Why We Matter to Politicians
It’s sometimes hard for an activist who has the opportunity to speak with a lawmaker one-on-one to articulate exactly why gun owners deserve their attention among the many interest groups fighting for recognition. I have been asked by both politicians and voters just how many NRA members are active in the Bucks County area, but that’s not a number that is publicly available or that actually matters in the long run.
See, there are a number of factors that reveal why strict NRA membership is a poor measure of pro-gun sentiment. First, there are several groups active at the local, state, and federal level. For many with a limited income, they will often choose the most local organization they can for their membership dollars. Others feel that local or state issues take priority, and may focus their attention on those groups even though NRA is often involved at those levels as well. Second, NRA membership fluctuates between more than 3 million and a little less than 5 million at any given time. As people feel their gun rights are threatened, they tend to step up their involvement. When they get comfortable, they step back from the fight instead of helping us push for more progress on the issue. However, more than 30 million people actually believe they are members of the NRA. This comes from confusion that taking a training course certified by the NRA makes them a member for life or believing that signing up for one year is good for life.
The people who believe they are members of NRA even if their membership is lapsed still look to NRA endorsements and other information from the group about what is happening to their gun rights. They may get it from magazines left at their gun club, email alerts, or updates from their local sportsmen’s club newsletters. They still matter at election time because their votes can be swayed on matters of our Second Amendment rights, yet they would not turn up in a count of strict & current NRA members.
In Pennsylvania, we can use another number to indicate interest in firearms freedom when talking to our local politicians. It’s still far from a perfect number, but it’s relevant nonetheless. We can look to concealed carry licenses issued in each county to give them insight into how many constituents are weighing a politician’s support of our rights. No, the numbers don’t recognize actual gun owners in a county, but they are a representation of gun owners who care about the issues of personal protection and the shooting sports enough to undergo extra background checks and expenses.
In Bucks County, we can use the data reported to the State Police and add up each of the last five years available to give an approximate number. Right now, it shows that more 26,000 citizens have licenses to carry in the county. When you factor in sportsmen’s firearms permits which are very uncommon, it still adds nearly 1,000 more people to the number.
Even if we know that there are far more gun owners than that in the area, no politician representing the area will want to risk making nearly 27,000 voters upset enough to vote for a primary challenger or challenger from another party. For those challenged by anti-rights candidates, there are still enough votes on the line that they want a record that gives gun owners a bit of extra inspiration to come out to the polls.
For those of you who want to do the calculations for your own county, you can download reports back to 1999 from this site. Remember, the last five years of data is the more up-to-date number.