The National Rifle Association’s four flagship magazines added nearly 350,000 subscribers between February and June of this year, reversing more than a year of decline and suggesting a surge in recruits following the February school shooting in Parkland, Fla.
The gun rights group does not share detailed information about its membership numbers, and in the past has been accused of inflating its self-reported membership to give an impression of political clout. As a result, media organizations have often used the group’s magazine subscriptions as a proxy for membership.
All NRA members are entitled to a complimentary print or digital subscription to one of four magazines — American Rifleman, American Hunter, America’s First Freedom and Shooting Illustrated. As part of its outreach to advertisers, the NRA releases subscriber numbers for each of the four magazines on a semiannual basis. Those numbers are independently verified by the Alliance for Audited Media, a third-party media consulting firm.
The NRA’s latest AAM statements, which cover January through June, show total magazine subscriptions increasing from 3,746,153 to 4,066,198 over that period. Much of that increase comes from Shooting Illustrated, which was added to the NRA’s roster in 2016. This year marks the first time the NRA has included it in AAM statements.
Monthly figures going back several years show that subscriptions to the other three magazines peaked in October 2016 and had been steadily declining through 2017. But the trends show an inflection point in April and May of this year, after which the numbers began to rise again. That time period corresponds to an April pledge by the group to sign up 100,000 new members in 100 days.
Andrew Arulanandam, an NRA spokesman, said in an interview that the group currently has “approximately 5.5 million dues-paying members.” He said that figure is higher than the 4 million magazine subscribers because some members decline to choose a magazine, and others opt for digital-only subscriptions that are not included in the AAM statements.
In August, an online article in America’s First Freedom magazine claimed the NRA had added more than 1 million new members since “just before” the Parkland school shooting. The AAM statement shows total magazine subscriptions fell between January and April of 2018 and rebounded in May and June by about 383,000.
While the Parkland shooting galvanized supporters of stricter gun-control laws, other evidence suggests many gun owners were similarly spurred to action. In the month following the shooting, for instance, donations to the NRA’s Political Victory Fund surged to a 21st-century high.
Beyond Parkland, the gun rights group has had a rocky year, marred by controversies over donations from Russia, links to an accused Russian spy and potentially improper coordination with a Republican Senate campaign.
But the group’s magazine subscription numbers suggest it is not facing a crisis of membership, and that, if anything, membership is growing at a healthy pace in 2018.
This story has been updated.