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Why the NRA is bent on snatching defeat from the jaws of victory

Letter from NRA-endorsed Democrat Larry Kissell of North Carolina's 8th Congressional District professing cosponsorship of legislation to muzzle gun groups.
Letter from NRA-endorsed Democrat Larry Kissell of North Carolina's 8th Congressional District professing cosponsorship of legislation to muzzle gun groups.
Image courtesy of Grass Roots North Carolina

Others have complained about flawed NRA candidate ratings. Now let us examine why the
organization purporting to defend the Second Amendment has been systematically selling out…

As conservatives battle to wrest control of Congress back from the left, liberal news organs like The Washington Post, National Public Radio and even “The Gray Lady” herself have cheered the NRA as it endorses Democrats across the country.

And rest assured the NRA’s efforts are systematic. Take, for example, an e-mail I got yesterday from “Marge”:

“Isn't it strange that the NRA has supported Shuler, but you, based only on the answers to a survey can support some one [sic] else. Perhaps you should do your ‘due diligence’ and look at the voting record of the incumbent. Or, is that too much trouble. Anyone can say anything in a survey -- voting record stands for all to see. Organizations like yours do nothing but dilute the effectiveness of the ‘real’ gun support activists. Get your act together!!!!”

This was in response to a multi-thousand-piece postcard mailing done into North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District against incumbent Democrat Heath Shuler and for opponent Jeff Miller. I explained to Marge that Shuler’s low marks weren’t based on just a survey and that he didn’t really have a voting record on a strictly gun-related bill, but had brokered House passage of HR 5175, the misnamed “DISCLOSE Act,” a piece of legislation designed to muzzle gun groups by requiring them to disclose membership information if they so much as mention a candidate prior to an election.

I also explained that Shuler cut language to exempt the NRA – and only the NRA – while leaving other gun groups to hang, after which the NRA sat on its hands and cheerfully withdrew opposition to the bill. But I doubt I made much impression: The “NRA do or die” crowd is not often swayed by logic.


In recent weeks, pro-gun forums have buzzed with complaints about NRA endorsements. Fellow Gun Rights Examiner David Codrea questioned how the NRA could endorse California’s Dan Lundgren, despite his having been the architect of one of the original “assault weapon” bans. David also wrote, “Gun owners must consider more than NRA grades,” while Jews for the Preservation of Gun Ownership branded NRA ratings as “illogical.”

And although flawed NRA ratings are just now becoming a common topic of concern, they have been lamented among hardened gun rights activists for years. Indeed, an entire site, called NRAWOL, on which you can find an excellent (albeit dated) piece by former NRA board member Russ Howard called “Sleeping with the enemy? No more A grades for gun-grabbers.”

In my sixteen years of gun rights leadership, I can cite myriad examples. Misleading NRA ratings were, in fact, the reason my organization, Grass Roots North Carolina, created its “Remember in November system of objective candidate evaluations. I’ve been nose-to-nose with Tanya Metaksa at the Velvet Cloak Inn in Raleigh when she came to North Carolina to tell (yes, tell) gun rights leaders to support anti-gun Governor Jim Hunt. (I think her words were, “Do you want a war? Is that what you want?”)

And then, of course, we had the endorsement of incumbent NC Governor Mike Easley. Having been promised by then-NRA state and local representative Jeff Freeman that the NRA would never support Easley, he did indeed get an “F” on his first run. Once elected, however, he signed a bill for (get this) NRA commemorative license plates and his “F” magically morphed into an “A” and endorsement, even against proven gun rights defender (and eventual Congressman) Robin Hayes.

[Writer's correction: Memory failed me. Hayes ran against Hunt in Hun't second term, precpitating the split between NC activists and the NRA which brought Metaksa to Raleigh. It was state senator Patrick Ballantine (100% pro-gun voting record) who ran against Easley in Easley's second term. The NRA supported Easley, causing yet another split with state activists. The NRA commemorative license plate bill was SB 464, which passed in 2004, just prior to Easley being upgraded from "F" to "A."]


