The NRA has lost influence, but the culture it created remains

Correction: This headline has been updated to better reflect the guest's view that the NRA has lost influence over gun legislation.

Many prior efforts to pass new gun laws have hit a wall in the U.S. Senate and in some state legislatures. The National Rifle Association, or the NRA, has been a major part of those debates, particularly at the federal level. Mike Spies, a senior writer at The Trace who covers the NRA, joins John Yang to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, as we just heard, many of those prior efforts to pass new gun laws have hit a wall in the U.S. Senate and in many state capitals.

    The National Rifle Association, also the NRA, called, has been a key player in those battles, particularly at the federal level.

    John Yang looks now at the organization and its influence.

  • John Yang:

    Judy, the NRA's blessing or opposition has meant passage or defeat for gun legislation over the years, as the group argues the supremacy of the Constitution's Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

    In a statement today, the NRA said its "deepest sympathies are with the families and victims involved in this horrific and evil crime."

    The statement never mentions the weapon used, saying instead that: "While an investigation is under way, and facts are still emerging, we recognize this was the act of a lone, deranged criminal."

    Mike Spies has long written about the NRA. He's now a senior writer at The Trace, a nonprofit newsroom that focuses on gun violence in America.

    Mike, we just heard Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut talk about what he calls the unbreakable grip that the gun industry has on the Republican Party. And he talked about conversations he's having with some Republican colleagues to try to seek common ground.

    The NRA may not be present for those conversations, but do you think their influence is going to be felt?

  • Mike Spies, The Trace:

    To be totally honest with you, I think it's not.

    I think, historically, the grip was a reality, and up until probably 2016, its ability to outspend its opponents in elections and its base that it did such a great job of socializing into this absolutist idea of the Second Amendment was — hung over every gun debate.

    But I think their influence has been significantly lessened over the last few years, in particular owing to their deep financial troubles. Their demonstrated inability to spend to influence elections sort of takes the teeth out of anything they can do.

    And, additionally, what was such a potent force that they had for so long was their messaging apparatus. And that was largely driven by the P.R. firm that was their contractor for such a long time, Ackerman McQueen. All the combative messaging, ads, personalities that people are familiar with, those were all — those are all created by an ad firm, and that no longer works with the organization.

  • John Yang:


  • Mike Spies:

    So, I don't — I — go ahead. I'm sorry.

  • John Yang:

    No, I was going to say, but given — given those changes, have they — were they so successful at creating a gun culture in America, at making NRA support a must-have credential for conservative politicians, that the influence continues beyond their current power?

  • Mike Spies:


    Yes, I mean, I think, ultimately, the machine works on its own now. And I think, actually, what they did so successfully, and what Republicans helped them do so successfully, was to socialize their constituents into this idea that not just — I mean, socialize their constituents into gun culture, but also this idea that they're citizen protectors, this idea of being a sheepdog, where you're protecting the helpless flock of sheep from the wolves that could do harm to society.

    A lot of people have really bought into that very potent narrative. And I think actually now the issue is that the party, the Republican Party, in particular, specifically, is beholden to its constituents, who have been socialized into that and will punish them whether the NRA is involved or not.

  • John Yang:

    You talk about some of the financial problems the NRA has been having, the internal dissension.

    Has that shown any sign of affecting their membership, support from the membership, support from the grassroots?

  • Mike Spies:

    It has.

    I mean, there are people on the board right now that are seeking to oust Wayne LaPierre, who's sort of the last holdout in some ways from the old NRA. There are definitely members that have voiced anger and have broken ranks with the organization.

    There's, I believe still going — there was a class action lawsuit. It has. It's definitely resonated. People feel like they have been taken advantage of, and there's definitely a desire to kick the money changers out of the temple.

  • John Yang:

    But, as you say, that they have created this culture, and created a constituency that the Republican lawmakers…

  • Mike Spies:


  • John Yang:

    … still have to answer to.

  • Mike Spies:


    It's effectively — it's like a classic Frankenstein story, I guess, right? You create the monster, and then, ultimately, you no longer have control over it. And I think that's basically what happened.

  • John Yang:

    Given all that what you said and what's been going on internally with the NRA, their convention is coming this weekend in Houston, which is only about 300 miles from Uvalde.

    Do you think that what happened yesterday, the events of yesterday, are going to have any change on the rhetoric, on what we see at that convention?

  • Mike Spies:

    I think it will have no change at all.

    I think that those who are willing to even talk about it will focus on the idea of this sort of fallacy that the school was a gun-free zone, and disregard the fact that the shooter encountered law enforcement at various points while entering the school and then after entering the school, and managing to still kill 19 children.

    But, beyond that, no, I don't think there's going to be any — if you're — like, there's not going to be any soul-searching, if that's what you mean. I mean, I think it's going to be the same as it always is. And, largely, the purpose of that event is to, in some ways, be a pep rally, both for the membership and then also for the featured speakers, who are some of the most well-known Republican lawmakers in the country, and then, of course, the former president.

  • John Yang:

    Mike Spies of The Trace, thank you very much.

  • Mike Spies:

    Thanks for having me on.

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