I want to take you all on a trip back in time. The year is 1987, and "shall-issue concealed carry" is the law in only a few states. It was, by and large, a legislative non-starter- until Marion Hammer (later the first female President of the National Rifle Association) made Herculean efforts to get it passed in her home state of Florida. Her efforts paid off for all gun owners nationwide- the firestorm of concealed carry liberalization eventually led to the current situation today, where it is legal (in some fashion) in all 50 states, and the majority of US states have shall-issue laws.
It was a huge victory- which presented a problem for the NRA.
You see, there's a dirty secret to advocacy groups: If they win too much, they don't make as much money, since Joe Public assumes "they're doing pretty well, they don't need my twenty bucks" and fails to donate or renew his membership.
The NRA's membership rolls declined for a few years after 1987. Although the actual decline is difficult to determine, since the NRA's membership numbers have long been difficult to discern, author Emilie Raymond estimated a drop of about 700,000 members between 1989 and 1991.
The NRA needed a major loss to balance the scales.
Enter William B. Ruger- co-founder of Sturm, Ruger, & Co. (known colloquially as "Ruger Firearms"), and- ironically- advocate for banning "assault weapons".
In 1989, Ruger published a letter calling for a 15-round magazine limit "as an alternative to banning guns":
"The best way to address the firepower concern is therefore not to try to outlaw or license many millions of older and perfectly legitimate firearms (which would be a licensing effort of staggering proportions) but to prohibit the possession of high capacity magazines. By a simple, complete and unequivocal ban on large capacity magazines, all the difficulty of defining 'assault rifle' and 'semi-automatic rifles' is eliminated. The large capacity magazine itself, separate or attached to the firearm, becomes the prohibited item. A single amendment to Federal firearms laws could effectively implement these objectives."
Notice the line I have highlighted. The later 1994 Assault Weapons Ban used a complicated "features test" to define "assault rifle" by cosmetic features such as a carrying handle, protruding grip, forearm which surrounds the barrel, and so on.
The photo below is typical of many photos found around the internet, describing the absurdity of a "features test" for defining an assault weapon. (I got this photo here.) The rifle on top is an AR-15 (banned by the AWB); the bottom, a Ruger Mini-14 (not banned by the AWB). Both are semiautomatic .223-caliber rifles which can accept high-capacity magazines.
Ruger's company produced, among other firearms, semiautomatic .223-caliber and 7.62x39mm rifles, to compete with AR-15s, AK-47, and other such "assault rifles"- and, conveniently, the '94 AWB's "features test" banned most of these rifles- but not Ruger's rifles!
Now, I won't say Bill Ruger helped to write the AWB... but I will say that it's damned convenient that a) he called for a magazine capacity limit, which became part of the AWB; and, b) the AWB banned virtually all of his competitors- or would have, had it not been for the ingenuity of manufacturers designing gun parts to get around the AWB's limitations. Read Dean Speir's excellent, in-depth treatment of Ruger and the AWB here.
Ruger- also a long-time associate of the NRA (upon his death, for instance, he gave the NRA money and firearms for its museum, some of the exhibits being named for Ruger), had just handed the NRA the loss it needed to "balance the scales" and bring the memberships and donations back in.
The NRA had discovered a winning formula for making money: lose the war, but win some battles; look like the ever-fighting underdog, and people will donate money. While the NRA was losing the fight over federal gun laws, they were winning on a smaller scale by pushing for shall-issue concealed carry in state legislatures.
Further, if people believe their personal identity as a "true believer" is under attack from all sides- from enemies and "moderates" alike- they will donate even more money. Read NRA publications from the 1990s, and you will see this message oft-repeated. The NRA used gun issues "purity tests", for lack of a better term, to divide "true believer" gun rights advocates (of which I am one) from gun-rights "moderates".
Now let me bring you ahead in time to the current day.
The strategy of "losing the war, but winning some battles", "making your supporters feel like true believers attacked from all sides", is precisely the message of today's "conservative movement"- i.e., the Tea Party movement.
And a list of current and former board members of the NRA reveals a lot of familiar (and unfamiliar) faces in the conservative movement, including members of the American Conservative Union (ACU)'s board, an attorney for Tea Party candidates for US Senate, and on and on. Let me note that, while I am loathe to use a leftist resource like that particular website, it's about the only list of the NRA's board members available on the 'net. The NRA has, historically, avoided releasing the list of its board members. In fact, the last time it did so was at this link, which directed to a working web page as of January 2013, but which is now dead.
Let me advance a theory, which goes like this: The strategy of "making money by losing", perfected by the NRA in the 1990s, has been transplanted to national politics at large via the "conservative movement", which is managed from the top by many "old faces" in the NRA. These faces include, among others, both Grover Norquist and David Keene- prominent figures in the ACU; Cleta Mitchell, a prominent campaign finance attorney described by George Will as "... the most important Washington conservative not in public office...", who represented (among others) Christine O'Donnell, Sharron Angle, and Joe Miller; and a whole host of other interesting characters.
It's a pretty disjointed bunch, too, as this article from POLITICO describes. (The photo at the top of this post is borrowed from that article.) It references the same players I've mentioned above, but wearing their ACU/CPAC 'hats' and not their NRA 'hats'.
I want you, the reader, to consider this: The weeks and months ahead will be filled- mark my words- with stories about FreedomWorks, Senate Conservatives Fund, Heritage Action, and other "Tea Party" groups and their fundraising efforts. And those stories will follow the pattern I laid out above- losing important battles while winning small battles (think, 2010 and 2012 Senate elections, which were lost due to poorly-chosen "Tea Party-backed" candidates) to give the illusion of "winning battles but losing the war", and so forth.
In fact, this story-breaking has already started. Sen. John Cornyn went on Glenn Beck's program last week, describing FreedomWorks as "an organization that, that uses Republican on Republican violence, so to speak, to raise money. That’s why they exist. They don’t exist to run against Democrats. They use it to try to divide Republicans". See also Sen. Mitch McConnell's comments about SCF, along similar lines.
Remember what I said above: The use of "purity tests" to weed out all but the "true believers" and attack "moderates" (how often have you seen the term 'RINO' thrown around recently?), a tactic used extensively by conservative groups today, was developed by the NRA in the 1990s.
And, for the record: I am a former NRA member. I support Gun Owners of America. I support the Second Amendment Foundation, which has brought gun owners their greatest legal victories, namely, the Heller and McDonald decisions before the U.S. Supreme Court; I also support Jews For The Preservation Of Firearms Ownership (even though I am not Jewish). I am not just "pro-gun", I'm so blisteringly pro-gun that I make other, lesser-involved gun owners' eyes roll. One need only read this blog to see my unwavering support for gun rights.
I am a patriot. My country is being lost to unbridled socialism. The organizations and people I have mentioned here are helping the socialists win by interfering with the one and only tool we have to beat them- the Republican party. We are losing our rights, our institutions, our businesses, and our livelihoods, and these people are perpetuating this loss- while claiming to be the only movement fighting it!- in order to line their own pockets.
Shedding light on them is, to me, "work of national importance".