ISIS And The NRA: Similarities Abound

Contentious as it might sound, there are significant similarities between the Islamic State terrorist organization, ISIS, and the National Rifle Association (NRA). Of course there are differences as well, but examining issues of congruence adds another dimension to the gun violence controversy.

The most important parallels between ISIS and the NRA are:

- Institutionally, both organizations are remorseless about the deaths of victims
- Both use fear and intimidation to obtain their objectives
- Both assume their ideology is superior to the wishes of the majority of citizens
- Both have intensely loyal followers
- Both recruit and indoctrinate members who are ignorant of the basic facts
- Both are relatively small organizations that have impact far beyond their size
- Neither organization will apologize for the harm they cause


It is estimated that in 2015 ISIS killed about 6,000 people, a majority of them Muslims. ISIS also conducted a few terrorist attacks in Europe and fostered a couple of sympathetic incidents here in the U.S. Based on those killings and other related activities, ISIS is considered a global menace. Concern about ISIS resonates as a political issue. Congressional leaders vociferously called for increased action to mitigate that threat including the use of military force. As then-Presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz put it, "We ought to bomb them back to the Stone Age." In response to the perceived threat, we deployed the U.S. Air Force to bomb targets in Syria and Iraq. In addition, we sent hundreds of ground forces into harm's way to act as advisors while providing both funds and materiel in support of countries in the region that are focused on degrading ISIS capabilities.

During the same period there were approximately 33,600 gun related deaths in the U.S. Allowing that an estimated 60 percent of gun deaths were suicides, it can readily be determined that more than 10,000 Americans died from gun related homicides. Of course, not every victim who is shot dies and far more survive than are killed (about 1:4). Using four or more victims as the accepted definition of a mass shooting, there were 372 such incidents in the U.S. last year. As there is no national requirement to report shootings, the total number of victims of gun violence is unknown but it is several times more than those killed by ISIS.

In response to many of these shootings there were outcries by members of Congress, the president, and most importantly, the American people. All demanded that something be done about the number of violent incidents involving guns. The outcome, however, was completely different than the response to ISIS; i.e. nothing happened. Even the most sane and modest proposal (don't sell guns to suspected terrorists) was defeated in Congress. The reason was simple: the remorseless and relentless campaign by the NRA, and its members, threatening Congressional representatives who might support any legislation related to gun control. Being fearful of the results, the NRA have even caused Congress to ban the study of the effects of gun violence with federal funds at the Center for Disease Control. The NRA's intimidation tactics repeatedly have proven effective, much like the intimidation of ISIS in areas they can control or influence. One difference, however, is that the death count in America is higher and grieving more widely distributed.

Even with the most egregious cases, such as the executions of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the NRA quickly pronounces their position against any further gun restrictions. Rather, they blame laws making schools gun-free zones. With crocodile tears, remorselessly, time and again after mass shootings the NRA's infamous (and demonstrably false) refrain rings out, "The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." Their answer to already extensive violence is consistent: More guns. Obliviously, they ignore the characterization of areas that have more weapons often are called war zones (and hardly safe). Unfortunately, that commentary (war zones) is frequently employed describing some inner city areas in America today. It is acknowledged that much of that violence is gang-related as are many of the mass-shooting incidents. But gang shootouts too often result in casualties of innocent bystanders, often children.

Both ISIS and the NRA have members who are intensely loyal and are willing to act unquestioningly based on directions from the organizational leadership. In ISIS controlled geographic areas they constitute a small percentage of the population. Yet, using fear and intimidation they exert near total control over the territory. By comparison, the NRA has less than five million members (a number that ignobly grows with each horrific event). That, is only about two percent of the eligible voters in the U.S. today (a little over 200 million) yet they wield extraordinary influence both locally and nationally. Like ISIS' intimidation, it is effective because, on demand, NRA members show up at all meetings concerning gun regulations and inundate Congress members with petitions. They threaten noncompliant members with removal from office, typically done at primary level when just a few voters can swing elections.

To reach beyond elected officials, the NRA uses fear tactics and unrealistic and hypothetical scenarios to gain favor with the general public and recruit new members. The ads and posting of those stories make people believe that danger is constantly lurking nearby and the only means of protecting your loved ones is the immediate availability of a gun. In that world the police are useless except to take reports after the incident has occurred.

Admittedly, there are a few instances in which armed citizens have stopped crimes in progress, but the number of successful interventions is very small (and regularly touted on web sites supporting the NRA motives). The reality, however, is that guns are far more likely to be used to kill a friend or relative, either intentionally or accidentally, than to stop a criminal. In a single year it was reported that over 15,000 children and teenagers were injured or killed by guns. That was over two times the number of children who died from cancer that year. In addition, having a gun in the house increases the risk of a suicide attempt eleven fold.

ISIS effectively uses social media for recruiting membership. They paint a false narrative about their ideology (a derivation of fundamentalist Sunni Islam) and their goals. That approach has proven to be an effective recruitment tool. Many, possibly most, of those joining ISIS are theological neophytes and thus easily swayed by the insidiously alluring, but often misleading, messages.

So too does the NRA employ social media, as they paint paranoia-inspired false narratives. One main theme is that the evil government will soon be coming to abscond all of your guns and impart martial law. This is often coupled with tales of an impending invasion by mythical United Nations forces. Unfortunately, these fear inducing tactics are often successful. Another vignette in their mosaic is that the government is (or should be) fearful of armed citizens as they hold the power of overt rebellion should the government go too far astray.

