Not what they stand for, their function.
I ask (and answer) this rhetorical question after having been to the NRA convention and having read a thundering essay by one of my favorite writers, denouncing them for being too palsy with the bATFe and (historically) only too happy to kowtow to Congress.
He's got a point; they're not out there at the bleeding edge, they're in there buyin' coffee for the regulators. --But somebody's got to and better NRA than the Bradyites. Way better.
The National Rifle Association's not the totality of the broad, broad base of gun-owners, either; though a significant percentage of gunnies have been, are now or will be NRA members (and even more think they are), at any given time more gun folk are not members of NRA than are.
Neither the pointy end or the fat end, our friends in the NRA are the center: the part that holds it all together. Many of the smaller gun group define themselves by filling a need or taking on a project (or foe!) their members think the NRA has overlooked. Anti-gun groups find a ready-made target for their ire in the NRA.
--The NRA itself? It is the glue. The sticky stuff that holds things together. The calm, personable folks in suits, who bureaucrats will talk to and, more important, listen to. The big boys with the clout to pull together a ginormous, firearm-positive, armed-citizen-positive event like the recently concluded Annual Meeting in Louisville.
NRA's what we've got that everyone knows about. As far as most people are concerned, as far as Uncle Sam is concerned, they're us. They're a Big Tent outfit; you won't find the whole circus under the Big Top but what's not there won't be very far away.
Politics is run by those who show up. If you want to change things -- in Washington, in your State or City, in the NRA, in society, being there is the first step.
And for most gunnies, the NRA is the first step in "showing up."
3 months ago