One of the most consequential questions in the gun debate boils down to this: Do the policies promoted by the National Rifle Association — and the group’s heated, divisive rhetoric — represent the real beliefs of its members?
A recent Pew survey suggests that they do, finding significant buy-in for the organization’s no-compromise agenda among its rank and file. According to the poll, NRA members hold stronger views on firearms, and lean more to the right politically, than their peers who do not belong to the organization.
Take the issue of requiring law enforcement screenings before every gun sale or transfer — often categorized as the most “common sense” reform available to lawmakers. Pew’s stats show that 75 percent of Republican gun owners who don’t belong to the NRA back universal background checks. (Support is even higher in other polls, which have found as many as eight in 10 gun owners in favor.) By contrast, NRA members are much more tepid toward mandatory vetting for private sales, which the group’s leaders have falsely attacked as a backdoor to requiring that guns be registered with the government: Only 52 percent of them support universal checks.
But there are also some NRA members who are clearly discomfited by the organization’s blistering attacks on “elites” and anyone who doesn’t agree with the group’s positions — and who are dismayed by the full-scale culture war that the group’s leaders and spokespeople seem eager to ignite.
The group’s now notorious “clenched fist of truth” ad had some members crying foul and even calling it quits. “I’m looking at this … just thinking that this isn’t me — this organization which I belonged to for a number years coming out in such a dark, hostile and fear-provoking way,” Joe Plenzler, a Marine veteran, told NPR, describing his decision to renounce the group.
This summer, The Trace is talking to current and former NRA members in an attempt to better understand where their personal views are in lockstep with the gun-rights goliath — and where they aren’t. We want to know what the group’s battles look like from the inside, and how belonging to the NRA may affect perspectives toward the issues it takes on.
If you are a current or former NRA member and would like to share your views, please email us at [email protected].
Up first is Anshel Sag, a 27-year-old tech industry analyst who was an NRA member for two years before quitting the group. He lives in San Diego.
‘I have 30 emails from Wayne LaPierre that I never asked for’
I became a member when I was really young, like 18 or 19. I had just started getting really interested in guns. I thought that, by joining, I’d get cheaper classes, discounts on guns, and I’d be protecting my right to own a gun by the time I was able to buy one. I think I was a member for about one or two years.
The main reason I left was they were bombarding me with emails and political garbage I had no interest in. So I quit. I had to call them to get myself removed from their lists.
They’re super annoying and aggressive. I was getting emails even after I wasn’t a member anymore, which was infuriating. They just kept bombarding me with more and more … I’m looking at my email right now. If I search “Wayne LaPierre,” I have 29 emails from him between 2009 and 2015, even after I quit. I have 30 emails from Wayne LaPierre that I never asked for.
This was during the Obama administration so it was like, “Obama’s taking away our guns again!” and all this crazy stuff. As we know, Obama is the best gun salesman ever for the NRA. They used him as a boogeyman to sell more guns.
I literally have an email here from December 6, 2012, from Wayne LaPierre and it’s titled, “We Are Being Attacked.” Another one says “They killed one of us.”
That was the biggest turn-off for me, but obviously now it’s a lot more than that. I just don’t think they align with my views, and I think they’re far too opposed to things that are rational.
That said, as a gun owner, there’s some acknowledgment that they are still fighting for people’s gun rights. I wish they didn’t have to exist but with the exception of them, there isn’t really anyone defending Second Amendment rights.
Living in California, you basically feel like you’re constantly under threat of losing your guns. I have guns that were legal 12 months ago that won’t be legal next year. The state of California continually jerks us around on what’s legal, what’s not legal.
There needs to be a clear alternative to the NRA. One that matches more of the 2A community’s diverse views and doesn’t start picking a political party.
From my experience, some gun owners see the NRA as a necessary evil, because there isn’t anyone else with a more moderate stance that has the marketing dollars, the backing, to have a more moderate view on gun control and gun ownership.
The gun range I go to, they have Fox News on the TV every day and it’s annoying to walk in and hear and see. That said, a lot of friends who go shooting with me or who are members of that range are also liberals.
That’s something I want to emphasize: The NRA is not a monolith. It’s a very large organization and there are lots of smaller groups of people who don’t agree with what’s going on in the NRA, but they don’t really see an alternative, so they stick with what they know.
Also, the NRA takes gun education very seriously. That’s something many liberals don’t really pay attention to. If the NRA were to become more of an educational organization than they are right now, I think it would serve a better purpose. I genuinely believe gun education — teaching people how to handle a weapon, how to use a weapon — is a big way to improve safety.
Politically, the NRA didn’t really change any of my views because it’s so overboard that it almost makes you want to go the other way.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become less extreme in my views. I used to be an in-your-face atheist, and a very strong proponent of gun rights. I wouldn’t say I’ve become more liberal or more conservative; I’m just more pragmatic. I’m more open to listening to other people’s viewpoints and understanding where they come from.