According to the NRA adherents, citizens should have access to any guns they desire. That includes availability of weapons designed primarily for war such as assault rifles, (yes, I know that technically that term means fully automatic- but not to the public) and even 50 caliber sniper rifles that can penetrate the engine of a car. If you are hunting elephants and can afford the $38,000 trophy fee, you can afford obtaining a special license for that weapon. Also in contention are high capacity magazines, typically holding 30 rounds, although there is the Beta C double drum magazine which can contain 100 rounds. While banned in some areas, it is clear that such magazine capabilities far exceed any reasonable sporting or hunting requirements.

Many low information gun owners appear influenced by movies such as Independence Day, Terminator, The Hunger Games, or other Hollywood fairytales, in which small bands of people overcome a technologically advanced enemy. The creators and adherents of such fanciful dramas are totally clueless about the real-world capabilities of the U.S. military. Espousing gun ownership, per the Second Amendment, as means to keep the potentially evil government in check is simply specious.

Just as ISIS believes that their brand of Islam is superior to all other sects, some NRA members believe that their vision of Second Amendment rights supersede what most people believe reasonable controls over gun violence. A real incongruence is that many members actually support rationale suggestions, such as universal background checks, yet lobby on the NRA's behalf to prevent that legislation. Both organizations assume conceptual/moral superiority to the values and beliefs of others and both emphasize obtaining their objectives through use of force or threats of violence.

When studying organizational development we had a favorite saying, "Behavior is believable." That means observing behavior versus language is the best determinant of what the person or organization really means and values. Or, in Biblical terms, "Who will render to every man according to his deeds" (Romans 2-6). On occasion the NRA sometimes makes reasonable sounding proposals, and often offers insouciant condolences to victim's families. Their observable behavior, however, contradicts any such gratuitous statements.

To be fair, there are significant differences between ISIS and the NRA. ISIS overtly employs extreme violence to achieve their desired ends, while the NRA just takes advantage of other's misdeeds. The NRA members do not directly kill the victims. The intentional brutality and physical intimidation displayed by ISIS far exceeds the tactics employed by the NRA. In the end, however, the body count tells the story.

A legitimate criticism of the article is that even if modest gun control legislation were to be enacted, it would probably have little effect on the shooting violence level in America; at least in the short term. The seemingly intractable problem is that there already exist an estimated 300 million guns in the U.S. It is also acknowledged that most gun owners do not commit crimes or intentionally shoot others. However, too many gun owners do. I accept those comments, but note that the NRA's remorseless and unapologetic attacks on all legislative efforts have made it impossible to even begin to sanely address the issue. Behavior is believable.


There are too many comments to respond to individually. Ad hominem aside, most of the cogent issues were actually addressed in the article. Being intentionally provocative seems to be the only method to get attention to the issue. There have been hundreds, if not thousands of article decrying the NRA's actions and intimidation factors. Body count is body count and hard to ignore and relative responses valid, so that comparison stands even if the moral differential is in conflict. The difference in institutional motivation was addressed, but not acknowledged by emotionally incited readers. A key point to note is that being in favor of some gun regulations is NOT the same as being anti-gun though that is what many commenters seem to believe. Despite, all of the zombie lies (ones that won't die) no current government official or candidate has called for repealing the Second Amendment or confiscating all guns.

For a great overview of the NRA's action, the PBS Frontline program, Gunned Down: The Power of the NRA, which first aired 6 January 2015 is highly recommended. The organization is not what it started out to be, an outstanding advocate for gun safety. However, under Wayne LaPierre, Jr, basically it was coopted and transformed into the current adversarial organization. For more recent look at their activities watch the HBO segment of John Oliver's Last Week Tonight, which first aired 19 June 2016 following the Orlando massacre. While Oliver's format may be for amusement, the messages are often insightful and serious. Coincidentally, the following day, on 20 June 2016, the U.S. Senate again voted down four modest proposals.

As a correction, one commenter did point out that the CDC is no longer legally prohibited from studying gun violence. True, but that is only half the story. The NRA supported ban lasted for nearly two decades after enactment in 1996. While a minuscule amount of money was spent on research by the CDC in the past two years, Congress proceeded to cut all additional funds which in effect extended the ban. It should certainly raise serious questions about why the NRA is so deadest against having the topic researched by credible independent sources.

As depicted in this quote from USA Today, the NRA has been active in hampering background checks as well. "David Chipman, a former ATF special agent, said that much of the agency's inefficiency is tied to the political sway of the powerful gun rights groups who have sought to contain the authority of the ATF. 'The gun lobby has been very successful at keeping the ATF as inefficient as possible,'' Chipman said."

As suggested in the article there are those who believe the Second Amendment is near limitless. Some state it was designed so that militias would have equal or superior capability to the USG. When asked who gets the nuclear weapons they sidestepped. Still, it is important to note that government suppression beliefs are part of the discussion.

In 2013 it was predicted that by 2015 deaths from guns would exceed traffic fatalities. Apparently frightened, the NRA Institute for Legislative Action preemptively encouraged articles claiming the comparison was unfair. In reality, auto deaths in 2015 still exceeded gun deaths by a relatively small amount (35,800 auto, 33,600 gun). But there is a significant difference. With automobile accidents there are concerted efforts in many venues (educational, technical, and legislative) to reduce fatalities.

Several noted that the attributes list had applicability with other organizations, with most of the venom pointing at the DNC. That again is partially true, but no other American institution has the same remorseless approach to the body count of gun violence victims.

The abysmal understanding of facts was repeated frequently. As an example, one person informed us that 5000 of the homicides came from police shootings.

To any who are offended by this article, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. But the bottom line is that for a vile threat, that is mostly far away, we marshalled national and international resources for combat; while for a domestic issue inflicting greater damage we employ only modest efforts and are legislatively inhibited by a relatively small, effective, and inordinately influential organization.