The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

No group is less supportive of the NRA’s policies than black Americans

National Rifle Association spokeswoman Dana Loesch attacked the media coverage of gun violence at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb. 22, 2018. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: JIM WATSON/The Washington Post)

The National Rifle Association has a popularity problem — especially after the Florida school shooting that left 17 people dead.

“If you think Americans are largely unmoved by the mass shootings, you should think again. Support for stricter gun laws is up 19 points in little more than 2 years,” Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said in a statement on the release of a survey on gun control in February.

“In the last two months, some of the biggest surges in support for tightening gun laws comes from demographic groups you may not expect, independent voters, men and whites with no college degree.”

But no other demographic group seems to have a lower view of the gun rights association than black Americans.

In a Quinnipiac poll released after the Florida shooting, Americans were asked: “Do you think that the NRA, or National Rifle Association, supports policies that are good for the U.S. or supports policies that are bad for the U. S.?”

More than half — 51 percent — of all Americans chose “bad.” But black voters were especially pessimistic about the NRA with eight in 10 calling the group's policies bad. That number was 72 percent in October 2017.

To be fair, many black Americans have not been convinced that the NRA had their best interests in mind long before last month's shooting, especially in the aftermath of shootings of black gun owners. The organization went through an internal struggle over the police killing of Philando Castile, who was carrying a licensed firearm. It waited a day and a half to comment, then promised “more to say once all the facts were known.” Later it said Castile was carrying illegally because he was also in possession of marijuana.

But black conservatives like Candace Owens, director of urban engagement for Turning Point USA, a conservative student movement, have defended the NRA, claiming it has always been invested in helping black Americans protect their civil rights. The NRA often refers to itself as the “oldest civil rights organization.”

“It's very important that black Americans take a stand and defend the NRA in the way they have defended us,” Owens, an NRA member, said on Fox News.

Conservative radio host and NRA member Stacy Washington shared the same sentiment, telling a Parkland student and gun-rights activist to learn his history.

However, activist Brittany Packnett said that not only does the NRA not have a history of defending black Americans, but the group only seems to reference gun violence in black and Latino communities to further its own narrative.

“Every time we talk about gun violence in this country, we hear the same racist dog whistles that try to blame America's fascination with guns on black and brown communities,” she said in a Mic opinion piece. “At the end of the day, the NRA has had plenty of opportunities to care about black and brown communities, but they don't really care about Chicago or Baltimore or people that look like me. They're using us as political pawns.”

NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch did address Chicago in her CPAC speech, but maybe not in the way activists wanted: “Crying white mothers are ratings gold to you and many in the legacy media in the back. And notice I said crying white mothers because there are thousands of grieving black mothers in Chicago every weekend, and you don’t see town halls for them, do you?”

But does the NRA actually need to win the support of black Americans? It is not exactly clear how many dues-paying members the NRA has, because it doesn't publish annual membership figures beyond frequent claims of “5 million members.”

The Quinnipiac poll suggests that Americans in general are increasingly disagreeing with the NRA's stances on issues, but it does not yet appear that declining popularity is leading to a shift in the group's policy positions. And if having most Americans being critical of the NRA is not a large enough incentive for the group to alter its policies, the lack of support from black Americans — who make up less than 15 percent of the population — might not be significant enough to cause the group to re-examine its values.