Politics

Reload and Fire

The NRA's list of agenda items was getting a bit thin--until it found some juicy new ones.
by | October 2006

It goes without saying that the online-dating industry isn't the only interest group that uses the legislative process to advance its members' parochial priorities. Every such organization does that at one point or another. But what about an interest group whose entire raison d'etre is the legislative process and lobbying? Wouldn't it have to keep coming up with new causes to sustain the enthusiasm of its membership?

That's the criticism being leveled against the National Rifle Association by some anti-gun groups opposed to legislation the NRA has been pushing. Ten states have already passed an NRA-backed bill that prevents law enforcement agencies from confiscating weapons in cases of natural disaster or other emergencies. More are likely to follow suit next year. "It's sheer political power," says Kristen Rand, of the Violence Policy Center, a gun control advocacy group. "They have to have some agenda that helps reinforce the paranoia among their hardcore members."

The NRA argues that these bills aren't based on paranoia at all--that law enforcement officers did, in fact, take away weapons in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina last year. "The police chief there said on national TV that he wasn't going to allow anyone to keep his guns," says Oklahoma state Representative Kevin Calvey, who was deployed with his National Guard unit to New Orleans. "I personally encountered people down there who had a need to protect themselves because there was no police presence to speak of until the military got down there in force."

All these bills do, supporters say, is reiterate state support for the right to bear arms, even or especially in times of emergency. Still, it is striking how quickly the NRA seized on this particular cause. The group has played exquisite defense on its issues for years. It has successfully blocked cities from holding gun makers liable for their products, and all but extinguished strict gun control as an issue anywhere in the country. Those issues are essentially settled. And the NRA has just about run out of states where it can push legislation allowing people to carry concealed weapons.

Maybe that's why the group has crafted a new proactive agenda in recent months--not just the anti-confiscation bills but also self- defense laws that give homeowners and others the right to shoot intruders. Those bills have become law in more than a dozen states over the past 18 months. The NRA insists it's more than a matter of rekindling member excitement. "It's a constant effort that we undertake to preserve this freedom," says spokesman Andrew Arulanandam. "We're always playing offense and defense."

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