Does the NRA Really Have 4.5 Million Members?
Adam Rifkin stashed this in Movements
Stashed in: @iamjohnoliver
Writing in 2000, when the NRA claimed to have 3.6 million members, journalist Osha Gray Davidson speculated on some of the group's strategies for fluffing itself up:
Two years ago, David Gross, then an NRA board member, confided to me that a substantial number of the group's 1 million Life Members are, well, dead. "There just isn't that much incentive to go find out when someone passes away," Gross explained. "Not when the cost of maintaining (a dead member) is minimal and when they add to your membership list."
Who else is included in that figure of 3.6 million? I may be—although I haven't been a member for years. Not long ago, I received an NRA form letter stating that in recognition of my previous commitment to the Second Amendment, the gun group had granted me an honorary membership. The mailing even included an NRA membership card embossed with my name.
It's all part of the NRA's campaign of smoke and mirrors to make itself appear more formidable in Washington, where appearance often trumps reality. The NRA leadership must offer a silent prayer of thanks to the gods of journalistic sloth and credulity every time a reporter repeats that figure of 3.6 million members and the words "record high."
The NRA Insurance offering claims closer to 3 million members:
The NRA's treasurer sent to members a mailing peddling a specialized insurance plan aimed at gun owners. The pitch stated that "with about 3 million NRA Members 'on our side of the table,' we negotiated a bargain price." Sugarmann has an intriguing theory why this number may be more credible than the one that the NRA routinely gives the press: The underwriter for the insurance plan was in California, where making "untrue, deceptive, or misleading" statements in insurance materials is outlawed.
The NRA claimed that it had added 100,000 new members in the weeks following he Sandy Hook massacre. "Our goal is to get to 5 million before this debate is over," a representative of the group told Politico.
This year John Oliver says the NRA has 5 million members but Planet Fitness has 8 million:
Another strong indication that the NRA's true size is closer to 3 million:
The NRA gives members a free subscription to one of four magazines: American Rifleman, American Hunter, America's 1st Freedom, or NRA InSights. The first three magazines are audited by the Alliance for Audited Media, which as of July gave them a combined paid circulation (including newsstand sales) of 3.1 million. NRA InSights is an online-only magazine for kids, with a circulation of 25,000. Though some NRA members may opt out of a free magazine, it's likely that others pay to subscribe to more than one of them. Add in the fact that non-NRA members can pick up the magazines on the newsstand, and the 3.1 million figure is almost certainly an upper-bound for the NRA's true size.
WaPo believes that the NRA membership is 3.1 million:
The publisher’s statements said 100 percent of the subscribers get the magazine as a result of their membership in the NRA. (The reports also indicate that a majority of members sign up only a year at a time.) The most recent statements are not yet publicly available online, but here’s American Rifleman’s statement for the period ended June 30, 2012.
More broadly, the reports show that there was a spike in NRA magazine circulation after President Obama was elected in 2008, with circulation climbing from 2.8 million in 2008 to a high of 3.5 million in 2010. But then it started dropping, for a total loss of about 400,000, in the past two years.
Earlier in the week, NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said that more than 600,000 members did not take a magazine and that more than 200,000 received a digital subscription. So, we were surprised when the AAM numbers were released and the organization showed the three magazines had reported zero digital subscriptions.
To put that in perspective, if Arulanandam’s figure of 200,000 was prorated by the relative size of the magazines, then two of the NRA magazines would be in the top 25 digital magazines. American Rifleman, with 111,000, would be in seventh place. American Hunter, with 56,000, would be 25th. One would think the NRA would like those bragging rights and thus provide the figures to the circulation auditors.
Arulanandam said he did not know why the 200,000 in digital subscriptions were not provided to AAM. We will add an update when we receive an answer.
We were also surprised that 15 percent of the NRA members would pass up a chance to get a glossy, free magazine.
The AARP, for instance, also provides magazines as part of its membership, but spokesman Josh Rosenblum says only a relatively small number declined to receive the AARP Magazine and AARP Bulletin. The magazines, each with a circulation of about 22.5 million copies, are the two most widely circulated magazines in the United States. The AARP spokesman said there was gap between its claimed number of members and its subscriber base because only one copy of each publication is sent per household. Rosenblum said many couples are both members and there are parents who live with adult children who are also members.
By contrast, the range of NRA magazines means that three members living in the same household could get three different magazines — and a child could get his or her own magazine as well.
Arulanandam noted that year-end 2012 figures do not necessarily reflect the surge in membership reported by the NRA. “When you are looking at, for example, the December magazine number, that mailing list is actually based on membership at the end of October, the magazine mailed November 15 or so,” he said. “We also have a lot of ‘bill me’ members who we don’t count until they pay.”
On the face of it, the NRA’s membership claim appears at least a tad exaggerated. Perhaps magazine subscriptions are only a rough guide, but even adding in Arulanandam’s numbers for digital subscriptions and refused subscriptions, the NRA had just under 4 million members near the end of 2012. Could the organization really have gained more than 500,000 since the Sandy Hook tragedy?
Of course, even 3.1 million members is a fairly large number — though it remains a relatively small percentage of the roughly 70 million Americans who say they own a firearm.
At this point, we are inclined to conclude that the NRA is overestimating the size of its membership when it claims more than 4.5 million members. Based on the available information, it does not appear credible for the number of members to have increased by 500,000 people in just six months. It actually appears possible that the membership rolls are below 4 million.