ThinkProgress filed this report from Pittsburgh, PA at the NRA’s annual convention.
President Obama has repeatedly said, while campaigning for the White House, and as president, that he firmly supports Americans’ right to own guns. As recently as last March, the subject came up during a press conference with Mexican President Felipe Calderon because of the large flow of American-made weapons going to drug cartels there. “I believe in the Second Amendment,” Obama said. “It does provide for Americans the right to bear arms for their protection, for their safety, for hunting, for a wide range of uses.”
Yet, the National Rifle Association instructs its members not to believe Obama’s words. Based on interviews ThinkProgress conducted with NRA members at the group’s annual conference in Pittsburgh this weekend, their strategy is working quite well:
ThinkProgress also talked to gun industry CEOs Ronnie Barrett and Pete Brownell, who are both on the NRA’s board of directors (listen to clips of the interviews here and here). Predictably, Barrett and Brownell said they don’t think Obama believes in the Second Amendment, but they couldn’t offer any evidence to support that view.
Even though gun regulations have actually loosened since Obama took office, Brownell wasn’t buying it. “I wouldn’t argue that,” he said. And when asked for specific pieces of legislation that have restricted gun rights, Brownell paused and then simply said, “The NRA has done a great job making America aware of what legislators are trying to do in banning firearms.”
As for Barrett, he outright acknowledged that the “perception” that Obama doesn’t support gun rights “goes a long way”:
TP: So you said that actions are different than words, in terms of what Obama said about the Second Amendment. Have you seen any action that maybe perhaps leads him away, leads you to believe that he doesn’t support it?
BARRETT: I have but I’m not ready to get into that right now. I just don’t feel real good about it and perception goes a long way doesn’t it.
Indeed, that perception does go a long way, as the NRA has benefited significantly from increased membership since Obama took office. Richard Feldman, a former NRA insider, said that the NRA’s main target is “its members checkbooks.” “Today,” Feldman wrote in 2007, “the association’s primary business is fundraising. And nothing keeps the fundraising machine whirring more effectively than convincing the faithful that they’re a pro-gun David facing down an invincible anti-gun Goliath.” And for now, that invincible anti-gun Goliath is President Obama. Indeed, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre said this weekend that “Obama will wait until a second term frees him from political concerns to gut Second Amendment rights.”