Larry Kissell and the ‘Friendly Incumbent Policy’

Despite touting grassroots support, the NRA relies principally upon access-based lobbying which, of course, depends on access. If one alienates the host politician, one quickly finds himself out of the loop. The net result is that access-based lobbyists are forced to constantly curry favor with the politicians whose behavior they should, in theory, be controlling. In the end, the lobbyist ends up telling constituents what they must accept rather than telling the politician what he must do.

In the NRA’s case, this includes inflating the ratings of allegedly “friendly” incumbents, many of which are not so friendly – the apparent mechanism of NRA support for incumbent Larry Kissell in North Carolina’s 8th Congressional District. Kissell has exactly zero gun votes under his belt, and not only voted for the DICSLOSE Act described above, but actually cosponsored it. Thus, the NRA gives Kissell an “A” and endorsement, supporting him against a better candidate, Harold Johnson.

The NRA penchant for bad deals

I have seen the NRA merge the entirety of legislation designed to shutter gun shows into its own bill in a “Jekyll and Hyde” bid to get a committee hearing. (See “Strange bedfellows and the ‘gun show loophole’”.) I have seen the organization endorse the very politician who gutted NRA-supported legislation in return for a bone thrown at them by said legislator.

In short, I have seen the NRA cut very bad deals, often because they fear losing a particular battle and therefore, appearing weak. (See items 3 and 4 below). Perhaps you think Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid love the Second Amendment. I don’t. When you factor in statements by both Mr. Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder favoring reinstatement of the “assault weapon” ban, one begins to wonder what sort of deal the NRA cut to avoid a committee hearing on that and other gun control legislation. In this Congress, you see, if those bills got hearings, the NRA would lose. Most recently, they seem to have struck a deal with Congressman Heath Shuler, who cut the deal to exempt the NRA from DISCLOSE.

While some might argue that such are good deals because they avoid passage of gun control, a deal which perpetuates anti-gun politicians willing to endure delay of gratification also perpetuates future gun control. At legislative seminars, I tell students: “Bad bills are better.” The worse a piece of legislation (or in this case, the politicians in Congress), the more people will join you in opposition. The worst thing you can do is to weaken an anti-gun bill – or in this case, endorse anti-gun politicians. Rewarding bad behavior only encourages more of the same.

The NRA expects to lose

During one of her visits to quell local rebellion, Tanya Metaksa once told me she expected to lose. Her vision for defending the Second Amendment was akin to the doctrine of flexible defense, ceding territory where necessary to prolong the fight. Even if Metaksa was right (which I doubt, particularly in light of recent Supreme Court decisions), I would be loath to adopt a policy of preemptive surrender.

Success is not an option

If gun laws were suddenly declared unconstitutional or otherwise repealed, the NRA would be unnecessary. Given the salary and benefits accrued by NRA chief executives, overwhelming success (and obscurity) is not an option.

According to the 2008 IRS Form 990 for the NRA1, Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre raked in $1,263,101 per year; NRA Institute for Legislative Action EVP Chris Cox made $661,059; Treasurer Wilson Phillips made $649,463; General Operations Executive Director Kayne Robinson benefitted to the tune of $602,608; and last, Secretary Edward Land, Jr. trails the pack with a measly $509,186.

Hmm. Worth remembering the next time you get that desperate appeal for money, no?


If you answered "reform the NRA," rest assured that the best have tried -- including former NRA vice president Neal Knox, who made the organization the legislative juggernaut it is today.

One obvious answer is “don’t use NRA ratings,” of course. But that is more easily said than done.

Our organization has created an objective candidate evaluation system we encourage others to emulate (see “Remember in November”) plus the means to reach more gun-owning voters than the NRA can. Right now in North Carolina, the GRNC Political Victory Fund is outnumbering the NRA in terms of election alerts mailed in 15 political districts, including one US House district. Radio spots are running in NC House 81 against NRA-endorsed Hugh Holliman, and will air shortly in another as-yet announced district.

We are covering only our own, limited territory. Hopefully, you will do the same in other states. It won’t be easy, but it is the only way to change NRA behavior and elect candidates who will defend your rights. If you want help, let me know.


Additional note:

  1. Compensation figures cited from 2008 NRA Form 990 are the sum of Column D (“Reportable Compensation”) and Column F (“Estimated Amount of Other Compensation”).


