You might have heard about the recent spat at the National Rifle Association. Its president, Oliver North, just got the boot in an alleged extortion scheme involving Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre. Each has taken (verbal) shots at the other in public, resulting in publicity that the powerful lobbying group would obviously rather not have.
But this circular firing squad is the least of the NRA’s problems. It burned through $30 million to get Donald Trump elected, only to learn that the president isn’t quite the lapdog it thought it was buying. You’ll recall that after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida last year (17 killed), Trump vowed to take guns away from bad guys. “I like taking guns away early,” the president said. “Take the guns first, go through due process second.”
And the Trump administration has also gone further than Barack Obama ever did (or could), when it imposed a ban on bump stocks—like the one used by Stephen Paddock to murder 58 people and injure hundreds more at a Las Vegas music festival in 2017.
It was Trump, not Obama, who said he’d be a gun grabber. It was Trump, not Obama, who took away bump stocks. Can you imagine the outrage from Second Amendment supporters if Obama had said or done these things?
Now, I’m normally not one to say I-told-you-so, but guess what? I told you so. Back in 2015, I wrote that “The gun industry’s biggest threat is Obama leaving office.”
The Obama era, those were the good old days for gun manufacturers and the NRA. That’s because Obama was their bogeyman, the lightening rod that they used to scare folks into thinking that he was somehow magically going to take their guns away. LaPierre said Obama had a secret plan to “dismantle and destroy our firearms’ freedom, erase the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights, and excise it from the U.S. Constitution.”
Wow! Such scary talk. Of course LaPierre omitted some pesky facts, like how a president can’t just change the Constitution on his own. It takes 1) a two-thirds vote in the House and 2) a two-thirds vote in the Senate, or 3) by three-quarters of the states. Since Republicans controlled both the House and Senate, and most state legislatures for most of Obama’s eight years in office, he couldn’t have done a thing. But when you’re in the business of peddling fear—and that’s Wayne LaPierre—why let facts and Civics 101 get in the way?
And never mind that Obama spoke time and again of his support of the Second Amendment. The gun industry needed an enemy and it got one. Its eight-year scare campaign paid off in the form of record gun sales, record industry profits and soaring stock prices for gun manufacturers.
But fast forward and there’s no question that the gun industry is now missing Barack Obama big time. Consider the following data points, provided by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which bills itself as “the firearms industry trade association.” The NSSF says that between 2008, when Obama was elected, and 2017 when he left office:
Gun industry jobs grew 87%—but just 1.3% in the first full year he was out of office.
Wages grew 142%—but just one-third of one-percent since.
The “total economic impact” of the industry grew 169%—but 1.4% since.
And even as Trump brags about the overall stock market, which has continued the incredible run that began in March 2009, gun stocks have been shot down. Since election day 2016, Sturm, Ruger & Company, Inc.
has fallen 13% (through Friday) while American Outdoor Brands Corporation
has plunged 65%. Both stocks soared during the Obama era.
The gun industry needs someone it can trot out to scare people. It now has House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has already gotten two gun control measures passed, both aimed at broadening the federal background check system for firearms purchases. The Republican-controlled Senate certainly won’t pass these measures, and even if it somehow did, the White House has promised a swift veto.
But with all due respect to Pelosi, you know what the NRA really needs? A bogeyman (or woman) in the White House it can use to scare its base—which skews older, white, male and rural—into thinking that the government gun grabbers are coming. Plenty of Democrats seeking the presidency have vowed action on guns; the NRA—if it can stop squabbling—will have a new target soon enough.