My mailed invitation to join the NRA is headed "Dear Friend," and is signed by Wayne LaPierre, the organization's executive vice-president and CEO. That greeting seems overly familiar and grossly impersonal, all at the same time.
I have never owned a gun of any sort and have never contributed to any organization nor subscribed to any publication even remotely connected to the NRA. In fact, the only time in my life that I ever held a gun in my hand and fired one at a rifle range is when I was in compulsory Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps at Loras Academy back in the 1950s. I learned to take apart and reassemble a World War II MI carbine, as well as to march and drill with one. Even though I rose to the rank of major and executive officer of our battalion, and won the Chicago Tribune Award for excellence in military science and tactics, ROTC was not one of the most pleasant experiences of my high school career. I have never touched a handgun of any description, unless you count playing "Cowboys and Indians" as a kid. We had "cap pistols" that made noise and gave off the smoke and smell of ersatz gun powder. I never even asked for a "BB Gun" for Christmas like Ralphie in "A Christmas Story," although I am sure that my parents would have refused, probably because they were afraid that "you will shoot your eye out." My father, who grew up on a farm in Iowa, told of people that he knew who had been seriously wounded or even killed by the "unloaded" shotguns that some of his neighbors kept behind their kitchen doors. Besides that, I am a long-time, card- carrying member of the Wisconsin Democratic Party,belong to more progressive organizations and subscribe to more progressive publications than I can remember , and have signed numerous petitions advocating almost every kind of gun control imaginable. My ideological orientation virtually screams from my blog posts, Facebook info, and other devices of social media, as well as from my myriad publications and letters to the editor.
So what?, you.ask. My point is this: If the NRA sponsored a contest or a survey to find the people least likely to join their organization, I flatter myself that I would at the very top of the shortest possible list. So how on earth did the NRA possibly single me out as a potential member? How in hell do they generate their mailing list?
Regardless of the answer to that puzzle, I have to admit that the NRA offered me a lot more incentives to join than I have ever gotten from other organization. To begin with, the invitation offered me a substantial discount just for joining: $25.00 for one year (normally $35.00) and $70.00 for three years, instead of the normal $85.00.
It was also very careful to inform me that "contributions, gifts, or membership dues made or paid to the National Rifle Association of America are not refundable or transferable and are not deductible as charitable contributions for Federal income tax purposes." It also acknowledged that "$3.75 of the membership dues are designated for magazine subscription," and that I could choose among American Rifleman, American Hunter, or Freedom First..American Rifleman is also available in Digital or Premium Digital editions. The latter also includes several bonuses, including instant videos, links to other sites, photo galleries, interactive ads, social media sharing, sound, animation, and "special editions." The digital edition is narrated by a professional quality voice-over which assures me that subscribing puts the viewer "in the driver's seat," and saves the organization the cost of printing and postage which can then be applied to the "fight for firearms freedom." There is also a "juniors only" magazine called Insights.
In addition, new members also receive $7,500 of insurance, free admission to the NRA's Annual Guns, Gear, and Outfitter Show, membership card and decal, and invitations to "special events and more." New members can also have a choice among three free gifts: a Rosewood Handle Knife, a Black and Gold Duffel Bag, and a Digital Camo Duffel Bag. They can also contribute to the Military Membership Fund, shop at an NRA Stores, access its video-on-demand archive, Wayne LaPierre's daily blog, live web casts on NRANews.com, and the NRA Car Buying Service, as well as shop at NRA Stores. By calling toll free numbers, members can also receive a Visa credit card and checks bearing the NRA logo, as well as property, casualty, auto, home, and term life insurance. They can also receive a 15% discount from Beverly Hills International, Inc. [located, oddly enough, in Boca Raton, Florida], "which supplies corporate awards, business gifts, and promotional products to companies and organizations worldwide." And that is only the tip of an iceberg of "perqs" and "bennies".
