Today marked an historic nation-wide protest of youth demonstrating in the streets, asking for sensible gun laws. In a discussion about the protests, Amy Schumer, one of the most outspoken gun control advocates in America, in an appearance on The View stated, “there are great kind NRA members who want sensible gun laws.” [Source: The View, 20 Apr 2018] That sort of sentiment is likely to build bridges much more effectively than vilifying all gun owners. Those genuinely interested in promoting gun safety and reducing gun violence should, as part of their research, attempt to learn about how the NRA presents itself and its members.
The NRA seems to be going through a time of rebranding. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s changing on the inside, but the public facing image is definitely changing. This article examines that rebranding from the viewpoint of someone who isn’t a gun owner or part of the current gun culture. Gun enthusiasts should read this entire article before drawing any conclusions.
Briefly addressed in this article is the topic of reducing gun violence. For further reading, see the article “Both Sides of the Gun Debate Are Flawed.”
The general perceptions of NRA members and gun owners are discussed below. For a more accurate understanding, see the Pew Research article “Among gun owners, NRA members have a unique set of views and experiences.”
The NRA Public Image and Reputation
The NRA is well known for its tough-guy image with past high profile spokespeople like Charlton Heston and Chuck Norris. This image feeds into the stereotypes that people typically have about the organization and its members.
Gun Owner Stereotypes
Critics portray the typical NRA member as a caucasian, middle-aged, pickup-driving, poorly educated, anti-government, anti-social, anti-immigrant, militant, conservative, racist, narrow minded, misogynistic, redneck, Republican, conspiracy theorist, who uses an assault rifle to shoot defenseless little animals, and fearfully assembles stockpiles of guns and ammunition. In the words of President Obama, “they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion.” The cartoon below is an example of how gun owners are sometimes portrayed.
NRA Organization Stereotypes
As an organization, the NRA is perceived to be primarily a lobbying group for wealthy gun manufacturers, focusing on promoting gun sales through spreading fear and eliminating legislation that might hinder gun sales and ownership. Their members are thought to be brainwashed into funding and serving the organization, rather than the organization serving the members.
When we embrace and perpetuate the above views about the NRA and its members, we’re unfortunately engaging in the kind of uninformed bigotry that we profess to be fighting against. When we misrepresent or malign people and groups, we’re unlikely to have any impact at all in convincing any gun enthusiasts to destroy their guns. In speaking to others, when we portray the NRA and its members in the negative ways described above, we’ll be later thought of as lying, bigoted, or simply ignorant by those who eventually meet an actual gun enthusiast who happens to be completely different than the stereotypes we’ve perpetuated. Sometimes people think they can portray their adversaries as nut jobs, then they can more easily win arguments in the public forum. Ultimately such an approach is counter-productive.
The NRA Rebranding
Anyone discovering NRA videos on YouTube would expect to have the above negative stereotypes reinforced. Instead, what they find is a representation of the NRA as primarily a member-focused and member-guided organization consisting of a wide variety of men and women of all ages, ethnicities, and walks of life who promote guns and shooting as a sport that builds relationships and fosters confidence. While this portrayal of the NRA and its members is likely not representative 100% of its members, it’s more accurate than the biased and misinformed stereotypes frequently used.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Critics would suggest that the NRA creates misleading propaganda about the organization and its members. Yet, it’s difficult to argue with or denied the real members who are portrayed in the videos below. As the videos below will illustrate, the perpetuation of outdated stereotypes about NRA members will only harm the efforts of anyone wanting to reduce gun violence.
Additionally, while people like Whoopi Goldberg who are gun owners and NRA members (source) may not represent typical members, they do force one to recognize that not all NRA members are white redneck middle-age men.
The NRA’s membership of 5 million people represent about 1.43% of all Americans, or 14 out of 1,000 people. For those of us concerned about gun violence, our focus should probably be on criminals with guns rather than NRA members with guns. Instead of vilifying, shaming, and stigmatizing gun owners, our focus should probably be on working with law abiding gun owners to find ways to reduce gun deaths and injuries. When we’re divided and arguing with gun owners, we’re not moving close to solutions.
One thing we need to keep in mind is that we could confiscate and destroy all the guns on the entire planet, including those possessed by criminals, and we’d still have people using knives to harm others. We could confiscate all the knives, and we’d still have people driving cars and trucks into crowds to harm people. We could confiscate all the cars, and we’d still have people mailing bombs. At some point, we really need to address the basic breakdown of civil society that’s resulting in so much violence.
The Broader NRA Message
Beyond simply advocating for gun owners, the NRA has a broader multi-faceted message and mission which seems to extend beyond anything gun related.
SOCIAL VALUES – The NRA produced a series of videos in 2014 which presented the following aspects of society that the organization values and defends or is concerned about. The links go to their respective YouTube videos. This broadening of the NRA mission and message serves to make the organization more effective.
