By David A. Keene, NRA President
At a recent Capitol Hill breakfast, a congressman asked what I consider the NRA’s greatest accomplishment—a simple enough question.
I could have said our shiniest accomplishment was the leadership NRA provided Second Amendment supporters in the 1970s as powerful anti-gun radicals launched fierce attacks on the right to keep and bear arms, or the way NRA’s Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre and the late Charlton Heston stood up to then-President Bill Clinton in the 1990s.
Perhaps the Supreme Court victories of the last few years or the successful passage of concealed carry laws in so many states were paramount. Or consider our successful effort to prevent gun-ban activists from using the courts to put firearm manufacturers out of business.
I could have, instead, cited our continuing and generally successful effort to mobilize gun owners to vote for candidates who support our Second Amendment rights and to defeat those who would strip us of those rights. On the international stage, the greatest accomplishment could be our continuing successful campaign to block attempts to use the United Nations to undermine the rights of America’s gun owners and sportsmen.
All are accomplishments worth celebrating, but I cited none of them. Instead, today when many sense a deterioration in traditional American cultural values, NRA members have against all odds changed public attitudes toward firearm ownership, the Second Amendment and the shooting sports in truly significant ways. The anti-gun hysteria that broke out in the late 1960s and early 1970s on the left seemed for a time to have struck a chord with the American public. Poll after poll showed support for more restrictive gun laws. Politicians talked about registration and confiscation of handguns and few then would have predicted legislative and judicial victories in any future.
Al Gore’s ideological and political decision to target our Second Amendment rights when he ran for President in 2000 backfired because he didn’t realize there was a real change taking place in the country; that the decades-long debate over gun rights and the Second Amendment was leading to a public consensus in favor of less rather than more restrictive firearm laws. The American people became convinced during those never-ending debates that gun-ban advocates were wrong, that criminals, not guns, were the problem, that firearm ownership was not only a constitutional right, but vitally important to a free society and that our laws should be structured to keep guns out of the hands of criminals without impinging on the rights of the rest of us.
As a result of this cultural transformation, more Americans are buying, collecting, shooting and enjoying firearms than ever before. Ten years ago, very few women could be found at gun ranges and not many hunted or carried firearms. Now women are joining the NRA in increasing numbers, gun stores stock “pink” guns with specialized handbags designed to appeal to female purchasers, and more women enjoy hunting and the outdoors. A gun show organizer who puts together many of the country’s largest gun shows told me that five years ago about 8 percent of attendees were women; today female participation at gun shows is 38 percent.
For the first time in decades more young men and women are leaving their electronic games at home and taking to the field, high school shooting teams are forming and new forms of competition are attracting new shooters from all walks of life. When I joined the NRA Board, the NRA had about 4 million members. Yet today, 30 million Americans tell pollsters they consider themselves NRA members with millions more saying they look to the NRA for leadership and guidance on firearm issues.
Exit pollsters asked voters during the Wisconsin gubernatorial recall election earlier this year if they “support the goals and principles of the National Rifle Association.” Forty-five percent of all those voting answered yes! Another poll of voters nationwide revealed that a majority of all households headed by a man or woman over 30 years of age are “gun-owning households” and that gun owners are more than willing to vote to protect their rights.
Our greatest accomplishment has been to make guns “cool.” Anyone who thinks gun owners are a bunch of “bitter clingers” is making a huge mistake; today there are more gun enthusiasts in this country than ever in our history … and our numbers continue to grow.
When I finished my breakfast remarks that morning I was approached by a young lady interning for a congressman. “You’re right,” she said, “guns are cool. At our sorority we all go to the range every Friday to shoot and most of us have concealed carry permits.” Just so.