Disagreement over gun control and gun rights is among the most important and defining issues in the country today. They're so charged that about a quarter of voters will only vote for a candidate who shares their view on the subject, regardless of other factors of the candidate, no exceptions, according to Gallup.
NRA members, and this should come as no shock, are much more likely than other gun owners to say owning a gun is very important to their overall identity. Nearly half (45%) of NRA members said it's very important to their overall identity, while only 20% of non-NRA members said the same, according to a 2017 Pew poll.
"Republican and Republican-leaning gun owners are twice as likely as Democratic and Democratic-leaning gun owners to say they belong to the NRA (24% vs. 11%).
Divisions among these gun owners run deep as well.
It should be no surprise that as partisan politics seem to have pervaded our lives, membership in an advocacy group tells you something about someone's partisanship. But it shows that the meaning of gun ownership really has changed and that even among Republicans gun ownership means starkly different things.
Just a down-the-line policy comparison among Republicans who are NRA members and who are not according to Pew's 2017 poll draws a clear distinction.
Fifty-two percent of Republican gun owners who belong to the NRA say gun laws in the US should be less strict than they are now compared with 33% of Republican gun owners who don't belong to the NRA, according to Pew.
On specific policies, the gap is wider. Republican NRA members are 23% less likely to support universal background check policies like closing the gun show loophole than Republican gun owners who are not in the NRA. That's a wide rift within the party among people who are often grouped into one block.
Republican NRA members are also more activist in pushing gun rights policies than non-members. They're 16% more likely to support shortening waiting periods for buying guns illegally, for example.
There's evidence to support the idea that the NRA slowly evolved over many years to support a coalition that holds these views.
An exhaustive examination of past NRA editorials, membership communications and trainings found that over the last several decades, the organization put more emphasis on second amendment rights and the ways gun control policies posed a threat to gun owners' identity as law-abiding Americans or patriots. It's made gun rights as important and partisan an idea to its members as race or ethnicity can be to other portions of the population.
At the grassroots level, it's translated into political action. Forty-six percent of gun owners in the NRA say they have contacted a public official to express their opinion on gun policy compared with 15% of non-member gun owners who say they have ever done this.
As Congress looks for common ground on gun policy, there's no denying the importance of mobilized gun owners, particularly in local and state elections. But it's still a mistake to think they represent all gun owners, or even all Republicans who own guns.