  • David Regnery 4 years ago

    I hope Tom Fetzer and the boys at the NC GOP read this article. I'm seriously pissed that the NRA is actually endorsing anti-gun democrats rather Second Amendment respecting Republicans.

  • Anonymous 4 years ago

    This is Robert- This is like beating a dead horse. Everyone knows what the NRA is and how it votes for those who will further the NRA 's need for power and control over the gun rights advocates. Now the NRA is desperate and trying to keep those in power that will return the favor and grace the NRA with a few tidbits from the table of power in Washington and around the country. Look at the opposition to NRA backed candidates especially in Nevada with Harry Reid. It is time for gun rights advocates to vote out those opposed to the Second Amendment and who will not support majority rule in their own districts. The day of the minority ruling needs to end this November. Send your money to your regional and local gun rights organizations and not the NRA .

  • Anonymous 4 years ago

    And on Thursday in Asheville, Heath Shuler will have the biggest gun-banning President ever - and I'm not talking Obama but Clinton - in town to rally support for him.

  • Anonymous 4 years ago

    Of course the NRA endorsed Shuler. He cut them a deal and stiffed ALL other gun-rights organizations.

    His ads have him declaring that "I'm not Nancy Pelosi". Of course he isn't - he's just her lap poochie.

    Lousy quarterback - lousy Congressman

  • NRA and TSRA 4 years ago

    You aren't invited to the party, pal.
    No matter how important you think you are, you aren't invited to the backdoor dealings in politics.
    The NRA is forcing the antigunners out of the dem party. That's a long reaching strategy that will help our Second Amendment Rights.
    By the way, you don't seem to get the idea the NRA protects Second Amendment Rights. It's not a conservative group.

  • former NRA Benefactor 4 years ago

    "The NRA is forcing antigunners out of the DEM party". Typical of the NRA to claim credit for something it had nothing to do with, and actually worked against (think Alan Gura and the recent Supreme Court decisions). Giving "A" ratings to anti-gun dems doesn't force them out. Voters force them out when they realize they need to ignore inflated NRA ratings and trust orgs like GRNC and GOA.

  • Anonymous 4 years ago

    So, how much lobbying does Paul/GRNC do in Raleigh to protect our gun rights? Is there any way to know who GRNC's registered lobbyist is, and how often he is in Raleigh? Does Paul lobby Congress, or is he just another outsider making uneducated guesses as to how the political process actually works? And does he have any complaint/intel that isn't incredibly old? I mean, when was Tanya Metaksa in charge? Last century?

  • Paul Valone 4 years ago

    Three comments warrant answers, in order of importance:

    1. GRNC does not have a "registered lobbyist" and never will. To do so would be an anethema to our philosophy. Lobbyists are only required to register with the Secretary of State if they are paid. Our ALL VOLUNTEER Legislative Action Team is boots-on-the-ground at the General Assembly several times per week -- which is far more than NRA lobbyist Anthony Roullette.

    2. So somebody is seriously trying to say the NRA is trying to "force antigunners out of the Dem Party" electing anti-gunners? Ive heard plenty of rationale from NRA apologists, but that one is the more, ah, "creative."

    3. To Robert: This is "beating a dead horse" to you and others in the active gun rights community. To the millions of less savvy gun owners who blindly follow the NRA's recommendations and unwittingly elect anti-gun candidates, not so much. At gun shows, gun shops and elsewhere, I encounter such people every day.

  • Paul Valone 4 years ago

    Oh, yes: I forgot one, namely, "Does Paul lobby Congress."

    1. Paul doesn't "lobby" anywhere. As noted in the article, access-based lobbyists have an inherent conflict of interest in that their "effectiveness" (such as it may be) depends on the good graces of the host politician. Instead, Paul engages in "grass roots mobilization" in which we soften up an office with a few thousand contacts from angry voters and then walk in and say, "Hi. We're from Grass Roots North Carolina. I think you know what we want."

    2. In terms of federal legislation, bear in mind that at least two Congressmen (one currently serving) owe or owed their seats to GRNC. And yes, I do stop in on them in DC periodically. More importantly, GRNC is a member of a coalition of state-level orgs which has, on numerous occasions, impacted both federal legislation and the untoward behavior of the NRA.

