How a Group of High-School Students Put the NRA In the Hot Seat

March 24, 2020

For years, the National Rifle Association wielded its political power to dominate America’s conversation about gun rights and gun control — outlasting and overpowering the calls for change that followed mass shooting after mass shooting, from Columbine to Newtown to Charleston.

As the coronavirus crisis sparks a run on firearms, a FRONTLINE documentary investigates how the NRA has long mobilized its base around fear that their guns would be taken away – and how the organization is being challenged by a group of students just as passionate about a cause of their own. 

In the above excerpt from NRA Under Fire, watch how, after a gun massacre killed 14 of their classmates, students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida embarked on a sustained gun control campaign that helped to motivate a groundswell of politicians willing to take on the NRA.

“We had a moment,” Parkland survivor Ryan Deitsch tells FRONTLINE. “We had a chance to turn the tides, and we fundamentally did.”

As the documentary traces, the Parkland students’ movement helped to usher in a new era in which the NRA — long one of the most feared forces in Washington — is under threat from all sides. New York State Attorney General Letitia James, one of the pro-gun control candidates elected following the Parkland students’ organizing, is now leading an investigation into the NRA’s finances, and has issued nearly 100 subpoenas to current and former employees.

The group is also threatened from within: Last year, leaked internal documents revealed lavish spending, and sparked allegations of financial misconduct by the NRA’s longtime leader, Wayne LaPierre.

“There were a lot of people around the NRA looking to be rich. Can’t imagine any other non-profit in the entire country that has a similar mission where people are making so much money,” former NRA fundraiser Aaron Davis tells FRONTLINE, speaking out in his first on-camera interview.

For the full story on how the NRA reached this moment, watch NRA Under Fire. Building on FRONTLINE’s 2015 investigation of the NRA’s political history and influence, the new film traces the NRA’s evolution from a group of gun enthusiasts and sportsmen with minimal political focus to a powerful lobbying force opposing any perceived infringement of the constitutional right to bear arms — and explores why it is now facing a raft of new challenges.

NRA Under Fire premieres Tuesday, Mar. 24 at 10 p.m. EST/9 p.m. CST. Tune in or stream on your local PBS station (check listings), at or on the PBS Video App.

Patrice Taddonio

Patrice Taddonio, Digital Writer & Audience Development Strategist, FRONTLINE



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