The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The NRA appears to pull old lawmaker grades from its website

President Trump gestures to the audience after speaking at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in Dallas in May. (Sue Ogrocki/AP)

Until recently, members of the National Rifle Association could view past ratings for political candidates on the website for the organization’s political action committee. Those old grades, which often were used to categorize the NRA-friendliness of sitting lawmakers, are no longer available to logged-in members. A drop-down menu that once displayed past years is now empty.

Jennifer Baker, a spokeswoman for the NRA, initially denied that any change had been made to the organization’s system.

“Nothing has changed with our archives,” she said when we spoke by phone Monday. Told that past grades were no longer available even to members, she speculated that it might be “an IT glitch” on our end.

Another NRA employee indicated that he was aware of the change when a Washington Post reporter called over the weekend to find past grades for legislative candidates. He confirmed that the past grades were no longer online and weren’t available elsewhere.

He also offered a possible rationale.

“I think our enemies were using that,” he said. He did not give his name.

In the wake of high-profile shootings in the United States, letter grades have often been used as a way to categorize elected officials as hostile to new regulations on gun ownership or as an indication of willingness to take on the powerful interest group.

Baker acknowledged that lawmakers themselves used the NRA’s ratings in this way.

“Obviously people tout their old grades and say their own grades, but for us it’s a service, a voting guide, relevant to that specific election,” she said.

She reiterated, though, that past grades were specific to a candidate and an election year.

“Our grades are a member service,” she explained. “Our members vote, and one of the services that we provide them is to assess — to the best that anyone can — the candidates’ position on the Second Amendment and make a determination what candidates in a very specific election are the best candidates to protect and defend their constitutional rights.” The grades are issued as close to the election as possible to have the most relevance to that election.

Pressed on the rationale for the change to the website, Baker first expressed frustration at the question.

“I don’t understand — why are you asking? What does it matter to you?” she asked. “The grades are not relevant after the election.”

She then reiterated that she didn’t know that any change had occurred, indicated that she would check whether it had, and promised to call back once she had an answer. She didn’t. A subsequent email didn’t receive a reply.

People calling the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, the contact point for the organization’s political efforts, hear a recorded prompt before their call is connected.

“Thank you for calling the NRA-ILA grass-roots division,” it says. “Due to recent attacks on our Second Amendment, we are experiencing high call volume. Please be sure to call your lawmakers to express your opposition to these latest anti-gun proposals.”