Jovan Belcher And The Media Myth Of NRA Dominance

NRAWith every tragic shooting comes the same series of media narratives. Some in the right-wing media will proclaim that now is not the time for a discussion about the larger issue of gun violence, and the steps that can be taken to prevent it. Other conservatives will claim that the tragedy could have been averted if the victims were armed. And inevitably, someone in the traditional media will push the myth that no action can be taken because of the supposed power of the National Rifle Association.

National Journal Editor-in-Chief Reid Wilson is the latest to go down the latter path. In a December 13 column, he writes in response to the “missing conversation” that followed  NFL linebacker Jovan Belcher's murder of his girlfriend and suicide and the subsequent response from sports journalists:

The president is unlikely to devote political capital to any sort of serious push for new gun-control legislation. Though the National Rifle Association's power has waned from its peak, Republicans remain firmly on the NRA's side while Democrats remain deeply scarred by the gun-rights group's success in ousting pro-gun-control legislators.

While Wilson acknowledges that the NRA's power has diminished, he does not question the central premise of the myth of the NRA's electoral dominance. While reporters have cited this phenomenon for years, there is little evidence to support the notion that the group has an outsized role in winning elections.

The gun lobby had an abysmal 2012 election cycle. They spent more than $11 million to defeat President Obama, warning that on Election Day, “Americans will vote either to defend or surrender freedom in the most consequential national decision in U.S. history.” They also failed to elect their preferred candidate in six of their seven top targets for the U.S. Senate. And more than two-thirds of incumbents who lost their seats in the House of Representatives were backed by the NRA, including four Democrats.

This isn't a new trend. A 2011 analysis by American Prospect contributing editor Paul Waldman (who previously worked for Media Matters) concluded that both NRA endorsements and campaign contributions have a negligible impact on elections.

In his study of House races over four election cycles, Waldman determined that Republican incumbents, Democratic incumbents, and Republican candidates in open seat races did not receive a statistically significant advantage if endorsed by the NRA. NRA-backed Republican challengers to Democratic incumbents get a “small boost” of two percentage points than similar candidates without the endorsement.

Waldman concludes in his analysis that because most NRA-endorsed challengers had defeated Democratic incumbents by a wider margin, “in the last four federal elections, in which the NRA made a total of 1038 endorsements in House races, the group could claim credit for a grand total of 4 wins.”

The NRA hasn't had outsized “success” defeating Democratic incumbents. They have had outsized success convincing the media that they are responsible when Republicans succeed but are not a factor when they fail.