Members are also eligible for a veritable cornucopia of additional Members Only Discounts, including those from: Lifelock Identity Theft Protection, North American and Allied Van Lines, and Air Brook Limousine Service ("A chauffeur-driven full service featuring luxury sedans, stretch limos, vans, mini -buses and full size motor coaches, including day trips, tours and packages."); I did not have the intestinal fortitude to print out the entire list, but I did determine that, if I had, it would run to 68 pages with several items on each page. Even more informative and awe-inspiring is the roster of "NRA Affiliate Discounts": MoveBenefits that include mortgage and real estate services, Outdoor Affinity Telecom, bsecure Family Protection, NRA wine club, holiday cards, and video collections, Lifeline screening, hearing benefits, prescription drug plans, health services, Hertz, Avis, Budget, Enterprise, National. and Alamo car rental services, Baymont, Knights Inn, Best Western, Hawthorn, Microtel, Howard Johnson, Ramada, Super 8, Wyndham, Travelodge, and Wingate hotel chains. Then there are the NRA Licensed Products that include Gun Safes by Liberty, Second Amendment Revolvers, Moose ATV and UtV Products, Resistol Hats, Sportsman's Bench Products, and T-Shirts By Buck Wear. You can also shop online at <NRAProducts.com> and access NRA Program Materials Center, Fold-Up Duck Decoys, Blue Book Publications, and Palladium Press.
To broadcast its message as widely and completely as possible, the NRA maintains no less than 40 web sites, including Business Alliance, Civil Rights Defense Fund, Firearms For Freedom, Gunsmithing, Hunters Rights, National Firearms Museum, NRA Country, NRA Digital Network, Life Of Duty, Women's Network, Political Victory Fund, Shooting Illustrated, and NRA Instructors and Programs. There is also a membership recruiting program called "NRA Recruiter" that invites members to "join the thousands of NRA certified instructors, affiliated clubs, independent businesses, and dedicated members who are already participating," This program "provides a great opportunity to not only strengthen the NRA by increasing membership, but also to earn money at the same time." There is no cost to enroll and "participants are furnished with NRA recruiting materials, as well as effective recruiting techniques.?
On a less mercenary level, the organization proclaims that "the NRA is you," millions of Americans representing a diverse contrast of age, sex, race, and religion. You are patriots one and all. You believe in the Constitution,
staunch in the defense of your rights, and you actively pursue some of the country's finest traditions--Hunting and Sports Shooting. Since its incorporation in 1871, the NRA has grown as a service organization involved in all aspects of the shooting sports and a proud defender of the Bill of Rights[at least the second half of the Second Amendment]." Just in case that lofty appeal is not sufficiently motivating, the organization's pitch reminds prospective members that they will also be eligible for "a wide range of benefits that add up to savings, convenience, and fun." For many Americans, the NRA seems little different from the myriad fraternal/benevolent societies that have always been a distinguishing hallmark of the United States, except that none of the others offer such a dazzling array of member benefits.
Of course it is impossible to calculate how much of the NRA's ability to recruit and retain members is a product of its incredible benefits package. Its very existence, however, suggests strongly that the organization is afraid to rely entirely upon its ideological orientation for success. Moreover, even a casual reading of the list of discounts, benefits, and perquisites outlined above, and of the roster of mainstream businesses and organizations that are engaged in providing those member benefits, strikingly demonstrates the degree to which the NRA has succeeded in making itself seem a "normal" and non-threatening part of our economic and social fabric. By bonding its members to an "all or nothing" dictum of gun ownership, it has effectively forestalled possible defections over such proposals as a ban on automatic assault weapons or opposition to "concealed carry" laws. It success at this strategy is demonstrated by the fact that only 44% of Americans currently support stricter guns laws, compared to
78% in 1990. Since that time, it has expanded to more than four million members with an operating budget of some $300 million, an increase of about 400% since 1990. According to a recent article on the Huffington Post, the NRA has 140 times more dues paying members than does its opposite number-- the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence--and spent 1,000 times more money on the 2012 election. Although it received "a ton of money from gun manufacturers and vendors (including those who manufacture assault weapons and high capacity magazines), such as Arsenal, Beretta, Browing, Brownells, DPMS Panther Arms, Glock, Remington Arms, Smith and Wesson, Sturm, Ruger &Co., and Winchester", the "majority of its funds still come from ordinary citizens--from kits 4.3 million members." Small wonder that the NRA is so attractive to so many different people, and so intimidating to so many politicians. After all, "nobody shoots Santa Claus."