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A Culmination and a Crossroads

Summary: The tumultuous events of 2020 and the role of guns and gun rights supporters in them portend an uncertain political future for the NRA and for the gun rights debate more broadly.

  • Matthew Lacombe Matthew J. Lacombe
Published: June 29, 2021

This essay is part of the series Protests, Insur­rec­tion, and the Second Amend­ment

ABSTRACT: The tumul­tu­ous year of 2020 may mark an import­ant turn­ing point in the polit­ical devel­op­ment of the National Rifle Asso­ci­ation (NRA) and, as a result, the broader gun rights move­ment. This essay explores how the year’s events — and the role of guns and gun rights support­ers in them — were in numer­ous ways a culmin­a­tion of the NRA’s approach to polit­ics over the course of several prior decades. This approach involves link­ing guns to a broader, right-wing popu­list world­view; mobil­iz­ing polit­ical action among gun rights support­ers by portray­ing that world­view as deeply threatened by govern­ment and media elites; and build­ing alli­ances with like-minded politi­cians, most notably Donald Trump. The essay then explores how the after­math of the events of 2020 leaves the NRA in a diffi­cult posi­tion. With Trump (the NRA’s close ally) out of office, some within the GOP look­ing to move on from his approach to polit­ics follow­ing the failed Janu­ary 6 insur­rec­tion, and Demo­crats more support­ive of gun control than at any other point in recent history, the NRA may find itself some­what polit­ic­ally alien­ated. Moreover, given its current organ­iz­a­tional chal­lenges and its posi­tion on the right wing of the GOP, the NRA may also struggle to recruit the many Amer­ic­ans who bought guns for the first time in 2020 — a group that could poten­tially diver­sify the gun owning community and rene­go­ti­ate the soci­opol­it­ical mean­ing of guns in import­ant ways. Only time will tell the NRA’s future, but what is clear now is that the tumul­tu­ous events of 2020 can be traced to the organ­iz­a­tion’s past and will surely impact both its future and the future of the gun debate.

A Culmin­a­tion and a Cross­ro… by The Bren­nan Center for Justice