It’s helpful for organizations to outline and define what it is they believe in and are fighting for, rather than just what they are fighting against. Too many activist organizations spend more time protesting what’s bad than promoting what’s good.
WOMEN AND GUNS – While we traditionally think of gun enthusiasts as primarily men, there are some women gun enthusiasts and the NRA is making an effort to promote awareness through the NRA Women YouTube Channel. The show “Love at First Shot” is now in its fourth season. Here is Season 4 Episode 4 starting at 8m 33s. This show is of particular interest because it features Lanny Barnes, a 3-time Olympic Biathlete, who began shooting at the age of 12. Later in the video (14m) is a 16-year-old girl competitive shooter who began shooting at the age of 6. It’s videos like these that quietly and effectively respond to the stereotype that gun owners are middle-aged redneck guys driving pickup trucks to their next militia meeting or hunting trip.
POLITICAL AGENDA – Seemingly independent of gun ownership issues is the Freedom’s Safest Place campaign launched in 2017 with over 30 videos touching on a variety of issues. These are politicized videos that seem to be defending Donald Trump and attacking Democrats, the ‘liberal media,’ and ‘liberal elites.’ Some gun enthusiasts may feel this campaign is an unnecessary and polarizing propaganda campaign that divides rather than unites the gun enthusiast community. Keep in mind, these videos were produced after Donald Trump took office. So, it seems they are part of a forward-looking 2020 campaign. Some of the videos have an angry tone and excessive drama that doesn’t offer a positive portrayal of the NRA leadership. Examples are attacks on ‘the failing media‘ and a portrayal of Democrats and protestors as crazy violent anarchists that threaten civil society. There are also inflammatory attacks on the Black Lives Matter movement and Women’s March. It’s possible that these videos are produced to appease the old-order NRA members.
The NRA Rebranding Videos
Below are examples of what seem to be efforts to rebrand the NRA as an organization made up of predominantly immigrants, women, youth, and people of color. Some people may perceive these videos as very calculated propaganda intended to manipulate public opinion about the organization and its members. Perhaps these videos represent only a very small percentage of NRA members. However, there apparently are members of the NRA that don’t fit the stereotypical profile.
“Why You Should Join the NRA”
This short video encapsulates many of the key NRA rebranding points.
Rap Artist and Bernie Sanders Supporter Michael Render
In this video, rap artists and Bernie Sanders supporter ‘Killer Mike’ has a conversation with NRA spokesperson Colion Noir.
Colion Noir Takes the Race-Baiting Media to School”
Spokesperson Colion Noir discusses how the media portrays the NRA.
“Gabby Franco Immigrant from Venezuela”
“I Didn’t Listen”
“Why Women Own Guns”
NRA Standing up for the LGBT Community
The above document is written based on personal experience as well as discussions and interactions with gun enthusiasts and conversations with those in favor of expanded gun regulations. Everyone has a mix of life experiences that shape how they feel about guns. I have friends and acquaintances who are all over the map on gun related issues: hunters and vegans, gun enthusiasts and those wanting to eliminate all guns. While I’m not currently a gun owner or involved regularly in today’s gun culture, I was a gun enthusiast as a young teenager. The gun owners I’ve known through my life have been responsible, intelligent, friendly people. Over my lifetime, I’ve had incidents where guns were a threat to me or loved ones. One time while in a foreign country I was confronted by armed soldiers and had a loaded assault rifle pointed at me. I didn’t have a gun at the time, but if I did it would not have been a help. Knowing a foreign language saved my life that day. I’ve known people who have been robbed at gunpoint or lost loved ones. I have compassion for animals and wildlife, so I’m troubled by the idea of animals being killed for sport. I generally feel that guns are impractical for self defense in many situations. The study of martial arts for self defense seems like a more practical investment of time. With regard to guns used for target practice, I can see how people enjoy that activity. As I budget my own time and money, I choose to spend my leisure time doing other things. I want to understand and respect people, so I seek out conversations with people of various positions. Thanks for taking time to read the article.
Thanks for taking time to read this article. Please feel free to use the comments section below to leave feedback. This document will be revised and updated based on reader feedback. Corrections and necessary updates will be made above in the document and comments will be shared below. As a reference page, it’s important to have predominant viewpoints reflected. Your feedback helps make this document better. Thanks!
“I have been a gun owner and did enjoy shooting at cans and bottles. I have known many members of the NRA. I am comfortable supporting background checks, banning asuault weapons etc/ etc/. The NRA was once an organization of citizens who ran it in a reasonable way. I don’t have any doubt that the NRA is now influenced by powerful gun manufacturers and supported by the the legislators who receive their financial support. I am infinitely grateful for the young people who are stepping up in a powerful way to change our gun regulations and laws.” ~ Received by email from a reader on 21 Apr 2018