The NRA is falling apart, and the gun cult may be going with it

Gun Rights

It would be hard to find an organization more corrupt and incompetent than the NRA, though a few individuals on a certain court sure come to mind. In January, chief executive Wayne LaPierre ended three decades of control when he resigned ahead of a trial over tapping organization funds to treat himself to yacht trips, African safaris, and regular use of a private jet. In February, that trial ended with LaPierre being ordered to pay back almost $4.4 million

In the wake of LaPierre’s resignation, the organization has reportedly descended into infighting. Finding a new leader has proven so difficult that not even Donald Trump Jr., who spent years talking himself up as the NRA’s next leader, is willing to take the job. Or at least, he says he wouldn’t, though no one has actually asked him to step in.

Leadership aside, the NRA now has only a fraction of the funds they had to sling around in past election seasons. They’ve declined from the $50 million they put into races in 2016 to only $11 million in their PAC and SuperPAC combined as of the last filing. Membership is also down by over a million, to around five million, which is half the goal LaPierre set for 2023 a decade ago. 

And that’s not all that’s declined. So have gun sales. So what does that mean for the gun lobby?

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GOP candidates routinely place guns right next to God in their campaign material, and Republican Christmas cards feature every family member clutching a ridiculous weapon.

Rep. Thomas Massie Christmas card
Rep. Thomas Massie’s 2023 Christmas card

But it appears that Republican members of Congress aren’t putting enough guns in the hands of their adolescent children. According to the FBI, gun sales in the United States have declined for three straight years. The Trace estimates that Americans bought 665,000 fewer guns in 2023 than in 2022. That trend is continuing. Comparing year-over-year data, sales in March of 2024 were down 5% from the same month in 2023. 

There are reasons other than the declining influence of the NRA for that drop in sales. The truth is only about 6% of Americans hunt, and even for them an expensive assault weapon is rarely, if ever, the right tool. While an AR-15-style weapon may be the perfect tool for war, it’s a poor choice for personal defense. 

Buying guns like the trendy AR-15 can be an expensive hobby, especially for those who don’t use them beyond a temporary enthusiasm for the local gun range. A $650 Yeti cooler may at least contribute to a tailgate party, but a $1,000 assault rifle is just an expensive—and dangerous—decoration for the vast number of those who own them. 

In short, not every gun buyer goes on to be the industry’s serial-killing dream customer. Many may not be inclined to buy another copy of a weapon they aren’t using, no matter how many guns Massie or Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert have on their Christmas cards.

With the NRA fading, there are other gun lobby groups working to gain more influence. However, none of them seem to have the level of influence, extensive finances, and highly effective lobbyists that the NRA had a few years ago. Those other organizations haven’t spent decades nurturing relationships with both politicians and deep-pocketed donors. The decline of the NRA seems like a genuine moment of weakness in the pro-gun lobby.

There is certainly no shortage of Republican-dominated state legislatures standing by to pass stupid laws. But hopefully, it doesn’t matter how tightly Republicans dig in their cold, dead fingers. America may have passed Peak Gun.

But of course that doesn’t mean it’s time to relax about gun control legislation. It means that it’s time to push harder.

RELATED STORY: Tennessee governor thinks schools need more guns to prevent shootings

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