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Political experts say the National Rifle Association is not weakened as much as critics say it is as the association worked to influence negotiations on the bipartisan Senate gun bill that is on track to be passed before the July 4 holiday, and with the House taking up the legislation soon after.
University of Virginia Center for Politics director Larry Sabato emphasized that the bill is relatively modest and came in the wake of several gruesome mass shootings. In that political environment, he said, the NRA had a very tall task if it wanted to block a bill, and that what it managed to influence was effective.
“It if passes, it certainly doesn’t send the message the NRA has died or anything like that,” Sabato said. “Given what happened in Uvalde and Buffalo and goodness knows how many other mass shootings, I think at this point the Congress as a whole, both parties, realize that something needs to be done.”
A source familiar with the negotiations said the NRA had a hand in paring back many of the Democrat-preferred policies in the bill.
Among them, according to the source, were the restoration of gun rights for first-time domestic violence offenders after five years; a 10-year sunset on enhanced background checks for people between 18 and 21; and specific due process language regarding “extreme risk protective orders,” known as red flag laws.
Despite its involvement, the NRA told Fox News that it rejects any implication it supports the bill more broadly.
“While we strongly oppose this gun control package, it should come as no surprise that as the leading Second Amendment rights organization in the country we have regular conversations with lawmakers and that they seek our input on legislation,” NRA Institute for Legislative Action executive director Jason Ouimet told Fox News. “But our true strength and the reason for our influence ultimately comes from our dedicated and devoted 5 million members.”
“The NRA has been deeply involved in the drafting of this bill from Day 1,” a GOP aide familiar with the negotiations said. “And for good reason: they represent millions of law-abiding gun owners and are experts on how legislation could impact them. My sense from the group is they were a big help.”
On the actual votes, 14 Senate Republicans supported the bill on a procedural vote earlier this week. A 15th, Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., was not there for the vote but said he supports the bill too. That is a significant number, but still well short of half of the GOP conference, even while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., supports it.
In the House of Representatives, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., will vote against the Senate gun bill. GOP Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., announced Wednesday morning that he will formally whip his members against it.
“In an effort to slowly chip away at law-abiding citizens’ 2nd Amendment rights, this legislation takes the wrong approach in attempting to curb violent crimes,” Scalise said in a whip notice sent to members.
One GOP aide said there is a good chance the gun bill gets even less House Republican support than the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which garnered 13 GOP votes. The aide said because red flag laws are so “demonized” among conservatives, it will be very hard for most Republicans to vote for the bill.
The fact is the bill is likely to pass with bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress. The NRA’s opponents, who view the Senate bill as a historic break in decades-long gridlock on gun reform, say that alone is proof the NRA is not what it used to be.
“The NRA is weakened,” Giffords managing director Robin Lloyd said. “But at the same time, the American people are fed up with what the NRA has done, which is prevent any sort of progress on the issue of gun safety.”
She added: “It is significant the NRA no longer has a stranglehold on Congress we have historically seen.”
Brady United vice president for policy Christian Heyne said the fact nearly 30% of GOP senators was willing to vote for a bill the NRA already opposed “shows how out of step the NRA is.”
Sabato, meanwhile, said that the NRA remains strong because of the passion of its members, many of whom are single-issue gun voters.
“They’ve had problems, we all know about their problems. The leadership has been in trouble and some of the rank and file is not happy with the leadership,” Sabato said. “That is not how people vote… They’re going to vote on the basis of their views of the Second Amendment. So I don’t think the NRA has been weakened to the point some people are arguing because in the end it comes down to the voters.”