Joe Henderson: NRA boycott shows pressure can work both ways

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The NRA boycott is gaining corporate converts every day, so maybe it’s time ask the gun-rights lobby this simple question: How does it feel?

The National Rifle Association grew into an organization with outsized influence because it keeps lawmakers in line with the threat of political and economic pressure. Its leaders have long understood that politicians can be controlled with those strong-arm tactics.

Or, as Morgan Freeman once famously said in The Shawshank Redemption, “That’s all it takes really – pressure, and time.

In recent days though, the reverse is becoming reality. In the wake of the slaughter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, major sponsors are disassociating with the NRA and even some political leaders – most notably Florida Gov. Rick Scott – offered proposals they wouldn’t have made a month ago.

Scott now wants the minimum age to buy a gun in Florida increased to 21. The confessed killer in Broward County is 19 years old and legally bought the AR-15-style rifle used in the massacre. He also has refused to support the NRA proposal to arm teachers in public schools.

The NRA, naturally, opposes raising the minimum age to buy a weapon. In the Miami Herald, lobbyist Marion Hammer dismissed it as “political eye wash” and said it will “punish law-abiding gun owners.”

Hammer, by the way, was just profiled in a meticulously reported story in The New Yorker. Florida lawmakers, particularly Republicans, are well acquainted with her influence, but even that raises a question worth pondering.

The NRA, according to the profile, has about 300,000 members in Florida, a state with more than 20 million people.

That amounts to 1.5 percent of the population, but Hammer’s ability to summon NRA members en masse to meet any perceived waffling by puppet politicians makes that number seem a lot higher.

She has been able to keep her team in line because opponents have never been able to organize a serious counter challenge. This boycott suggests that might be changing.

The hashtag #BoycottNRA has been attacked by conservatives, who promise companies that go along with it will pay dearly. Major airlines like Delta and United announced they will no longer offer special deals to NRA members, and some hotel chains and credit card companies are doing the same.

The big showdown is with Amazon, YouTube and Google, which thus far have resisted calls to sever ties with the NRA that includes showing its videos online.

Determined opponents have called for such things as canceling memberships to Amazon’s lucrative Prime program. If that begins to catch on, the public backlash against the NRA could turn into an avalanche.

The NRA is fighting back, of course, but we go back to the numbers. It claims to have 5 million members in a nation of about 325 million. We’re back on that approximately 1.5 percent number again.

That also assumes every NRA member is in lockstep with the loudest voices in the organization. In the aftermath of the Stoneman Douglas killings, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

A recent Quinnipiac poll showed Americans favor tougher gun laws by 66-31 percent, the highest level ever. It is also telling that gun owners also support that by 50-44 percent.

Will it work?

Well, if any gun restrictions get through the Florida Legislature, mild as they probably will be, that’s a start. Democrats will be running hard for state offices and congressional seats on anti-gun theme, and that really could change things.

If the NRA boycott spreads, it could impact the organization’s ability to distribute pro-gun literature and send campaign donations to favored politicians.

The seeds of change are there.

Public opinion is turning, some reliable politicians are deserting, and determined Stoneman Douglas students are eloquently demanding change.

That’s how it works.

Pressure. And time.

The NRA, finally, is learning what its like to be on the other side of that game.

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.


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