Backfire: NRA shatters fundraising records during intense media/political attacks

So much for the strategy of full-scale demagoguery against the National Rifle Association, eh? After being painted a terrorist organization by gun-control activists and media figures after the Parkland mass shooting, the NRA’s political-action arm had its best fundraising month ever. The group more than doubled its previous record for donations in any month, according to McClatchy:

The National Rifle Association’s Political Victory Fund raised $2.4 million from March 1 to March 31, the group’s first full month of political fundraising since the nation’s deadliest high school shooting on Valentine’s Day, according to filings submitted to the Federal Elections Commission. The total is $1.5 million more than the organization raised during the same time period in 2017, when it took in $884,000 in donations, and $1.6 million more than it raised in February 2018.

The $2.4 million haul is the most money raised by the NRA’s political arm in one month since June 2003, the last month when electronic federal records were readily available. It surpasses the $1.1 million and $1.5 million raised in January and February 2013, the two months after the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

Did the NRA get rescued by big money? Not really, no. Instead, its membership rallied to the group, with almost five-sixths of the receipts in small donations:

Most of the donations, $1.9 million of the $2.4 million total, came from small donors who gave less than $200.

What does this tell us? For one, it tells us that millions of law-abiding gun owners in the US do not cotton much to be called a “terrorist” merely for providing themselves with a lawful means of self-defense. In fact, it’s positively energizing, helping people open their pockets to rally to a common defense. If there was any middle ground to be found on security issues, the demonization has wiped it by forcing people to choose sides.

That’s the point, Roger Craver writes today at The Agitator. Not the choosing of sides, mind you, but the opening of wallets. Both sides of the battle have learned the value of a villain:

No issue highlights the ‘good guy’ vs ‘bad guy’ dynamic more than the decades-long battle over gun control. The pro-control side singles out the NRA and the politicians it controls as villains. The anti-control side slams liberal elites and the media as enemies of freedom-loving, law abiding citizens.

From a fundraising (and political) viewpoint each side’s description of their opponent –their villain—is a classic example of the power and importance of employing donor identity to rally the troops and raise money.

Pro-control groups imbue their supporters with the positive characteristics (“I’m a good person fighting for a logical and sensible solution”) by reinforcing the identity of standing against senseless violence, pressing for safer schools and communities, and standing up against a gun-crazed bully named the NRA.

Craver for the most part lauds this process, quoting Jim Hightower’s Texas-flavored explanation of middle ground. “There’s nothing in the middle of the road except yellow stripes and dead armadillos,” he warns. It might make for effective fundraising, and yes, both sides do it. It’s entirely another issue morally and socially, however, as it blocks even the most mundane attempts to deal with real problems, and it has seeped into the media coverage of these issues.

Take, for instance, CNN’s bad decision to hold a town hall in the immediate aftermath of the Parkland massacre. It didn’t shed any real light on the issues involved, but instead turned into a public beating for the NRA rather than an opportunity to ask what law enforcement could have done with existing laws. Within days of that devbacle, we discovered that Broward County and the FBI had dozens of opportunities to stop the perpetrator and block his access to firearms. And yet we’re still barely discussing those failures while the media-fired crowds shout “Hey hey NRA, how many kids did you kill today?”

People are smarter than that, which is why that kind of coverage generates a counterweight in popular support for the NRA. Beyond the political implications of this phenomenon, the media industry should think about what it means for them. Do they wonder why people trust them less and less with the truth and echo accusations of “fake news”? This is one great example.

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