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Research Report

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