NRA supporters still back Trump, even if he’s bad for business
dsmoulton/iStock(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are scheduled Friday to speak to gun enthusiasts at the National Rifle Association, a group that made a multi-million-dollar investment in their campaign in 2016.
The president’s speech in Indianapolis comes as the rhetoric around firearms has intensified after more recent mass shootings. But as Republicans and gun enthusiasts prepare to defend gun rights ahead of the 2020 election, some NRA members believe it shouldn’t be all politics and are hoping the organization instead turns its focus to helping its own members.
There’s one thing on which both gun enthusiasts and gun control activists agree: The NRA isn’t the same organization it was decades ago.
The NRA spent $30.3 million to support Trump’s campaign in 2016, according to Open Secrets, and doubled down on NRA-sponsored advertising in key states where the president claimed victory.
But in the past year alone, the NRA has faced staggering opposition. After the Feb. 14, 2018, massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, students and supporters were among those asking other companies to sever their ties with the NRA.
In the 2018 midterm elections, the NRA was outspent by gun control activists, as Democratic candidates fed up with mass shootings campaigned on the issue. Gun control advocates Lucy McBath in Georgia and Jason Crow in Colorado were among a group of Democrats who beat out Republicans.
For many voters, the debate over firearms likely will remain a key issue in 2020, with voters on both sides gearing up to back candidates on both sides of the issue. Ahead of the 2018 midterms, 60 percent of voters listed gun policy as “very important” among voting choices, according to the survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
In Greenfield, Indiana, Mark Highsmith said he believes firearms are woven into the fabric of the state. He owns a gun shop and told ABC News the NRA remains strong in parts of the country because it’s the only organization on the front lines of gun advocacy.
“They’re really the only lobbying group for the shooting public,” Highsmith told ABC News. But, he added, “I think they need to try and rationalize how they spend their money and try to be more steadfast in the way they do business. I’d like to see them be more supportive of places like me — how are they helping the average member.”
Highsmith is in a unique position as a gun shop owner. While he personally supports Donald Trump, it hurts his business.
“When Trump got in, our business slowed quite a bit — anytime you got a Democrat House and Senate, I really think it makes people alarmed,” he said.
Some gun enthusiasts have labeled that decline in firearm sales the “Trump Slump.” The president’s 2016 campaign, heavily backed by the NRA, helped reassure gun owners, so they bought fewer firearms.
That said, the NRA and Trump don’t always agree — the president has called for raising the purchasing age to 21 from 18 despite fierce opposition from the group.
“The NRA is opposed to it,” Trump said in February 2018, “and I’m a fan of the NRA. No bigger fan. I’m a big fan of the NRA. These are great people. Great patriots. They love our country, but that doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything.”
The NRA also disagreed with the Trump administration’s ban on bump stocks following a mass shooting at a Las Vegas music festival in October 2017 that killed 58 people. That shooter used a bump stock, a device that allows a rifle automatic or semiautomatic firing capability.
Still, the president is expected to receive a warm response on Friday.
“I’m happy he’s coming,” Highsmith added, “and I’m happy he’s a Second Amendment supporter.”
As the president and vice president head to Indianapolis for the convention, gun control activists are planning to respond with force.
Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund launched a campaign investing $100,000 in ads, which will be seen in Indianapolis during this week’s annual NRA convention.
“The NRA isn’t really a gun rights group anymore — it’s a troubled business committed to enriching its executives and gun manufacturers,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety.
Moms Demand Action will hold a counter-event this weekend as the NRA convention takes place.
“We will work against candidates who buy into the NRA’s distorted vision of gun everywhere, all the time, for everybody,” Stephanie Mannon Grabow, a volunteer with Moms Demand Action, told ABC News. “We know we can protect the Second Amendment and protect our communities. The NRA is coming here to put on a big show, but we know behind the curtain, they are struggling.”
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