During my textual monologue about the new generation of shooters I said some disparaging things about the National Rifle Association (NRA). This lead to an e-mail asking me why I dislike the NRA (it was actually a very polite e-mail, which I’m not used to receiving in response to criticisms I make). Assuming other people were wondering the same thing I felt that this would make a better blog post than an e-mail response. To save you a lot of reading I will just quote the relevant part of my post here:

I’ve had numerous heated discussions with fellows gun enthusiasts due to my political views (because the only thing more vile than a dirty liberal Democrat to some members of the shooting community is a downright dangerous anarchist). If you ever want to see a political discussion go from civil to yelling just bring up the fact that you think the Constitution is a flawed document that shouldn’t be cited as scripture. My viewpoints and the viewpoints of most of my anarchist friends do not align with the National Rifle Association (NRA). We don’t derive our ability to own and carry firearms from an amendment to some document written by power hunger individuals who were upset that the Articles of Confederation didn’t allow for monarchical control. Us metalheads aren’t interested in a country music concert and most anarchists and metalheads want to be as far away from a prayer breakfast as we can get.

It’s pretty obvious that I despise the NRA, right? Well my opinion regarding the NRA isn’t that cut and dry. The thing to remember is that the NRA is a large organization composed of approximately four million members. That being the case it’s difficult to make an overall judgement of the organization. I personally have a love-hate relationship with the NRA. While the organization does many things that I don’t like (with my range of dislike of individual things going from mild to borderline disgust) it also does many things that I do like.

Let’s start with the things I dislike about the NRA. The most obvious place to start is with the organization’s politics. In general the NRA uses its political clout to fight for gun rights and the organization has a good track record. However it also does incredibly boneheaded political maneuvers in my opinion. For example, during the last presidential election the NRA threw its political weight behind Mitt Romney. I’m not sure how endorsing a candidate who has a history of being, at best, wishy-washy on gun rights promotes gun rights but that’s what the NRA did. And the organization has endorsed other candidates who have been less than stellar in regards to gun rights.

Another thing I dislike about the NRA, and it is something that I dislike about most large and established organizations, is it’s apparent inability to adapt strategically. Political endorsements and campaign contributions are its hammer and it gets used whether the problem is a nail or a screw. There are many avenues of promote gun rights that the NRA has failed to utilize effective. Social media is probably ones of the biggest avenues that remains underutilized (although that seems to be slowly changing). Like them or not social media tools are probably the best way to reach the new generation. Much of what the NRA does with its barrage of physical mail could be better, and more cheaply, accomplished with Facebook, Twitter, etc. While the NRA does maintain Facebook and Twitter accounts it doesn’t use them much for engagement, which is the real power of social media. It would be nice to see the NRA engaging its online audience to both gather support for gun rights and to refute claims made by gun control supporters.

The third major problem I have with the NRA is it’s habit of taking credit for the accomplishments of others. This ties with the NRA’s inability to adapt. When organizations such as the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) make gains using a strategy left underutilized by the NRA it’s inevitable that the NRA will try to take credit for the success. Taking undue credit is sketchy at best and downright disgusting at worst. Instead of trying to make itself look like the only game in town the NRA should spend time reaching out to other gun rights organizations and try to build an alliance instead of a monopoly. Give credit where credit is due and make a point to work together with other gun rights organizations.

My last major gripe with the NRA is cultural. As was pointed out in Grant Cunningham’s excellent post on the new generation of shooters the NRA culturally appeals to political and social conservative Christians. While this group has traditionally been the biggest supporters of gun rights they are a dying breed (literally, they are getting older and the younger generation isn’t falling over itself to replace them). I don’t believe that the NRA should stop appealing to political and social conservatives but it should also invest time in appealing to other cultures. There’s nothing wrong with keeping the country music concerts and prayer breakfasts but it would go a long way to offer alternatives for those uninterested in such events. A death metal concert may be too niche but a concert by a group popular with the younger generation wouldn’t hurt. How about a workshop on using direct action to fight for gun rights? Some of us political radicals aren’t interested in working for political campaigns or marking boxes next to names of politicians but we love doing hands-on activities.

OK, that is a rather lengthy (although not all inclusive) summary of my criticisms of the NRA. Now let me bring up some things that I like about the organization.

One of the best things the NRA does in my opinion is promote firearm safety. While advocates of gun control spend time and money trying to scare children away from firearms the NRA invests time and money educating children on how to be safe with and around firearms. Children are naturally curious. Scaring them can often discourage them from exploring for a while it seldom works in the long run. Eventually their innate curiosity gets the best of them and they decided to face their fear. Education on the other hand tends to work well. If you want your child to be safe around firearms you need to destroy the mystery surrounding firearms. This is best done by educating children on firearms. Take away the mystery by showing them what a firearm is and how it works. Take your children to the range so they can experience what a firearm truly is in a supervised manner. This is something the NRA understands and directly works on.

The NRA also invests effort in firearm training. If you’ve never been around firearms the NRA has programs that introduce you to the shooting sports in a safe manner. Are you interested in learning how to instruct others on the use of firearms? There are numerous NRA programs for training trainers. I think it’s also beneficial to have a program geared towards teaching women how to shoot. My reason for thinking this is, unfortunately, related to the cultural problem surrounding the firearms community. Woman are sometimes treated as inferior by male shooters (especially traditional shooters). While those of us who aren’t sexist pigs are working to change this it’s taking time. Until things have been changed I appreciate having a mechanism for women to learn how to shoot without having to deal with the potential cultural neanderthal shitting all over their experience.

I also appreciate what the NRA does to promote the construction and improvement of firing ranges. Due to the legal landscape in this country it’s almost impossible to build anything without an army of lawyers to look over your plan. The NRA offers advice on how to build firing ranges in a manner that won’t upset the lawyers. It also offers grants for improving existing ranges. Without firing ranges the shooting sports become difficult to participate in. Any help that can be received for building new ranges or improving current ones is appreciated.

My overall opinion of the NRA changes depending on its current actions. When it does something like endorse a lackluster politician (but I repeat myself) I find myself wanting to burn my membership card. But then I hear about a firing range that was given a grant by the NRA for facility improvements and I’m happy to hold my membership card. As I said, it’s a love-hate relationship. Due to my range’s requirement of being an NRA member I will maintain my membership for the foreseeable future. But I not longer push people to sign up with the organization. If you want to sign up then do so but you shouldn’t feel like being an NRA member is mandatory to enjoy the shooting sports. Do what’s right for you.