Dec 3, 2017

NRA eyeing first big win of Trump presidency

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

The National Rifle Association is expected to score its first big legislative win of the year this week, when the House votes on a concealed-carry bill that's likely to pass. It's the group's first major legislative priority to see action on the floor since President Trump took office, and it would show that the group still has clout on Capitol Hill after experiencing a series of unusual setbacks in the last few months.

Why it matters: The NRA is known for its political power, and it's rare for the group to lose a fight. Yet nearly one year into the Trump presidency, the majority of Americans are calling for stricter gun laws, there have been several high-profile mass shootings, and the candidates the NRA has endorsed in several special elections ended up losing.

What to watch: The House Rules Committee is taking up the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, which would make it easier for gun owners to carry concealed weapons across state lines, on Tuesday. That sets it up for a likely House vote on Wednesday.

  • The NRA has called the measure its "highest legislative priority in Congress."
  • Even if the House passes the bill, the Senate is an entirely different challenge, as the measure will need to garner the required 60 votes to pass.

Context: The NRA spent roughly $50 million last year to elect Donald Trump and Republicans to Congress, according to a public audit published this month.

The election setbacks:

  • Virginia governor's race: The NRA poured more than $2 million into the VA races, including $750,000 in advertising to back Republican Ed Gillespie. He ended up losing to Democrat Ralph Northam, who campaigned on increasing gun safety and received an “F" rating from the NRA. Following the Las Vegas shooting, gun control became the second most important issue in the governor's race, according an NBC exit poll.A post-election poll conducted by gun safety group Everytown found that voters motivated by guns were evenly split between Northam and Gillespie — a departure from past data that usually shows them as overwhelmingly opposed to gun control.But NRA pollster Wes Anderson told Axios that their own polling — which asked voters to rank the issues they care most about — showed gun control coming in "dead last," with just 4% of those polled saying it was a deciding issue.
  • Alabama Senate primary: The NRA, like the Trump administration, endorsed Luther Strange, arguing that he was a better defender of the Second Amendment than opponent Roy Moore. Moore went on to win. The NRA spent roughly seven figures on Strange ads in the weeks before the election.
  • Albuquerque mayoral race: The NRA openly opposed candidate Tim Keller, saying he embraced "an anti-freedom agenda." Keller won.

The big picture: The NRA should be able to get most of what it wants in Congress, given that Republicans control both chambers and are friendly to the group's agenda on most issues. But in the aftermath of the recent mass shootings, the group has been on the defensive against proposals to tighten gun regulations.

Between the lines: Despite the NRA coming out in support of these measures, critics have argued that their reaction was a strategic move aimed at avoiding other sweeping attempts at gun control in the wake of recent mass shootings.

What they're saying:

  • Jennifer Baker, director of public affairs for the NRA: "After eight long years of playing defense and beating back the extreme gun control agenda of Barack Obama, the NRA is playing offense and scoring substantive wins for our members ... Couple the progress on policy priorities with the nomination of Justice Gorsuch, Attorney General Sessions and Secretary Zinke and it's been an extremely successful year for the Second Amendment."
  • John Fleinblatt, President of Everytown for Gun Safety: "Up and down the line this year, candidates who supported gun safety won ... While the NRA is getting more extreme, the American public seems to be going in the opposite direction."

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