Remember the scene near the end of The Wizard of Oz, when Toto pulls back the curtain to expose that the powerful image of the Wizard was simply a projection of a rather ordinary, powerless old man? That happened last Tuesday night with the NRA. And it wasn't the first time, either.
We've all seen the image of the NRA projected in the media: kingmakers who, with an ad buy or independent expenditure, and the commitment of a substantial voting block, can promptly end the career of any politician who defies its commands. As Media Matters has documented, the myth of the NRA's political might is widely accepted by many in the media and the political class. A June 2012 Slate article was typical, simply assuming the NRA's power and proceeding to the next question: "Why Is the NRA So Powerful?" The author answered with the assertion that the NRA "can reliably deliver votes."
The NRA went "all in" on the 2012 elections. The NRA and its PAC spent more than $19 million against President Obama and candidates who support sensible gun laws. The NRA told its members that the stakes could not be higher; "Americans will vote either to defend or surrender freedom in the most consequential national decision in U.S. history."
The NRA's bark was certainly loud, but its bite was toothless.
The facts are staggering. In all, less than 1 percent (actually 0.81 percent) of the (inaptly-named) NRA Political Victory Fund's political spending was spent in support of winning candidates. The NRA spent more than $100,000 in each of seven Senate races; its candidate lost in six of those seven. Not many House incumbents lost -- 26 as of last Tuesday -- but more than two-thirds of losing candidates (18 in all) had the NRA's support.
2012 is hardly the first election to prove that the NRA is not the political force it pretends to be. Paul Waldman analyzed NRA influence in federal elections from 2004-2010 and found that "NRA contributions to candidates have virtually no impact on the outcome of Congressional races." Waldman also disproved the widely-repeated claims that the NRA was key to the GOP's takeover of the House in 1994, and to the 2000 presidential race. When one looks at the facts, it is clear that both races turned on partisan politics, not guns.
To those of us who study the facts, it is not surprising that the NRA is so ineffective delivering votes against candidates who support common sense gun laws. After all, the vast majorities of NRA members and other gun owners support the common sense gun laws that the NRA vehemently opposes. So no matter how many millions the NRA spends to tell gun owners that their freedom is at stake in an election, not many are buying it.
As it always does, after the returns came in last Tuesday the NRA spin machine claimed that it did far better in the elections than the evidence showed. Like the Wizard who yelled, "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain" when Toto revealed him, the gun lobby will keep propagating the myth of their electoral might long after it has been exposed as untrue. But one lesson of 2012 is that facts matter, and that the American people across the political spectrum are serious about addressing real solutions to our national problems.
And now that the reality of what is behind the curtain of the NRA has become so clear, we can only hope that Congress comes to the realization as Dorothy and her friends did -- that it had the courage, heart and brains to do something about this problem the entire time.
That would be welcome and desperately needed news for the vast majority of Americans who know we are better than this, and who want a serious and sustained national conversation about how to reduce gun deaths and injuries and make this a safer nation for us all.