How the NRA is rebranding — with women
The steadfast group takes a progressive tack.
In a slick, well-produced roundtable discussion hosted by Susan LaPierre, NRA Women’s Leadership Forum cochair and wife of NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre, members sit together on plush leather couches and declare women the new face of the NRA.
“It’s no longer some grubby, dirty, unshaven guy in camo,” observes executive committee member J.P. Puette in the View-type video, available on NRAWomen.TV. Sandy Froman, former NRA president, says, “Haven’t you noticed that women seem to be so much more receptive and interested in the NRA than maybe five or 10 years ago?”
While the image many Americans have of the National Rifle Association is predominantly male, these women are right: That’s all changing. In the past few years, the NRA’s messaging has developed a distinctly female tone, actively courting women members across ages and gun literacy levels.
In 2013, the NRA launched NRAWomen.TV with the tagline “Armed and Fabulous.” A year later, women began to appear prominently in NRA advertising. And in 2015, the NRAblog began to include content specifically for women: hunting recipes, female guest bloggers, a personal essay entitled “Yes, I’m a Girl and I Shoot Guns.”
For a group not often seen as progressive, it’s a surprisingly forward-looking shift. Jeremy Greene, director of marketing and media relations at the NRA, tells MarieClaire.com that the organization believes women are the fastest-growing cohort of firearms owners in the United States. And the NRA is keen to welcome them. (External data doesn’t reflect the same spike in women’s gun ownership— according to the MarieClaire.com and Harvard Injury Control Research Center survey, 12 percent of American women own guns, which is consistent with previous ownership rates.)
Greene highlights the NRA’s long-standing Women on Target program, an instructional shooting course developed in 2000 “in response to persistent calls from women who wanted to learn how to hunt and shoot, preferably in the company of other women.” Annual participation in the program’s shooting clinics has grown “between 12 and 20 percent per year since its inception, and over 70 percent since 2008,” he says (the NRA does not release overall membership numbers by gender). It’s been so popular that the NRA has even added a Female Instructor Development initiative “to help meet the demand for more women instructors across the country.”
New NRA member Gabriella Hoffman, the 24-year-old founder of the blog
Counter Cultured, is the daughter of immigrants who “lived under tyranny in Soviet-occupied Lithuania—and that’s what compels me to support the Second Amendment and responsible firearms use.” She believes that “guns, not government, are the great equalizer,” and has found the NRA very welcoming since she joined in 2015.
Twenty-two-year-old Rebekah Hargrove, president of Florida Students for Concealed Carry, who also joined the NRA in 2015, echoes similar sentiments: “They’re doing a wonderful job of reaching out to women. As a Hispanic woman, I feel that they adequately speak to me—even through age and cultural barriers.”
A major talking point in the NRA’s women-centric messaging is personal safety — and for women, that means self-defense. Greene points out that “women say the single most important reason they decide to purchase or own a firearm is protection, both personal and at home.”
NRA member Shayna Lopez-Rivas—who joined in November—says she was raped twice while she was in college, once at knifepoint. “I was actually very anti-gun before that,” she says, but she became a gun user when her friend took her to a shooting range to teach her how guns could be used to defend herself. She is now an activist for the group Campus Carry.
Hargrove also feels that being gun literate keeps her safe: “Being a trained woman who carries a gun gives me a much better chance at survival if my life is ever in danger, and the NRA defends that right.”
Statistically, self-defense gun use in the U.S. is so rare that it’s hard to get a realistic picture of it, says David Hemenway, Ph.D., director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center. In fact, in the MarieClaire.com and Harvard Injury Control Research Center survey, less than 1 percent of women used a gun in self-defense in the last five years.
And the NRA’s inclusivity of women, both in branding and in membership, isn’t necessarily new, points out Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center. He maintains that the association has been trying to reach women since the 1980s—but with different, and less empowering, tactics. Back then, the NRA focused on fear. The idea of rape was ever present, and “the pitch to women is simple: You’re a woman. Someone is going to rape you. You’d better buy a handgun.”
Sugarmann attributes the NRA’s renewed focus on women to a decline in firearm owners more broadly. A 2015 report from NORC at the University of Chicago, an independent research institution, found that gun ownership has been steadily decreasing since the 1970s, even though the relative number of female gun owners has risen. As the core group of gun owners— white men in upper income brackets—die off, women are more crucial to the NRA than ever. It’s a smart political move. Women represent a huge portion of the electorate: The Center for American Women and Politics says that since 1964, the number of female voters has exceeded male voters in every single presidential election — the 2012 election saw 9.8 million more female voters than male voters. With gun control already a factor in the upcoming presidential race, the NRA’s increased female ranks could help further its cause.
Whether the NRA is retaining the women it recruits remains to be seen. But to new member Hargrove, the organization is critical to her sense of what she’s entitled to as an American woman: “Women’s issues are highly intertwined with equality and freedom. And that, to me, is what the NRA exemplifies.”
New NRA members Shayna LopezRivas, Rebekah Hargrove, and Gabriella Hoffman
Recent advertisements from the NRA have focused increasingly on women.