The National Rifle Association (NRA) has long presented itself as an organization buoyed by a massive army of highly-motivated, like-minded supporters. During his address at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference, Wayne Lapierre, the NRA’s executive vice president, said the group’s members “share something really important in common. We share a determination to stand up, speak out, throw the liars out of office, shield the innocent from the lawless, and defend all the freedoms that we hold dear.”
Of course, freedom isn’t free, as the saying has it, and so the NRA relies on its members to provide it with a significant share of its operating budget. And as its membership revenues level off following a post-Sandy Hook spike, a chorus of hunters is growing weary of the group’s many fundraising entreaties.
In a post Monday on Hunt Talk, a popular hunting forum on a website hosted by Randy Newberg, star of the reality television hunting program “Fresh Tracks,” one user complained about the group’s tactics. “I am not rich but I do my part with dues,” wrote the poster, an NRA member with the handle Duckhunt. “The NRA finds it necessary to call me 2 to 3 times a day asking that I donate more money. It is explained to me that if I want to keep my gun rights they need more money … Im [sic] to the point where when I see that number on my phone I just don’t answer.”
Duckhunt’s post generated dozens of replies, all of them expressing similar sentiments. One user, with the handle Ishootdasmallones, was so fed up with the entreaties to donate, he regretted ever joining the NRA. “I’m a life member. I wish I could get my money back,” he wrote. “I get mail or emails from them at least a few times a week. It’s always the same speech about how they need more money and my dues are not enough.”
A poster, named Dave N., said the NRA’s solicitation practices had caused him to quit the organization. “Give, give, give,” he wrote. “Fine and dandy to look for more donations but it got to the point of almost being harassed about it.”
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Another user with the handle TimeOnTarget said he had also relinquished his membership. “They’d have a good bit more money if they quit with the mailings. I’m sick of them also and have quit paying dues as well.”
Since 2013, the NRA has repeatedly claimed to represent at least 5 million members, though there is no way to independently verify that number. On average, over the past decade, members have contributed $125 million annually to the organization. In the year following the 2012 mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, revenues in dues rose to $175 million, but then dropped to $128 million in 2014. The spike appeared to be temporary, the result of the group’s shrewd exploitation of the Sandy Hook massacre. On March 1, for the first time in more than two decades, membership rates are set to increase, from $35 a year to $40. For those who crave lifetime status, the one-time fee of $1,000 will go up to $1,500.
“We’ve put this dues increase off as long as we can,” a recent NRA mailer states. “But it’s the right decision for the NRA and for the long-term survival of our freedoms.”
According to Randy Newberg, the NRA’s fear-driven fundraising tactics, in the wake of Sandy Hook, may have been shortsighted.
“Most of the NRA’s literature talks about this threat and that threat,” he tells The Trace. “I think people are starting to get numb to that approach. What you’re seeing here, with these guys, is their tolerance has been exceeded.”
Most of the users in the forum emphasized that they were ardent supporters of gun rights, but they had soured on the very organization they entrusted to protect those rights.
“It started out pleasant but soon turned to rather aggressive DEMANDS for money,” wrote a poster with the handle Tradewind. “My membership renewal is sitting on the desk. I will be sending them a letter but no money.”