STAFF NEWS & ANALYSIS
NRA Makes a Terrible Deal
By Staff News & Analysis - June 17, 2010

Groups oppose NRA exemption … Forty-five public interest groups expressed opposition on Wednesday to a Democratic bill requiring greater disclosure in campaign financing, saying an exemption for the powerful National Rifle Association was unjust. "There is no legitimate justification for privileging the speech of one entity over another, or of reducing the burdens of compliance for the biggest organization yet retaining them for the smallest," they wrote Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi. The largely liberal signers of the letter included the Alliance for Justice, League of Conservation Voters and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Their opposition raised a new hurdle for the White House-backed measure to blunt the impact of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this year that opened the gates for unlimited campaign spending by corporations, unions and other groups. The bill, which backers have hoped would take effect before the November congressional elections, would require unprecedented disclosure of money in politics. – Reuters

Dominant Social Theme: What's important is a "win-win."

Free-Market Analysis: We wanted to focus on this debate in the House of Representatives because it typifies the posture of the National Rifle Association. The legislation in question, according to an article by Gun Owners of America (GOA) on its website, "would require special-interest groups to disclose their top donors if they choose to run TV ads or send out mass mailings in the final months of an election."

And the GOA adds, "Democrats are justifying the NRA exemption, saying the organization has a long history of being involved in the political process, and they say the real goal of the new campaign finance bill is to expose corporations and unions that create ambiguous front groups to run attack ads during campaigns. Unions would not be allowed to use the NRA exemption."

The question of course is why the NRA would allow itself to be used for such purposes. The campaign finance law was obviously unconstitutional. It made a distinct difference between political speech that is protected by the US Constitution and political speech offered up via media by corporations or interest groups. This is analogous to another division between various kinds of speech – specifically commercial speech, which has somehow been split off from normal speech and is currently regulated in numerous tedious ways.

The answer to the question regarding the NRA may be seen in its background and evolution as America's leading gun-rights organization. Not only is it the nation's largest such organization with some four million members claimed. It also the oldest, being founded after the Civil War by two well known New Yorkers, one of whom was the publisher of the New York Sun. Here's some background on the organization from Wikipedia:

The National Rifle Association of America, or NRA, is an American non-partisan, non-profit (501(c)(4)) organization which lists as its goals the protection of the Second Amendment of the United States Bill of Rights and the promotion of firearm ownership rights as well as marksmanship, firearm safety, and the protection of hunting and self-defense in the United States. It was established in 1871 in New York by William Conant Church and George Wood Wingate as the American Rifle Association; its first President was former Senator and famous Civil War Union Army General Ambrose Burnside. President of the United States Ulysses S. Grant served as the NRA's eighth President and General Philip H. Sheridan as its ninth.

The NRA sponsors firearm safety training courses, as well as marksmanship events featuring shooting skills and sports. According to a 1999 Fortune survey, lawmakers and congressional staffers considered NRA the most influential lobbying group. Its political activity is based on the principle that gun ownership is a civil liberty protected by the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights, and it claims to be the oldest continuously operating civil rights organization in the United States. According to its website, the NRA has nearly four million members.

We can see from this brief bio that the NRA has always been a mainstream organization with a reach that climbs right to the top of the US establishment. But in fact it is the lack of success that the NRA has had in keeping gun control laws off the books that has disturbed many supporters and led to the success of at least two other organizations. Here's one example – apparently from a dissatisfied former backer – posted last year at the DailyPaul.com:

Yes, the NRA is a FRAUD ! … Sun, 04/12/2009 – 22:18 … With over 30,000 gun laws on the books … the NRA has successfully reversed 2 (partially) pieces of gun legislation. I would give you the batting average of that ratio, but my calculator only goes to the 6th negative decimal. Having a membership of 3.5 MILLION, 550 employees, hundreds of thousands of volunteers and an annual budget of over $120 MILLION…based on their track record…I CALL THAT FRAUD! … The NRA not only compromises, but they help write almost every piece of anti-gun legislation, just to generate donations. Gun Owners of America and Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership are the only way to go.

We are not surprised by the NRA's stance as it involves the new, improved potential campaign finance laws. From our perspective this is how many dominant social themes work. Institutions evolve (in Western societies) that are either in favor of more or less authoritarian memes. Gradually through "compromises" between both "pro" and "anti" groups, regulation is enacted that gradually becomes more onerous. In the case of gun laws, the American governmental stance has shifted as this process has evolved.

The process is one that has been pointed out endlessly on the Internet, and one that the Daily Bell has discussed regularly: the Hegelian Dialectic. From thesis and antithesis come synthesis, a new solution. Thus from Congress's determination to regulate firearms and the NRA's opposition, inevitably comes compromise. This is how, in fact, how a regulatory democracy can gradually evolve out of a market-oriented republic. The NRA obviously seems to do its part.

After Thoughts

In America these days there is a kind of de facto gun licensing, and the NRA, via judicious compromises has unfortunately helped make it possible. It is not surprising, therefore, that the group would be willing to accept its own institutional exemption in return for providing tacit backing for yet another unconstitutional Congressional abrogation of free speech. In the era of the Internet, however, such habitual actions have been noted. There are at least two other groups that are much more determined to fight for gun rights without compromise, as the Daily Paul post notes: Gun Owners of America and Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership.

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