The Ties That Bind
The gun rights movement, like any other, formed and became effective for a number of reasons. The NRA has been particularly successful since the late 1990s, because it began to systematically frame threats to gun rights as threats to all individual rights and freedoms, and therefore to a conservative frontier masculinity. NRA frames aligned with and helped shape the concerns of like-minded gun rights supporters, leading these Gun Crusaders to dedicate much of their time and money to the NRA and the fight against gun control. Framing strategies are not the only reason why social movements emerge and succeed. Political opportunities can generate support and lead to meaningful change. A new president who supports gun rights or a famous and widely respected figure willing to be the public face of a movement may increase people's participation, as they sense an opportunity to create positive change.
Similarly political threats often lead people to mobilize and bring about change. Widespread calls for gun control after a major gun violence episode or impending gun control legislation may motivate people to join or increase their commitment to a movement. Although the political climate (opportunities or threats) may be ripe and a large number of potential movement activists may share the same ideology and beliefs, movements generally require organization and social networks to succeed. Social movement organization's, like the NRA on behalf of the gun rights movement, can mobilize resources, notably time and money, and thereby coordinate potential supporters into a more unified force. Of course, frames, opportunities, and threats overlap. Opportunities and threats are not absolutes but rather are framed and perceived by leaders and supporters. The creation and effective use of the frame “gun rights” is rooted in both the shared cultural language of the 1960s cycle of protest (Civil Rights, Women's Rights, and so on) and a broader American emphasis on rights and freedoms. The amount and use of resources a movement can mobilize also greatly impact the political opportunities or threats it faces, and therefore the movement's success.1