What liberals can learn from the NRA

Pro-gun groups like the National Rifle Association have successfully lobbied at the state and federal levels in passing favorable gun legislation — more so than left-leaning groups, as Georgetown law professor David Cole writes in a opinion piece with The New York Times.

Vilifying the National Rifle Association’s tactics has long been standard practice among liberals. In October, Hillary Clinton compared dealing with the N.R.A. to “negotiating with the Iranians or the Communists.” In January, President Obama accused the gun lobby of “holding Congress hostage.” The New York Daily News recently called Wayne LaPierre, the N.R.A.’s chief executive, a “terrorist.”

The passion underlying such condemnations may be understandable, especially in the wake of the horrific mass shootings that often prompt them. But this rhetoric does little to change the gun debate, and most likely reinforces gun owners’ worst fears about how liberals see them. Rather than demonize the N.R.A.’s strategies, liberals should emulate them. The organization is, after all, the most effective civil rights group in the United States today.

Consider what the N.R.A. has accomplished. Just a few decades ago, even loyal conservatives rejected the idea that the Second Amendment protected an individual right to bear arms, as opposed to the states’ prerogative to raise militias. In 1990, the retired Supreme Court chief justice Warren Burger, a Nixon nominee, dismissed the idea as a “fraud.” Yet in 2008, the Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller ruled that the individual right to bear arms was no fraud, but a constitutional right.

How did the N.R.A. do it? It did not litigate Heller itself. But its efforts over three decades paved the way for the court’s decision.

In his piece, Cole details the rise of the NRA in the late 1970s when a group of hardliners took charge and changed the direction of the group to “formally committed the group to defending the right to bear arms.”

Strategizing efforts at both the state and federal level helped secure politicians, who were also NRA members, in leadership positions at the federal level, and eventually paved the way for more recent wins, like 2008’s Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller, which ruled that the individual right to bear arms was a constitutional right.

Read the full piece at The New York Times