Last month, I noted the extent to which the National Rifle Association was digging a hole for itself by hewing to the most extreme rhetoric in its arsenal. Rather than quietly agree to sensible reforms — like an assault weapons ban and universal background checks — the NRA has taken a maximalist position on gun control, pushing the view that safety requires a gun in every home and a holster on every belt.
True to form, this approach has backfired in the court of public opinion, as ordinary Americans — who otherwise support the Second Amendment — recoil from the extreme rhetoric of the NRA and its supporters. To wit, the latest national survey from Public Policy Polling shows that the organization has lost cachet with a good number of Americans. Thirty-nine percent say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate with the NRA’s endorsement, compared to 26 percent who say they would be more likely. Among independents, 41 percent consider the NRA’s endorsement a negative, while 27 percent say it’s a plus.
The NRA’s broader popularity is in line with these results. Last month’s poll from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal show the organization with 41 percent approval to 34 percent disapproval, a decline from January 2011, when the NRA’s approval/disapproval stood at 41/29.
I’m still skeptical about the odds for new gun control legislation. Yes, the NRA is less popular than it’s ever been, and yes, the administration has continued its push for new gun restrictions, but tragedies — for as much as they capture the public’s attention — rarely build momentum for actual change. If Newtown proves the exception, it will be because of its unique horror and the mistakes of gun advocates, who weren’t able to adjust their rhetoric to a new landscape.