When talking to the news media and policymakers, the National Rifle Association never misses a chance to boast of its membership of four million. From news releases to statements by its leadership, this number, virtually by its very utterance, is offered as validation of the organization's mission.
And it's so much larger than the 30,000 Americans who die from guns each year.
When asked for proof of these claims, the NRA cites the sanctity of its membership list and falls into its default mode of 'trust, but don't expect us to verify.'
This week I received in the mail a letter from the NRA promoting one of the various specialized insurance plans it's always trying to foist on its members with manufactured urgency. The letter, from NRA Treasurer and CFO Wilson H. Phillips Jr., urged me to register (yes, register) for the NRA's new Emergency Assistance Plus insurance.
The letter states the program was developed "especially for NRA Members. This is because we are more at risk while we're traveling. So we're more likely to get hurt or sick in a place we don't know."
The insurance is primarily a series of support services if you're faced with a medical or other emergency while traveling. Why NRA members are more at risk than others while traveling is never explained. Maybe it's because they don't bring their guns with them. Or more likely because they do.
Mr. Phillips continues, explaining what a bargain this insurance represents, promising that the NRA has "put together a package of essential support services. All are vital in an emergency. Then, with about 3 million NRA Members 'on our side of the table,' we negotiated a bargain price."
Wait a minute: "about 3 million NRA Members"? What happened to "four million members strong"? Where's the missing million members? Shouldn't the Treasurer and CFO of the NRA know the membership numbers? Unless, of course, the NRA is being less than, uh, forthcoming. This would, however, help explain why an organization that gives every adult member a choice of one of three free magazines with their membership dues has a total circulation for these publications of less than 2.7 million for the six months ending in December 2007 according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
Maybe Mr. Phillips' citation of "about 3 million NRA Members" is just an error. Or maybe it's because the underwriter for the plan is in California, and practices forbidden under California's insurance statutes include:
Making or disseminating or causing to be made or disseminated before the public in this state, in any newspaper or other publication, or any advertising device, or by public outcry or proclamation, or in any other manner or means whatsoever, any statement containing any assertion, representation or statement with respect to the business of insurance or with respect to any person in the conduct of his or her insurance business, which is untrue, deceptive, or misleading, and which is known, or which by the exercise of reasonable care should be known, to be untrue, deceptive, or misleading.
Or maybe those who accept the NRA's membership claims at face value should be a little more skeptical.