The Women’s March organization has marched and campaigned against gun violence and in favor of gun control, frequently butting heads with the National Rifle Association (NRA). Recently, the Women’s March tweeted the following “3 facts about the NRA:”
- The NRA was the single largest donor to 45’s [Donald Trump’s] presidential campaign.
- The NRA claims to defend all people’s second amendment rights but remains silent when the rights of black and brown people are violated.
- The NRA board of directors is almost entirely white and male.
But these “facts” may not be nearly as factual as the Women’s March would have you believe. Let’s examine them in order.
The NRA was the single largest donor to 45’s [Donald Trump’s] presidential campaign.
The website Open Secrets bills itself as a nonpartisan resource of “clear and unbiased information about money’s role in politics and policy.” At the present time, the homepage features an article crediting the Women’s March and other movements as a triumph of female activism, and another article capitalizing on Parkland and other mass shootings to discuss pro-gun rights money. Suffice it to say it is unlikely that this source would underscore the amount or influence of pro-gun money in politics.
Yet still, the site reports a total of less than $1.1 million spent by the NRA on all 2016 candidates – republican, democrat, presidential, congressional, and gubernatorial. Moreover, it estimates the total of all pro-gun rights money (from the NRA or any other source) to candidate Trump specifically at less than $1 million (which is less than the amount of pro-gun control donations to candidate Clinton). These figures suggest that the most the NRA could have possibly donated to Trump is around $1 million, a gross overestimate that assumes all 2016 NRA donations went to Trump and all 2016 pro-gun rights donations to Trump were from the NRA.
On the other hand, the site values Trump’s total campaign in excess of $333 million, of which $66 million were provided by Trump himself and nearly $134 million by individual donations.
Now, if you too find these figures somewhat higher than $1 million, your abilities in the complex arithmetic of comparing two numbers to each other have surpassed those of the Women’s March organization. Even several pro-Trump PACs’ donations exceeded $20 million.
Could the overzealous marchers perhaps be referring to the $30.3 million Open Secrets claims the NRA spent “in support of” Trump? This figure includes any money spent advertising in support of Trump or in opposition to Hillary, and cannot be honestly referred to as a donation, as asserted by the tweet. Even still, the $30 million in NRA money is dwarfed by both individual contributions and Trump’s own self-financing.
Thus, there is no reasonable way that the Women’s March could have arrived at the conclusion that “The NRA was the single largest donor to 45’s presidential campaign,” save simply making up a statistic and hoping nobody would bother to check.
The NRA claims to defend all people’s second amendment rights but remains silent when the rights of black and brown people are violated.
The second claim reads more as opinion than fact. But is this opinion justified?
From the organization’s page on the NRA, allegations of racism against “black and brown people” are twofold. The first concerns the NRA’s alleged inaction in response to the police shooting of black legal-gun owner Philando Castile. The NRA has defended its response to Castile’s death by asserting that, since he illegally possessed marijuana while carrying his gun, he was technically not a law-abiding gun owner and so the NRA avoided involvement. Alleging racism on the basis of the NRA’s handling of this one case would be debatable at best, so the Women’s March continues with more examples.
Next, the page accuses the NRA’s “fist of truth” advertisement of “demonizing people of color” as well as inciting “armed conflict” against “progressives and any of us who exercise our First Amendment right to peaceably assemble and exercise our free speech in protest.” The advertisement does not call for violence or even mention people of color. In fact, the only person of color featured prominently is a black police officer standing peacefully, presumably watching over a protest.
When the NRA released a pointed video rejecting these accusations, the Women’s March again accused the NRA of inciting violence: “This is the kind of inflammatory speech that leads to acts of hate and violence.” Aside from the fact that, while certainly emotionally charged, neither NRA video called for violence against any person, this statement that “inflammatory speech … leads to acts of hate and violence” sounds slightly hypocritical coming from a webpage that defended its own right to free speech two paragraphs earlier.
Certainly, the women’s march would need to provide more solid evidence to back up either accusations of inciting violence or demonizing people of color.
The NRA board of directors is almost entirely white and male.
Mother Jones reported on the NRA board’s supposed overwhelming whiteness in 2013 and 2018. The more recent stats tell that 83 percent of its 76 board members are men, and 90 percent are white. On inspection, one could conclude that the NRA board is more overstocked with crackers than the grain aisle at Whole Foods. But in reality, these numbers appear to match the general demographics of U.S. gun-owners.
Mother Jones’s own report acknowledges that NRA membership is mostly male. As evidence, they note that 85 percent of its magazine readers are male. Furthermore, a 2014 pew research poll indicates that many self-reported gun owners happen to be white and male. 38 percent of men responding to the poll reported owning a gun, compared to 31 percent of women. Additionally, 41 percent of white responders claimed gun ownership compared to only 19 percent of black responders. This, compounded with the fact that white people make up a substantially larger proportion of the U.S. population than black people, suggests that far more white people than black people own guns. If we assume the pew poll sample was representative of the entire U.S. population, more than 12 times as many white americans would own guns than black americans (using 2010 census numbers). Without a more comprehensive study, it’s difficult to ascertain what percentages of gun owners are white, black, male, or female. But it is reasonable to expect the NRA board demographics are representative of U.S. gun-owning demographics. Even if the NRA were to select U.S. gun-owners at random, more men than women, and far more white people than black people, would end up on the board.
The Women’s March and other left-of-center political movements are strategically conflating the NRA, whose stated goal is to support the rights of law-abiding gun owners, with recent and past shooting events. At the national and state level, we must always make complicated decisions balancing gun rights with public safety and regarding what role lobbying groups such as the NRA should play in making those decisions. Proliferating misleading or outright falsified statistics and presenting thinly-defended opinions as “facts” over social media only serves to make this task more difficult.