The National Rifle Association and the gun rights movement both benefited from a modest storm of high-profile (yet unlikely and moderate) gun control threats in 2000, and a clearing of the skies soon after. There was an active, though decreasingly effective, federal gun control agenda during the Clinton years. The possibility of a 2000 election victory for Democrat Al Gore meant more threats of gun control. Even the usually anemic gun control groups seemed to have some momentum on their side. The Columbine school shootings were still fresh in Americans' minds, and months before the election the Million Mom March drew hundreds of thousands of gun control supporters to a rally in Washington. Staring down these opponents, the NRA and their new charismatic leader, Charlton Heston, warned gun owners of dramatic and permanent losses of gun rights. The NRA of this period fine-tuned its rhetoric, skillfully and repeatedly connecting threats to gun rights with threats to all individual rights and freedoms through a culture war.
The combination of threats to gun rights and the NRA's fanning of the flames resulted in a flood of new members and cash to the organization. In the end, the threats were abated, transformed instead into NRA victories and the promise of future opportunities to pass gun rights legislation. Bush beat Gore, gun control groups lost momentum, gun rights legislation abounded in state and federal legislatures, and NRA coffers overflowed. But success often breeds complacency. For an organization that thrives on actual and perceived threats to gun rights, and one that has faced few of any consequence since the 2000 elections, a fear-free forecast is not necessarily a sunny one. The NRA has likely peaked.
Several short- and long-term trends are working against the organization. After Charlton Heston stepped down because of illness and later died, NRA presidents have been a succession of publicly anonymous