NRA Dethroned as Top Gun Lobby in DC

by Tommy Grant

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Long a bane of anti-gun politicians, Democrats (typically one and the same) and the mainstream media, the National Rifle Association (NRA) has been often blamed as well as credited, depending on which side of the issue a person falls on, with effectively stopping much of the legislation in Congress that would whittle away citizens’ Second Amendment rights. But with ongoing troubles with its longtime leadership, legal challenges in court, lawsuits and even constituent anger over the organization’s spending and direction on certain issues, NRA is no longer the largest, most powerful gun lobby in Washington, DC.

That title is now held by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), which NBC News reports spent over $5.4 million on federal lobbying last year, more than any other year in its history, and significantly more than the NRA. The NSSF, with a 60-year history of promoting hunting and recreational shooting, has emerged as the country’s largest firearms trade association amid the NRA’s struggles with declining membership, revenue and internal scandals, including a corruption ruling against its leader Wayne LaPierre.

Unlike the NRA, which focuses on individual gun owners as members, the NSSF represents gun manufacturers, retailers and business interests, focusing more on regulatory issues and maintaining partnerships with federal agencies, despite holding similar stances against universal background checks, red flag laws and mandatory safe storage of firearms among other anti-gun proposals. Some believe the NSSF’s success is due to their ability to present a more pragmatic and less confrontational image than what NRA has come to be known for, yet still shares the NRA’s hard-line positions on gun control. However, the NSSF emphasizes its commitment to safety and dialogue on firearms, distinguishing its approach from the NRA’s.

“The product is firearms, and there’s no divorcing the politics from the product,” Larry Keane, NSSF’s general counsel and chief lobbyist, said in a recent interview with NBC News.

NBC News notes that the group remains a “staunch defender of the Second Amendment,” while at the same time striving to take a more pragmatic approach to dealing with issues “similar to business groups representing less controversial industries.”

The NSSF’s growth and increased lobbying efforts come as the NRA faces significant cutbacks and internal turmoil. And while NRA’s overall revenue and membership still dwarf the trade association, NSSF’s expansion is notable amidst booming gun sales and a membership exceeding 10,000. Under the Biden administration, the NSSF has prioritized issues such as opposing the creation of a new merchant code for firearms purchases, which it argues could infringe on gun buyers’ privacy and be misused for political purposes.

Despite the NRA’s challenges, it remains influential in electoral politics, bolstered by a vast membership and supporters across the country.

“The NRA’s influence has never stemmed from the salaries or expenditures,” NRA spokesman McLaughlin said in a statement to NBC. “It comes from the millions of NRA members and supporters across the country who stand and fight, take action, and vote.”

Meanwhile, the NSSF, as the growing face of the firearms industry, continues to strengthen its connections within the industry and government, evident in its annual SHOT Show, which continues to grow and is regularly attended by key Republican figures and federal officials, emphasizing its emerging role in shaping gun policy and advocacy in the United States.

And while “who” is the top gun-rights lobbyist in Washington could teeter back and forth in the coming years depending on how NRA emerges from its current woes, one thing is certain, both organizations will continue to play pivotal roles in the rights of millions of Americans who care about the Second Amendment.

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