Editor's Blog

The NRA, its sponsors, and angry students

How much do associations rely on their sponsors?

We could be about to find out. As the list of companies withdrawing sponsorship from the National Rifle Association (NRA) gets longer, the balance of power between a not-for-profit organisation with five million members and its big-business supporters is being put to the test.

So far two airlines (Delta and United), several hire-car companies (Avis, Enterprise and Budget), a bank (First National Bank of Omaha), an insurance company (MetLife), a discount prescription service (Paramount RX), and several other firms, have pulled promotional offers aimed at NRA members.

In doing so they are making a clear statement about their business interests and where they lie: we would rather side with distraught families and activist Millennials than gun owners. Firms backing the NRA boycott are effectively betting on one constituency serving their brand better than another.

But anyone expecting the NRA to soften its stance on gun control as a result should think again.

The lobby describes itself as America’s oldest civil rights movements and defenders of the Second Amendment, and it is used to defending its position in the face of moral outrage. If high-school massacres have become a mundane part of the cultural landscape, ditto the NRA’s refusal to concede an inch whenever the words ‘outlaw’ and ‘firearms’ appear in the same sentence.

The NRA has said the companies backing #BoycottNRA are involved ‘in a shameful display of political and civic cowardice’, and issued a defiant statement in defense of its objectives.

“Let it be absolutely clear,” the NRA said. “The loss of a discount will neither scare nor distract one single NRA member from our mission to stand and defend the individual freedoms that have always made America the greatest nation in the world.”

This is typical NRA rhetoric, aligning gun ownership with individual freedom and will appeal to its members. But what to make of it? Supporters will hear an association standing up for its principles. Detractors will hope these are the words of an organisation running scared, aware, perhaps, that the tide has finally turned. 


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