The NRA's hidden power

Minneapolis, MN

#1 Jan 5, 2013
The NRA's hidden power

By exploiting people's fears, the National Rifle Assn. shapes everyday politics related to crime and insecurity — something gun control activists may not grasp.

January 03, 2013|By Jennifer Carlson

Far from the halls of Congress, the press conferences and the TV talk shows, there is a different kind of gun politics happening in America. It isn't about which gun to ban or what the 2nd Amendment "really" means. Instead, it is about everyday fears and risks, both real and imagined, and the very personal decision to carry a gun for self-protection.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, there are at least 8 million Americans licensed to carry a concealed gun today. The National Rifle Assn. is the national leader in training those who choose to get such a license. Whereas major anti-gun efforts such as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence operate at the policy level, away from most people's concrete fears and concerns, the NRA is hands on: More than 750,000 Americans go through some kind of NRA training every year.

In 2010, I was certified as an NRA trainer as part of my research on gun politics. I was in Michigan, where more than 300,000 state residents — 1 in 25 — are licensed under the state's "concealed carry" law. In Michigan you can conceal a pistol on your hip, in a shoulder holster or in a purse as you buy groceries, grab a cup of coffee or go to the library.

There are regulations — you must have a clean criminal and mental health record, you have to be 21, and even with the license, you cannot carry concealed guns in schools, day-care centers or churches. You also have to pay an NRA-certified trainer as much as $150 and spend eight hours meeting a training requirement.

Today, Michigan's concealed-carry law is the rule not the exception. In 1970, only four states allowed citizens to carry concealed weapons on a "non-discretionary" basis, meaning applicants did not have to provide a specific reason for obtaining a license. Now 40 states have such laws.

The NRA has played a key role in pushing for these laws, which not incidentally provide a pathway for NRA recruiting. Most of these laws implicitly or explicitly require people to get NRA training. In Iowa, the NRA opposed proposed alternative legislation that removed the training requirement. And once the bill it favored passed, the NRA issued a "call to arms" to rapidly increase the number of certified NRA instructors in the state.

Importantly, these courses entail limited firearms training: According to law, students can fulfill the requirement by shooting fewer than 100 rounds of ammunition and spending only about two hours on the range. While the course provides baseline proficiency in target shooting, it does not provide experience in more realistic scenarios, such as shooting from an uncomfortable position or while moving. Often, students don't practice rapidly removing their guns from a holster and shooting, which is deceptively difficult under stress.


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