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Gun Shows, the NRA and Virginia
How two gun control groups take advantage
of lack of education on the NRA’s gun show position

by Sean Oberle

November 15, 2001

According to the findings of a recent poll conducted by two gun control groups, the majority of Virginians agree with the National Rifle Association (NRA) on the issue of background checks at gun shows. However, those two groups claim just the opposite: that they found that the majority of Virginians disagree with the NRA. How does this happen? Either the groups do not know the NRA’s position, or they misrepresent it.

The groups are the Education Fund to Stop Gun Violence and Virginians Against Handgun Violence (VAHV). They claim to have found that 88% of Virginians (and 81% of “self described NRA supporters” in Virginia) favor background checks on all guns sold at guns shows. (Press release: New Poll Finds Majority of Virginians Overwhelmingly Support New Gun Law)

Leave aside questions of whether those groups cooked the survey by asking leading questions to get foregone results. Rather, consider that the NRA’s position is to support background checks for ALL guns sold at gun shows, precisely the position held by the majority of respondents.

Nonetheless, Joshua Horwitz, executive director of the Education Fund, claims in the press release, 

“The NRA is headquartered in Virginia, yet clearly does not speak for the vast majority – or even a significant fraction – of Virginians." 

Humorously, we find insight into this misinformation in the press release. According to Jim Sollo, president of VAHV, there is “a critical need for education on the issue.” 

Of course, he and I are not referring to the same need for education. The education needed is in understanding just what the NRA’s position is. 

The NRA’s Position

Whatever your position on gun shows (and, in this article, I’m neither attacking nor advocating the NRA’s position), if you think that as a general principle the NRA opposes adding private sales to those already subject to background checks at gun shows, you are mistaken ... you are uneducated.

As recently as September 27, James Baker, NRA-ILA executive director, told members that the NRA 

“supports [legislative] language that would establish an instant background check of no longer than 24 hours on EVERY gun sold at a gun show.” (Press release: NRA Response to Boston Globe)

Further, consider the organization’s May 23 statement in opposition to the McCain-Lieberman gun show bill. The NRA does not attack the idea of private-sale background checks being an infringement of rights. Rather, it attacks specific elements of the bill. (NRA fact sheet: Lieberman-McCain Gun Show Bill)

But the NRA’s willingness to accept background checks for private sales remains on the table. 

It is no wonder that the Education Fund and VAHV found that that a majority of Virginia NRA supporters agree with background checks for 100% of guns sold at gun shows. After all, the NRA has told them that such a law would be acceptable under certain conditions. It would be interesting to learn if those Virginia NRA supporters also agree with the NRA on the conditions.

So What’s Going On?

If the NRA says it supports a background check for EVERY gun sold at a gun show, why do the two gun control groups portray the NRA’s position as opposing such checks?

I’m not certain. On November 13, I phoned Blaine Rummel, the contact listed on the press release about the poll. I asked him to clarify why the groups claim that their poll found a disconnection between the NRA and Virginians when it found the opposite -– a connection. 

He begged off answering, claiming he had to go to a meeting, and took my phone number, a local call from his Washington, D.C. office. I waited more than 24 hours, to the end of the next business day, before submitting this article. He never called back. If he ever does, I’ll provide what he says in an addendum.

In any event, this smells like a classic strawman argument -– claim that an opponent takes a position that it does not and argue against the false position.

Indeed, I suspect there are two fights here -– the in-the-open fight over gun shows and the beneath-the-surface fight over the NRA’s reputation. Gun control groups constantly portray the NRA as out of step not only with society, but also with its own members. This fight to discredit the NRA -– more than any single issue -– is vital to their ease in passing gun control legislation. 

In this case, the strategy seems to be to use lack of education about the NRA’s position to fool people into thinking they and the NRA hold opposing views. Why do I suspect this? If the sole purpose were to pass gun show legislation, the two groups that conducted the poll would point out that both they and the NRA support a background check for EVERY gun sale at gun shows, and build on that. Rather, they imply that the NRA holds a position it does not hold and attack it. 

However, perhaps the two groups simply are uninformed about the NRA’s gun show position. Heck, I’ll even concede the possibility that they have information that shows the NRA’s private position is different from its public position. 

Who knows? Rummel didn’t call me back. My bet is on my suspicions, however.

Sean Oberle is a Featured Writer and gun control analyst for He can be reached at View other articles from him at

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Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what have for dinner. — JAMES BOVARD (1994)

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