  • Anonymous 4 years ago

    "If gun laws were suddenly declared unconstitutional or otherwise repealed, the NRA would be unnecessary. Given the salary and benefits accrued by NRA chief executives, success (and obscurity) is not an option."

    Paul, I generally like what you do, agree with you, and am glad you're fighting the good fight. But listen to yourself. Methinks you wave your arms at times you ought to keep them in the boat.

  • Anonymous 4 years ago

    "If gun laws were suddenly declared unconstitutional or otherwise repealed, the NRA would be unnecessary."

    This wouldn't necessarily be so if the NRA turned completely to their original purpose and became purely organized to promote gun safety and training, sports information and shooting contests.

    It is politics and political corruption that has destroyed the NRA. The big boys getting the high salaries and perks wouldn't have anything to do with a gun club that wasn't interested in politics.

  • FrankInFL 4 years ago

    "NRAWOL" is AWOL. The domain is for sale.

  • Paul Valone 4 years ago

    NRAWOL should have been .net instead of .org. My apologies. Will fix shortly.

    To the gent who generally agrees with me but doesn't agree that the NRA leadership doesn't want overwhelming success in the interest of perpetuating its obscene salaries: Perhaps you should see if Alan Gura thinks my point is off base. As Alan was constructing Parker v. DC (which eventually became DC v. Heller), the NRA was busy introducing legislation to end the DC gun ban in the interest of making the Second Amendment lawsuit moot. Failing that, they tried to consolidate their own inferior case into Alan's. I'm not saying NRA leadership wants to lose; I am simply saying they are not motivated to be overwhelmingly successful. $1.2+ million per year is very persuasive.

  • Truth and Freedom 4 years ago

    Also, Congressman Heath Shuler:

    Signed the pro-gun congressional “friend of the court” brief in the 2008 Heller case supporting the Second Amendment as an individual right and striking down the gun ban in our nation’s capital.

    Signed the pro-gun congressional “friend of the court” brief in the McDonald case supporting the position that the Second Amendment is a fundamental right that protects all Americans.

    Signed a letter to Attorney General Eric along with 64 other House Democrats expressing his opposition to reenactment of the failed 1994 Clinton ban on semi-automatic firearms and ammunition magazines.

    Is a lifetime gun owner and sportsman


  • Let's Roll 4 years ago

    Valone's statement that Robin Hayes ran against Mike Easley for Governor is false much like his poorly researched column.

  • mack 4 years ago

    The NRA would not cease to exist if the political battle for the RKBA were suddenly won - there are shooting facilities and sports to help facilitate - promoting hunting - gun safety and use - etc...

    But the broader point is who in their right mind would think that the battle could or would be won in a lifetime or more? The fight for and the loss of the RKBA has been going on since the beginning and before the beginning of the republic. After the revolution - various cities and states passed or kept restrictions on the RKBA - then there were the Jim Crow laws - later the NFA of 1934 - and the Hughes Amendment - and Lautenberg - and new state laws - look at California and New Jersey or Hawaii and Illinois. Anybody tried to buy a new machine gun lately? Well you can just plunk down your money in any store and buy an old machine gun right? Well if not you can buy a silencer in Illinois right? Can you still go to jail for cutting the barrel of a shotgun or rifle too short?

    Additionally there are attacks on the RKBA through the avenue of environmentalism, health care, and zoning laws. Shooting ranges are under attack and attempts are made continually in the name of health or the environment to further restrict the RKBA.

    How many pro RKBA votes are there on the USSC? Is the UN in favor of international gun control or not?
    Are there gun control advocates in the Democratic party? Are big city mayors endorsing gun control? Does the ATF need reform or abolishment?

    Given all the above, it is not credible to suggest that the NRA is afraid of winning and going out of business. There are real and ongoing threats to the RKBA and severe restrictions still in place in many states and parts of the country. Therefore the idea that the NRA is propping up or supporting the proponents of gun control because the are afraid of winning is not credible and to argue that it is undermines the credibility of those that so argue.

