The National Rifle Association has a rich history that goes back to shortly after the Civil War, when in 1871, Union veterans created it to train city-slicker troops who couldn't hit the side of a barn with their musket shots. But as the 4 million-strong group readies its fight to oust President Obama in 2012, it has to go back only 11 years for a battle plan. That's when the Second Amendment advocates mounted their biggest political effort ever to defeat then Vice President Al Gore by targeting key pro-gun Democratic states he needed to beat George W. Bush, like Arkansas. "We actually knocked out a presidential candidate," says new NRA President David Keene.
He tells Whispers that 2012 might be an even more critical year for the NRA. That's because the president, if re-elected, might have a chance to appoint more left-leaning Supreme Court justices who could undo Second Amendment protections and allow more gun control. "Our major goal is to defeat Obama because if he's re-elected, he's going to attempt to change the Supreme Court. All he needs is one vote and he will rewrite the Second Amendment," says Keene. "The threat," he says, "in many ways is more severe than in 2000." One reason: Obama, who slapped gun owners in his campaign, has gone quiet on gun issues as president, making it harder to rally NRA members. That was until gun foe Sarah Brady revealed in April that Obama told her he was working on the issue "under the radar."
Keene reveals that the NRA plans to mobilize its troops with the hopes of taking away three to five states Obama won in 2008. Keene and Wayne LaPierre, the gun group's executive vice president, plan a massive education campaign that he says will warn members about an Obama second term. He also says the NRA is seeking to register the up to 25 million gun owners not signed up to vote. He figures getting 5 million to 10 million to the polls would change the election's outcome. "We know how they'll vote," he says.
Keene also wants to add more women and younger shooters to the roster and to corral traditionally conservative home-school families. "I'm trying to make sure that there will be just as many people involved in the shooting sports next generation as this," he says.
Formerly head of the American Conservative Union, Keene says he timed his NRA presidency to coincide with Obama's re-election. He credits LaPierre for getting him involved, especially now to help with election messaging. "This is a moment of extreme danger," he says. But, the longtime hunter adds, it's still a fun job. "I love it."
Illustration by Ed Wexler for USN&WR.