guns & flag*This past September the NRA swung into high gear. It posted these blunt action alerts on its website to its tens of thousands of members and backers. “Senator Ben Nelson needs to go.”

Outgoing Nebraska Senator Nelson’s alleged sin was that he helped put Sonia Sotomayor on the Supreme Court. It reminded its supporters that the Nebraska Senator can’t be a pro-gun senator when he backs anti-gun judges. It’s next alert read, “Boot Brown out of office. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown’s alleged sin was that he stood with gun control lobbyists and against the 2nd Amendment. It then raged, “Stand against Tim Kaine.” It claimed the Virginia Senatorial candidate rushed Virginia cities to lobby for gun control and added, “Kaine will do the same in the Senate.”

Nelson chose not to seek reelection. Brown was reelected. And Kaine was elected. This seemed to prove that the NRA’s bluster, alerts, and money didn’t mean much. To some, it was even proof that the NRA was no longer the impregnable, politically terrifying force that could routinely call the shots in elections. But that was a bad misread of the NRA. Even when candidates it targeted for defeat won, it still sent a powerful message that if you cross the NRA you’ll have to spend tons of money, time, and energy, assuring one and all that you are not an avid foe of gun owners.

The NRA has been wildly successful in sending that message for the past decade through a well-oiled, well-versed, labyrinth of PACs, lobbyists, legal counsels, divisions, funds, and a foundation. The NRA has these divisions: Federal Affairs, Public Affairs, Finance, Research & Information, Conservation, Wildlife & Natural Resources and most importantly the NRA Political Victory Fund.  Despite the flop in dumping Nelson and Brown from office and preventing Kaine from winning, its scorecard of wins is still nothing short of phenomenal.

In 2008 it was directly or indirectly involved in nearly 300 campaigns for the House and Senate. NRA backed candidates or incumbents won 230 of them.  It spared little expense in padding its congressional win scorecard. It ranked in the top tier of contributions received, lobbying dollars spent, and money garnered and spent by its PACs.  But it’s not just the NRA’s money and willingness to spend it to pack Congress with pro-gun backers. It also cherry picked former government officials or job holders to do its congressional arm twisting for it. In 2012, fifteen out of its near 30 lobbyists had government ties.

The assumption that the NRA is basically a front for conservative GOP business and political interests is another bad misread. Though a big share of the NRA’s campaign dollars went to Republicans it has been adept at spreading the largess around. In 2012, Democrats received more than $2 million in NRA campaign contributions.

The NRA has gotten a stupendous return on the $17 million it spent on federal elections in 2012 and the tens of millions it spent on past elections. In the decade since the assault ban expired in 2004, nearly 20 strong gun control bills have died still born in House and Senate committees. There hasn’t been much movement in the states either to get tougher gun control laws. Thirty-three of the states have the barest minimal gun checks. A dozen others have only slightly more restrictive controls on guns. Connecticut is a near textbook example of the politically schizoid nature of gun control. It has one of the toughest gun control laws in the nation. But the state is peppered with shooting ranges and it has tripled the number of permits that number nearly 20,000 it’s granted. This included permits to Nancy Lanza, the mother of the Sandy Hook massacre shooter.

The Sandy Hook massacre has plopped the NRA on the nation’s hot seat. The White House, many lawmakers, and much of the public demand that the NRA soften its hard line opposition to any gun control measures. It almost certainly will do a little to stem the storm which could include calling for stronger measures on storage of weapons, tighter screening and back ground checks, maybe even borrowing a page from the tobacco industry’s PR gambit and advocate hazard warnings on the improper use of guns, and even offer to be part of a national conversation on gun violence. But if it did much more than that such as advocating full blown bans on the big ticket deadly weapons would upend the philosophical and political bedrock of the NRA. It would jeopardize the near bottomless storehouse of funding that the organization has received from gun industry interests and supporters. It would instantly turn off thousands of avid gun owners that look to the NRA to be its political mouthpiece in Washington and in the states for unfettered gun rights.

A sharp about face by the NRA on tougher gun curbs would violate its set in stone creed that “gun control ‘schemes,’” as it calls them, “are an infringement on the Second Amendment.” As long as the NRA clings tightly to that creed it will continue to do everything it can to kill gun curbs.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent political commentator on MSNBC and a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.

Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson

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Earl Ofari Hutchinson

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