This is what makes the NRA powerful

There are 650 times more gun homicides in the US compared to deaths by terrorism. Why is it so difficult to change gun policies? 

The NRA might be one of the most controversial organizations in the United States. The recent school shooting in Parkland mobilized many students to protest against gun violence and the powerful position of the National Rifle Association. But what makes this association so powerful?

By Romy Bruijnzeel, March 8th, 2018

School shooting after school shooting takes place in the US. In 2015 only, there were 64 school shootings. The graph below shows how gun homicide deaths in the US cause roughly 650 times more victims than terrorist attacks. Strangely enough, it seems that there is more attention for terrorist attacks than gun homicide deaths. The US starts wars over terrorism but does not seem to take measurements for its most deadly problem, gun violence.

Romy NRA tabel

Many agree that the powerful NRA affects the policy-making on gun violence (or actually the lack of policy). How come that an interest group has this much effect on the severe problem of gun violence? First of all, the NRA donates a generous amount of money to Republican politicians in particular. For instance, the NRA supported Donald Trump's campaign with a sum of 31 million dollars.

Besides this amount, the NRA has a budget of roughly three million dollars for lobbying throughout the year. These are serious sums of money, but if you compare it to donations of other industries, it nullifies the three million dollars of the NRA. Industries like the cigarette, pharmaceutical and insurance branch spend far more money on lobbying than the NRA.

So, if it is not about the money, why are politicians so reserved on making gun policy? Another explanation could be that the NRA represents a significant part of the population, which gives them a big public support. This is also questionable because the NRA only has five million members. Five million members on a population of 323,1 million is not really representative. Moreover, the resistance of people who oppose gun violence seem to grow stronger. However, those five million members may not be a significant number, they are not afraid to speak up. The members are determined of what they believe in: the Second Amendment of the Constitution.  

But first and foremost, it is the American culture that has to change. Even though the NRA donates money to Republican politicians, the amount of money is not even close to what for instance the tobacco industry donates to politicians. Therefore, you would say the money of the NRA would not make a huge difference.

Most Republicans oppose regulations on gun control. This is because self-defense with firearms is deeply rooted into American culture. The reason why the NRA has so much influence is because it represents an important value for the American people, the right to self-defense with a firearm. Violating the idea behind the Second Amendment, which originates from 1791, was that citizens could resist a possible violation of their rights by a tyrannical government. In this historical context the amendment sounds reasonable, but the threat of a tyrannical government does not apply to the United States in the year of 2018.

The aversion of the NRA may grow because of recent events, but is it enough to accomplish real legislation on gun violence? Although it seems like Trump wants to step up the regulations on gun violence, it is the question if this minor adjustment will solve the problem of gun violence.

Zo zet de wapenlobby het Amerikaanse beleid naar zijn hand – 12 oktober 2017 –

The NRA is a powerful political force- but not because of its money – October 5th 2017-

5 charts that show how powerful the NRA is- October 9th 2017 –

Florida school shooting: NRA ‘doesn’t back any ban’ – February 26th 2018 –

Guns in the US: The statistics behind the violence – January 5th 2016-

Photo: The Daily Beast


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Burgemeester Leiden

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Rector Magnificus Universiteit Leiden

Prof. dr. Joop van Holsteyn
Bijzonder Hoogleraar Kiezersonderzoek Universiteit Leiden
Prof. dr. G.A. Irwin
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Oud-voorzitter van de Tweede Kamer der Staten-Generaal


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