    Is the NRA pure as the driven snow and do they always do the right thing? No. The NRA is a large organization and it is a political animal - members get to vote - officers in charge want to remain in charge - and in control. That does lead to political infighting in the organization. Also the organization being as large as it is - means that it includes many diverse groups of gun owners - some of those groups are not so keen on the evil so called “assault weapons” and some don’t like handguns all that much - the NRA has to educate and sometimes drag those Fudds along to the fight. GOA, JPFO, and SAF have hardcore memberships - the NRA not so much. Those less than hardcore NRA members have to be brought along - but it isn’t always easy - and those members also get their say and their vote in the NRA - whether you or I like it - or their less than hardcore support of the RKBA.

    The NRA walks a fine line - they are the 800 lb. gorilla in the room when it comes to the RKBA - but they are so because they have a large membership and because they can influence members of the general population. If the NRA alienates its union democrat and hunting members it will lose much of its clout. If the NRA is perceived to be too extreme then it can be easily demonized in the press and lose its ability to influence voters who are not members. If the NRA endorses only conservative republicans it will lose all influence with democrats.

    To maintain its influence the NRA has to not alienate its membership who support the RKBA but who are otherwise liberal or democrats. It has to avoid becoming the lap dog of any single political party, thus becoming taken for granted by one party who will have to do nothing and risk nothing to keep the NRA’s support and the other party who will write off the NRA since they can never win their support and who by default will only win votes by being anti-RKBA. Evidence of the importance of this is the effectiveness of the NRA in stopping gun control legislation and winning some victories with a Democratic house, senate, and president, (the president being a former board member of the highly anti-gun Joyce Foundation and the leader of the house being an avowed gun control advocate).

    What is going on is a difference in strategy and differing perspectives on what the best political move is. Sure the GOA and SAF can afford to be all or nothing, they lose nothing by that stance. The NRA would stand to lose big time - especially in the long term - and if there is one thing that is certain the fight for the RKBA is long term.

    I have had serious disagreements with the NRA and their policies in the past. I was outraged by their attempt to derail the Heller case - and I let the NRA know that I was outraged - publicly and privately. But I understood their reasoning - they were afraid that the USSC would not support the 2nd Amendment and the RKBA. I didn’t agree then and I still don’t.

    I also understand why the NRA supports some Democrats - they are not a partisan organization and they can’t afford to be - they are not a conservative organization - they are not an over-all civil rights organization - they are, and can afford to have only one focus, a RKBA organization.

    The appointment of USSC justices is a serious matter - especially for the RKBA as there are four opponents of the RKBA on the court. But the senate whether they have a republican or democratic majority is going to support the presidents nominee - even if one or two were defeated initially - the president would eventually get one of his choices approved and the current president will choose an opponent of the RKBA. Therefore, the only solution to the USSC is to replace the president in 2012.

    Political parties are going to come into power and leave power - supporters of the RKBA need to have support for the RKBA in both parties.

    Lastly we need the NRA just as we need other organizations like GOA, JPFO, SAF, and other national and state level pro-RKBA groups - they all serve a purpose and fulfill a specific need in the fight to preserve the RKBA.

    Thus I find in general that your criticism of the NRA is flawed, shortsighted, and off base. If the NRA is off base in its endorsements, support, or candidate rating in a specific race - then yes please inform us and the public. But please do not join in the conservative push - (as in RedState and others) - to attempt to make the NRA align in lockstep with one party or one movement. To do so would in the long term gut the NRA and its influence in the long term fight for the RKBA.

  • Anonymous 4 years ago

    Yes Paul-
    Please tell us what year Robin Hayes ran against Mike Easley?

  • Anonymous 4 years ago

    You say you want to "change NRA behavior and elect candidates who will defend your rights." So are you saying that NRA does not want to elect candidates who will defend "your" rights? Is it the official position of GRNC that NRA does not want to elect candidates who defend the Second Amendment?

    Also, if your goal is to "change NRA behavior," how much of the time you should be dedicating to protecting the Second Amendment do you dedicate to trying to make NRA do things the way you want it to do things? Do you report to your members what percentage of their dues (I presume you have dues) goes towards trying to get NRA to operate the way GRNC wants it to?

