NRA under fire: Organization weighs in on gun debate

The National Rifle Association fired back at criticism Thursday as CEO Wayne LaPierre came out fighting at Thursday's Conservative Political Action Conference, taking aim at gun control advocates.

"They hate the NRA. They hate the 2nd Amendment. They hate individual freedom," said LaPierre, "Now some people are calling for a new list of anyone, anyone who has sought mental health care, to deny them their Second Amendment rights."

The high school shooting in Parkland, Florida February 14th has put the NRA in the crosshairs of the national debate.

Professor Eric Schickler, Chair Of The UC Berkeley Political Science Department, says the NRA transitioned from a hunting and gun enthusiasts club to a powerful political lobbying group in the 1970's and 80's.

"It's really only been in the last few decades that the NRA became this kind of force," said Schickler.

He said one reason is politicians fear being targeted by the powerful NRA lobby group and losing NRA members' votes. 

Schickler also says it's important to note that the NRA receives funding from gun manufacturers, which might influence the group's political positions.

"There's an argument to be made that the reason the NRA is so uncompromising is because of that constituency," said Schickler, "If you look at survey data, there are a number of issues where NRA members themselves would be willing to compromise or support modest gun control measures at least but the organization as a whole is opposed it." 

President Trump voiced support of the NRA Thursday.

"The NRA wants to do the right thing. I've spoken to them often in the last two days," said President Trump, whose goal of arming teachers in schools has the NRA's support.

"To stop a bad guy with a gun, it takes a good guy with a gun," said Lapierre.

Many politicians, however, are being forced to weigh the potential cost at the ballot box of receiving NRA donations in the wake of the Florida shootings and a passionate call for action by many of the victims' families and students.

Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio was confronted Wednesday night by the father of one of the victims.

"Your comments this week and those of our president have been pathetically weak," said the father at a CNN town hall event.

Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer also criticized the NRA and Republicans saying, "In the past, even after horrible shootings and empathetic words, President Trump and Congressional Republicans have toed the NRA line."

NRA CEO LaPierre accuses Democrats of unfairly politicizing the Florida shooting.

President Trump did part ways with the NRA on one item, a call to change the minimum age for buying a rifle or handgun from 18 to 21.

Professor Schickler says it's likely the only way to see significant changes in the law, however, is if politicians see a benefit at the ballot box for supporting the Florida students and gun control advocates and opposing the NRA.