The NRA Wasn't the Only Group That Killed New Gun Legislation

Many gun owners don't think NRA represents them.

National Rifle Association (NRA) CEO Wayne LaPierre gestures as he speaks at the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., Friday, March 15, 2013.

The National Rifle Association and its CEO Wayne LaPierre aren't the only players in gun rights advocacy.

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"When you have that, you're going to back everyone into a corner. When you attack fundamental rights then people don't want to give an inch," Gottlieb says.

The idea of a community under attack has become a common refrain among gun users in the months since the shooting in Newtown, Conn.

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Baum, who is a liberal Democrat from Boulder, Colo., says the rhetoric of gun control groups towards gun owners in the wake of the shooting has been "unimaginably offensive."

"I read a lot after Sandy Hook with columnists and pundits saying we have this terrible gun culture," Baum says. "And then the gun guys say: 'Wait a minute, that's me you're talking about. And you're saying I'm responsible for Sandy Hook somehow.' That's like the old days saying gays were responsible for AIDs."

A Pew poll in January showed that for the first time, a majority of Americans thought the federal government was a threat to their personal rights and freedoms, with about six-in-ten gun-owning households saying they now felt that way.

The same month, the NRA – who did not respond to multiple request for comments for this story – released a statement saying the White House has an "agenda to attack the Second Amendment."

But while the gun community seems to agree on that point, many still don't want the NRA to represent them – with some even saying the NRA doesn't go far enough.

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Dudley Brown, a gun lobbyist who runs the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, a Colorado grassroots group, and the National Association for Gun Rights, which claims more than 3 million members, says "there is a lot of anger towards the NRA right now" – including from his groups. After a filibuster to kill the gun background check bill failed earlier this month, Brown blamed the NRA for not getting more involved in the fight because Manchin and Toomey, who brokered the gun bill, had "A" ratings from the association for his pro-gun rights policies.

Others, however, think the NRA is too out there, too extreme.

"Gun culture is disappearing, and I think that's partly the NRA's fault," says Baum. "The NRA puts an angry middle-aged white face on gun culture. It drives away people of color, women, young people."

When people think of a face of the NRA, they likely think of Wayne LaPierre, the 64-year-old, white, executive vice president of the NRA, who has gone on dozens of talk shows since the shooting at Newtown to slam gun control proponents.

And while the NRA is today able to command the president's attention, it is finding itself blocked elsewhere. In schools, for example, the NRA has been trying for years to implement its "Eddie Eagle" safety program for kids. The safety program is simple: it tells kids who find a gun to "stop," "don't touch," "leave the area," and then "tell an adult."

Pretty simple logic, but schools won't take it.

"The NRA cannot get this program into schools," says Baum, who says teachers have expressed the sentiment that they "don't want the NRA coming into my school getting my kids all excited about guns."

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Instead, the safety role now belongs to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which primarily represents the gun industry but makes firearm safety and education a priority. The foundation's Project Child Safe Program has arguably been far more effective than "Eddie Eagle," having distributed some 36 million firearm safety kits nationwide.

Bill Brassard, a spokesman for NSSF, says he describes the group's purview as promoting "safety… gun responsibility… and participation in hunting and all shooting sports at all age levels."

The "all age levels" phrase is key, because in recent years, data has shown that gun ownership is declining among young people. The people who are buying guns are, as Baum described, overwhelmingly white and old and male. A Pew study released in March 2013 found that men are three times as likely as women to own a gun, that ownership of guns among whites was almost double ownership among blacks or Hispanics, and that only 16 percent of adults under age 30 own a gun, while that percentage nearly doubles for adults over the age of 50. Some question whether in several decades we will even be having this gun debate at all.