    And if GRNC is so good at what it does, why does it waste time on NRA? If you are so effective, just do what you think is right, and leave other organizations to operate the way they think is correct. Or do you need the conflict with NRA in order to get attention?

  • Anonymous 4 years ago

    "Once elected, however, he signed a bill for (get this) NRA commemorative license plates...."

    Is that the only firearm-related bill that he took action on in the four years between the F and the A? That does seem out of line, if true, and that seems to be the impression Paul wants to make. Can Paul tell us if that is really the only firearm-related bill he acted on in that time period?

  • Paul Valone 4 years ago

    First, let me apologize for one item which was not a function of research, but of bad memory. It was the endorsement of incumbent Jim Hunt in 1996 over far better challenger Robin Hayes (100% pro-gun voting record) which brought Tanya Metaksa to quell rebellion at the Velvet Cloak Inn.

    Mike Easley was elected in 2000, running against RINO Richard Vinroot. The NRA commemorative plate bill passed as SB 464 in 2004, just prior to Easley’s second run, when the NRA “F” rating changed to “A” and the NRA supported Easley over a proven gun rights supporter, NC Senator Patrick Ballantine (100% pro-gun voting record). GRNC went to task with the NRA over this endorsement as well, with several newspapers writing of the split.

    Now, since someone apparently high enough in the NRA to have Shuler and Kissell's cosponsorship history seems to have take great time and trouble to obfuscate the issue, I will shortly devote another article to that.

  • Joe Simpson 4 years ago

    Wow, from the flood of comments from pseudonymous "ordinary readers," sure looks like the high muckety-mucks at NRA are mightly upset about Paul's column! I guess that's how you can tell when the shots are hitting near the X-ring.

    I particularly like the assertion that DISCLOSE is really not anything we should wast time discussing. I'm sure NRA would love for the traitorous dealcutting on that to be quietly forgotten. Sorry, guys, the groups that you conspired to silence while exempting yourselves probably aren't going to just forgive and forget. You sold out everyone but yourselves, and I for one am glad to see Paul and GRNC reminding gunowners of that fact.

    Joe Simpson

  • Anonymous 4 years ago

    Paul has more than a "bad memory" a few years ago-a GRNC member counted over 100 errors in Valone's Remember in November Voter Guide-:(

  • Anonymous 4 years ago

    Paul has more than a "bad memory" a few years ago-a GRNC member counted over 100 errors in Valone's Remember in November Voter Guide-:(

  • Profile picture of Paul Valone
    Paul Valone 4 years ago

    To the critic too cowardly to provide a name:
    First, while errors occur in any listing of hundreds of candidates, I doubt any GRNC "Remember in November" voter guide ever had anywhere near the number of errors you claim. Perhaps you could provide the guide and the errors?

    Second, do you really allege the NRA doesn't make such errors? If so, let remind you of the time its candidate ratings "overlooked" Sen. Hugh Webster, then the single strongest gun rights supporter in the General Assembly. I suppose it could have been an accident, or it could have resulted from the fact that Webster was a larger critic of the NRA than I am. (FYI, I believe this was in 2000 or 2002, but I can check if you wish, since I keep files on all NRA endorsements stretching back to the mid 90s).

    Unfortunately, Hugh was not alone among pro-gun legislators angered by NRA malfeasance. He was just the most vocal.

    Third, how dare you equate occasional errors with the *systematic* distortion of grades made possible by the "incumbent-friendly" and subjective rating system used by the NRA?

    Finally, as I noted on other articles, I recognize a harrassment campaign when I see one. If you are not in the NRA, you are a member of the NRA's lackey, also known as the NC State Rifle & Pistol Assoc., which has not been legislatively effective for about 15 years.
    So here is the same thing I proposed on the other comment section: You provide us a name, and you can have a fair debate on this or another forum. Until then, the harrassment stops. Your comments are being deleted, and reported for abuse.

  • Profile picture of Paul Valone
    Paul Valone 4 years ago

    To the anonymous cowards who refuse to identify themselves:

    Yes, your comments will be deleted. But did I neglect to mention that every time you log on here, I get paid? Thanks for the page views.

  • Truth and Freedom 4 years ago

    Congressman Heath Shuler is the lead Democratic cosponsor of H.R. 822 (National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act).


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