stoneman Douglas. [3]

This ‘Trump slump’ is surprising considering that President Trump and other Republicans have displayed an openness to reform gun laws. But it is this very openness to change by Republicans that Alana Abramson from TIME considers the cause for the rise in applications to gun rights advocacy groups. [4]

What emerges is that while gun sales are down, there is a portion of gun owners that are now, instead of stockpiling in response to a fear of losing gun rights, joining organizations like the NRA.

The NRA, the National Association for Gun Rights and some other more local organizations that are state specific, have been reporting a large increase in applications in the wake of Stoneman Douglas.

Charles Cotton, a member of the NRA board of directors, has encouraged members of an online forum for firearms information to recruit others to the NRA because as he says “The NRA better be 15 million strong or this is only going to get worse.”

He may be right. Pew research contributes a number of illuminating figures to this discussion.  First, that roughly one-third of Americans own a gun, and second, that the majority of gun owners own multiple guns. [5]

This implies that during the Obama Administration gun sales were not being made to people outside the set of existing gun owners but rather to a smaller subset of the population that has been ‘stockpiling’. Following this decline in sales, some gun owners have shifted focus to advocacy.

At the same time, Pew research indicates that most people favor the adoption of certain legislative restrictions on gun purchases, the most ubiquitous of which are, limiting access to mentally ill individuals and background checks for private and gun show sales. [5]

They also report that even for the following divided policies: a federal database that tracks gun sales, banning of assault weapons and banning of high capacity magazines, that gun owners’ acceptance of them ranges in the fairly high 44 % to 54%. [5]

When I asked Nolan Edmonson, Co-President of YU College Republicans whether he thought that restrictive legislation was likely to be passed in the near future and if yes, how he thought existing gun owners might react he said “I certainly think that restrictive legislation will be passed in the very near future.”

“However, I am very skeptical that any restrictive legislation will be passed on the federal level but it is realistic to assume laws will be passed on the state level. “Edmonson said. “Florida is a promising example of Republican leaders, common-sense, gun laws. I suspect any further actions by those in Congress to enact stricter gun measures will be met with quite some opposition from the NRA.”





The NRA’s Charm Offensive

Whenever mass shootings happen in America—something that has become all too familiar in this country—we wait to see how the NRA will respond.

Compare the NRA’s response to Sandy Hook with their response to the most recent mass school shooting at Stoneman Douglas and you get two very different stories.

Following the shooting at Sandy Hook the NRA remained quiet for about a week. Wayne Lapierre pointed this out proudly a week later when he stated, “Out of respect for the families and until the facts are known, the NRA has refrained from comment.” He then went on to defend the NRA’s work and the NRA crept back into keeping their own base energized.

But something changed this time around. This time, while the NRA did wait a week to respond publicly, it brought it’s message to the broader public, playing offense and not defense. As the Washington Post’s headline a week after the shooting stated, “NRA Goes on the Offensive After Parkland Shooting, Assailing Media and Calling for More Armed School Security.”

In addition to criticizing law enforcement for failing to identify that telltale signs of a mass killer, NRA Spokeswoman Dana Loesch joined a CNN Town Hall to sympathize with the victims and to lay out the NRA’s approach to gun rights and gun control in the country.

Why the sudden change in tactic and was this a successful move by the NRA?

For one thing, the response by the public to this mass shooting has been nothing like we have seen in the past. CNN pointed out that a week after the shooting, the tragedy was still in the headlines, something which has not happened in the past. Students have been organizing protests and meeting with lawmakers to finally change the country’s gun laws. If the NRA were to stay in the shadows, there would be little to no hope of any successful counterpressure for the gun lobby.

But there is another reason why the NRA went on the offensive this time around. Three weeks prior to the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas, the New York Times ran a feature titled, “The NRA’s Telegenic Warrior.” The article was about Loesch, who joined the CNN Town Hall and received raving reviews from both sides on her demeanor and composition throughout the Town Hall. You see, the NRA finally has a powerful yet pleasant voice to get their message across and likely feels they can lose some of their redneck image. Even the New York Times gave Loesch positive coverage. In the past they may not have felt safe taking their message to the public, but with Loesch they do.

Even those with a negative impression of the NRA can see the talent Loesch brings to the table. Eli Schwartzblatt, a politically engaged YU student watched Loesch at the town hall with skepticism. However following the completion of the moving event he noted, “sending Dana Loesch was a brilliant and bold move. I think Dana’s presence put a compassionate human face behind an organization that was being compared to ISIS.”

The question remains whether Loesch’s charisma can turn the tide and paint the NRA in a different light in the media and to the American public. If these shootings continue, the organization may need to hire a few more Loesches.