NRA and AARP: More Alike Than Different

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There are several huge American nonprofits created to benefit their members. Among the largest are the National Rifle Association (NRA) and AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired Persons. The NRA, started in 1871, was created to protect the rights of gun owners and to provide gun owner education. The AARP, founded in 1958, was launched as an advocate for Americans over the age of 50. Each is a nonprofit, or has a nonprofit arm.

Before looking at the large number similarities between the two organizations, there are a few differences. AARP claims more than 37 million members, while the NRA has said it has 5 million dues-paying members. Another difference is the cost of membership: a basic annual membership in the NRA costs $25, and an AARP membership costs $16 a year and includes the member’s spouse. Both AARP and NRA offer discounts for multiyear memberships, and the NRA offers a lifetime membership for $1,000 that can be paid off in installments.

Of nearly 320 million Americans, an estimated 100 million are over the age of 50 and therefore eligible to join AARP. In 2013, some 44.7 million Americans were 65 years of age or older.

In 2009, the Congressional Research Service estimated that there were about 310 million guns in the United States. At the time, the number of guns was greater than the total population.

About one in three Americans owns a gun, and the average gun-owning household has 8.1 guns, nearly double the 1994 household average of 4.2 guns. These numbers indicate that gun ownership is rising among households that already own guns, not attracting first-time gun buyers.

In 2015, AARP, the best-known senior citizen group, spent $7.56 million on lobbying. The NRA spent less than half that amount, $3.60 million. But the AARP total was less than a quarter of its 2008 spending of $35.12 million, and the NRA’s total was more than double its 2008 spending of $1.67 million.

The benefits offered by the two organizations, outside their core missions, total into the dozens, and they exist for two reasons. The first is to create loyalty in the members. Even if the mission of each organization is important to members, ancillary benefits help keep them engaged. From an economic standpoint, the reason these benefits can exist is that the NRA and AARP deliver millions of customers to insurance companies, car companies, travel providers and financial services companies in bulk. These large universes of customers give the NRA and AARP leverage with these for-profit companies, which in turn give leverage for the prices they offer to the members of the two organizations.