The Power of Pressure Groups: Spotlight on the National Rifle Association

U.S. History Tutorial

The Power of Pressure Groups: Spotlight on the National Rifle Association


A “pressure group” is an organization with a special interest or agenda that actively seeks to influence government policy or legislation. A pressure group is usually non-profit and achieves its legislative objectives through lobbying Congress, staging protests, or organizing boycotts.

Sample Problem

In achieving their legislative goals, pressure groups can advance society;or harm society if their political influence is too great.

The Sierra Club and the NAACP are prime examples of powerful pressure groups who advanced their interests and simultaneously benefitted American Society as a whole.

In contrast,the National Rifle Association (NRA) is a powerful pressure group whose influence is regarded as a threat to public safety.


Since the tragic school shooting in Florida on February 14,2018, polls show a marked shift in public opinion about gun control.

Curiously, there is no rush to submit proposed gun control legislation for debate in the House of Representatives. There is however, the executive branch talking about background checks, the mentally ill and arming teachers.

The President openly criticized Congress and accused them of being scared of the NRA. A few days later, he held a meeting with NRA president Wayne LaPierre.

It is astounding to observe the head of the NRA being treated like a foreign head of state. Adding insult to injury, Georgia Lt Governor Casey Cagle vowed to punish Delta Airlines for cancelling its NRA members discount.

When Delta refused to reinstate the NRA discount, Georgia legislators scuttled a plane fuel exemption worth 40 million. What would motivate a Lt. Governor to impose an economic sanction against Delta that is worse than the Cuban trade embargo?

Invariably,the NRA is one of the most powerful pressure groups because they employ several influence tactics at once. The NRA pays lobbyists to persuade members of Congress. It directly contributes to the campaign funds of individual legislators.

In addition to lobbying and direct campaign contributions, the NRA created a political action committee to indirectly fund legislators. Finally, it contributes dark money to campaign funds. Dark Money refers to special political action committees that are not required to disclose donors names.

Regarding the 2016 election cycle, the NRA reported direct expenditures of 50 million to political campaigns. One can only imagine the amount of dark money they gave to candidates.

Opponents of the NRA

Survivors of the tragic mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school have banned together and essentially created a single issue pressure group,#NeverAgain.These students have taken their fight against assault rifles directly to the NRA.

Moreover, Corporate America has found itself on the right side of history. Dick’s Sporting Goods anounced its decision to stop selling assault rifles. Walmart raised the minimum age to purchase their guns from 18 to 21.

Delta Airlines and Bank of America cancelled their NRA member discounts. Hence, corporations have stopped playing with the NRA, taken their marbles, and gone home.


The best short term counter-moves against the NRA are state by state gun control measures and citizen driven state ballot initiatives.

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