The National Rifle Association, which for the past few decades has zealously thwarted reasonable gun control in the face of America’s rising tide of firearms deaths, recently claimed in court documents it is in existential financial trouble. Tempting as it is to break open the champagne in celebration, perhaps more important is the question this raises about why American politicians still cower in fear over the NRA’s vote-wielding influence.

The NRA made its financial-distress claim in a lawsuit alleging New York state officials have targeted it with a belligerent regulatory campaign. It’s not the first indication that the 147-year-old firearms lobbying group has problems. Records show it ended 2016 with a $46 million deficit. And recent polling shows most Americans now oppose the organization, having apparently grown weary of mass shootings followed consistently by NRA assertions that gun rights are in danger.

All of which presents a picture of a tiger that doesn’t have the teeth it used to.

In its lawsuit, the NRA claims that New York regulators have, among other things, gotten banks and insurers to stop doing business with it. The NRA claims it has suffered “tens of millions of dollars in damages” and may soon be “unable to exist as a not-for-profit or pursue its advocacy mission” because of the state’s regulation.

NRA lawyers might be exaggerating the financial plight as a legal strategy. But it’s no exaggeration to say the NRA’s $163.5 million in dues income in 2016 is a significant drop from its 2007 peak of $228 million. Though the NRA presumes to speak for all gun owners, its actual dues-paying members total about 5 million — a small fraction of the estimated 70 million to 80 million U.S. gun owners.

Polls suggest most gun owners don’t share the NRA’s hard-line political positions. A study by the American Journal of Public Health in May found that on most gun-control issues, gun owners and non-gun owners were only a few percentage points out of alignment with each other but often far out of alignment with NRA positions. A Monmouth University poll in March found that expanded background checks for all gun sales, including private sales, which the NRA opposes, has the support of 78 percent of gun owners who don’t belong to the NRA — and 69 percent of those who do.

Throughout the gun-control debates of recent years, the NRA’s extreme positions have been anathema to what most Americans — even most gun-owning Americans — believe. If faltering finances are any indication, gun owners are letting their money do the talking about the NRA’s extremist policy positions.

For those legislators in Jefferson City and Washington who have held their tongues in the past, now’s the time to stand up to this paper tiger.

Editorial by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Visit the St. Louis Post-Dispatch at www.stltoday.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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