2019 NRA Leadership Forum
The 2019 NRA Leadership Forum in Indianapolis, Indiana / Stephen Gutowski

Analysis: The NRA’s Membership Problem

In testimony during Thursday’s NRA’s bankruptcy trial, CEO Wayne LaPierre said the gun-rights group currently has about 4.89 million dues-paying members, with about 2 million being lifetime members. That makes it by far the biggest gun group in America, but it also underscores a serious problem.

In 2013, LaPierre first announced the group had reached five million members. He said the group had added half a million members in the previous six months alone. He then promised to double the NRA’s numbers.

“By the time we’re finished, the NRA must and will be 10 million strong,” USA Today reported LaPierre saying at the group’s 2013 annual meeting.

Eight years later and the membership has not just stagnated but shrunk. While the Census shows the population grew by about 3.8 percent over that period, the NRA membership has apparently shrunk by about 2.2 percent.

If the NRA’s membership has hit a ceiling, that’s significant, and it’s a bad sign for the most influential gun-rights group on the planet. It’s also a bad sign for NRA leadership’s argument in their current argument in the bankruptcy case. NRA leadership has repeatedly argued the LaPierre is the driving force behind fundraising at the organization, and it could not operate anywhere as effectively without him. But LaPierre has not only failed to meet his self-set 2013 goal of doubling NRA membership; membership has actually receded by his own account.

I reached out to the NRA for comment on the membership numbers but did not hear back before publication.

A headline in the NRA’s America’s 1st Freedom magazine declared the group had reached 6 million members in August of 2018. The text of the article put it at “nearly 6 million” with “an increase of more than a million members since just before the Parkland shooting” earlier that year. The next month, NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam told The Washington Post the number was back to “approximately 5.5 million dues-paying members.”

Three years later, it’s back down to less than 5 million.

Membership in political organizations like the NRA tends to increase in election years and decrease otherwise. Major pushes for new federal gun-control laws, like those after the Sandy Hook and Parkland shootings, also have an obvious effect on NRA membership. So, some fluctuation year to year should be expected, but it doesn’t explain the eight-year flatline the group has seen.

And the long-term trend should concern anyone who believes the NRA’s huge membership base is key to projecting the political power of gun owners. It’s the fact that millions of people are willing to pay the NRA money to be a member that gives it immense political influence. No other gun-related group on either side of the issue comes anywhere close to having that sort of dedicated fan base. Not Everytown for Gun Safety or Giffords or Gun Owners of America or anyone else.

With long-time NRA antagonist Joe Biden now in the Oval Office and attacking the group by name, there should be ample opportunity for the group to grow membership depending on how it emerges from the legal troubles it is currently entangled in. The NRA may be preoccupied with mere survival at this point, but they should turn an eye towards long-term growth as well. Forced dissolution would mean a quick death, but stagnation would mean a slow one.

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019


Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

Comments From Reload Members

17 Responses

  1. I gave up a life membership in the NRA when they celebrated the McClure-Volkner Act as a victory. The NRA harms the gun owner and the second amendment.

  2. Feel like there are better options. Gun Owners of America and Firearms Policy Coalition seem to be very aggressive defending gun rights with less drama and administrative costs.

  3. The problem with the NRA is its leadership. Too much stink about corruption seems as if the leadership has been enjoying the benefit of our dues more than we have.

  4. I think we need some clarification on the numbers. Are you saying that there are two components to membership? I.e., 4.89 “dues paying” (I resume annual) members and another 2 million life members? If so, then membership is obviously closer to 7 million members. And if that is the case, then in terms of political clout, that’s still pretty impressive. As to the financial contribution to the organization based on annual members, that may indeed be down.

  5. One nice thing about the NRA is that they distract the left from 2A organizations which are actually worth supporting. GOA and FPC are not known as widely as the NRA but do tremendous work.

  6. I bought into a lifetime membership a few years back. I’m disinclined to give them more money now until and unless I’m convinced they’ve cleaned up their act. For now, all they’ll get from me is occasional range time revenue. I’m sorry to say that, but my 2A donations are going to other organizations like VCDL and GOA. That’s just me, but I suspect there are a lot of others who feel similarly.

  7. Until LaPierre and his cohorts are gone, the NRA will continue to decline and the “minor” gun orgs will continue to grow. GOA, SAF are adding members, as they bring lawsuits in defense of the 2nd Amendment. Meanwhile, state orgs are taking up the responsibilities the NRA dropped at the state and local level.
    Virginia Citizens Defense League is a prime example. Most of the good state laws passed and the bad laws defeated, has all been the result of VCDL’s efforts. You would think the NRA would be fighting tooth-and-nail in its own backyard, but they have been conspicuously absent, except to claim VCDL’s successes as their own and beg for money to “defend our rights”. Many state orgs have used VDCL as a template and are now doing the yeoman work of protecting 2nd Amendment rights on the state & local level.

    1. VCDL is a perfect example of small, but powerful 2A groups with laser-like focus on the levers of government that prevent the anti-2A groups from gaining any momentum. Since politicians are like weathervanes, keeping the momentum on our side is the only way we get politicians to enact pro-gun laws like constitutional carry which 30-years ago was seen as dangerous, radical, pro-murder, etc…

      We can’t stop at constitutional carry though, the next frontier should be invalidating new federal gun laws, something which is already gaining momentum at the state level.

    2. In Minnesota, the Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance for the period 1989 thru 2015 preferred the NRA stay FAR FAR FAR away. They were only useful when WE called them in behind the scenes. After we got “MUST” issue carry through, the NRA abandoned our chief author and she LOST her reelection. WAY TO GO WAYNE.

      NRA is poison if your state has competent locals DO do the job.

  8. The leadership is as crooked as a dog’s hind leg. Members need to force them out. NRA will never receive another dime from me as long as LaPierre is around in any capacity.

  9. The NRA had “Four Million” members in 2000 when I and Neal Knox were purged from the Board for pointing out that “the Emperor had no clothes”. During my 9 years on the Board no Director except one – the chairman of the membership committee – had ANY real data. Certainly not the Finance committe on which I served. It was like a crooked shell game.

    Twenty years with ZERO net gain PROVES one thing. Wayne is an expensive empty suit. Off to Goodwill with him!

  10. Something I don’t understand: Why is the NRA board claiming Wayne is critical to fundraising and trying to keep him around when it ought to be obvious to them he is a liability and needs to be defenestrated?

  11. There has not been any gun control legislation passed without the support of the NRA. Why would anyone who believes that the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed ever consider supporting the NRA?

  12. My husband paid for his lifetime membership in the NRA over two decades ago. For at least the past 15 years they continually solicit for more money. During the past few years, they have continually sent him membership renewal notices, threatening that each publication was his last and he needed to renew now to continue received membership benefits. During the past few months, there has been absolutely NO communication from them, including the magazines he formerly received. He has disliked LaPierre, too. He stated his disgust at been goaded into renewing a membership that he paid for. He would no longer ever consider supporting them.

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