CPAC 2012The NRA. Like KFC, a brand reduced to three letters. Forget rifles (forget chicken). How about NHA? National Handgun Association. The NRA has been with us for so long it’s become background noise that no one hears, like late-night gunshots in West Philadelphia.

Once the anathema of liberal groups, nobody pays attention anymore. Why bother? The NRA is better armed. It has won the public policy shootout. No one even bothers to quote the frothing speeches of NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre.

The NRA won in Florida in 2005, when the Legislature passed the Stand Your Ground Law (actually, the Protections of Persons and Property Bill), which might ultimately provide an affirmative courtroom defense for Florida gunman George Zimmerman.

The law already provided Sanford, Florida, police a pretext to allow Zimmerman to walk away from a crime scene, after he gunned down unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin as the kid walked through a residential neighborhood. Count on the Stand Your Ground Law to serve as the foundation of Zimmerman’s defense in a criminal trial, if one actually happens. (The law might not work so well if the Justice Department does its job and tries Zimmerman in federal court, for depriving Martin of his civil rights.)

What should be called the “Stand and Shoot” law was an NRA bill, and NRA bills are ensured passage in legislatures in which Republicans hold a majority. NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer stood looking over Florida governor Jeb Bush’s shoulder in April 2005, when Bush signed the law. (Guns and the NRA made Jeb’s sibling George governor of Texas in 1994, after incumbent Governor Ann Richards promised to veto any concealed-carry bill that crossed her desk, and actually vetoed a bill that called for a referendum on a concealed-carry law.)

The NRA always wins, then leverages those wins with threats of destroying anyone that stands in their way. After the Florida stand-and-shoot bill passed and was being promoted as a model for other states, La Pierre had a warning for opponents. “Politicians are putting their career in jeopardy if they oppose this type of bill,” he said.

Similar bills have since passed in more than 20 states.

That’s what the NRA is about. They are big, badass, armed, and dangerous — and more important, willing to spend a lot of money.

The organization employs 29 lobbyists and spent almost $3 million lobbying in 2011, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In 2010, the NRA invested $7.2 million in independent expenditures in federal elections, most focused on defeating Democrats.

The NRA will spend more this year. At the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington in February, LaPierre promised that his organization will help make Barack Obama a one-term president.

“Our soul is at stake in this election,” LaPierre said. “This is a fight for our soul, our freedom, and all that we believe in. All of the rights we’ve worked so hard to defend, all of what we know is good and right about America, all of it could be lost if Barack Obama is reelected.”

As the NRA is a Republican Party ancillary organization, it should be no surprise that a Republican state rep, Dennis Baxley, who is a lifetime member of the organization sponsored the stand-and-shoot bill seven years ago in Florida.

The only opponents were Democrats, notably Miami Beach Representative Dan Gelber, who warned that innocent people would die if the state allowed individuals to stand their ground and shoot in conflicts they could otherwise walk away from. Gebler, a former prosecutor, complained that the Legislature was rewriting the rules in a way that would make it difficult to bring charges against a shooter who might have walked away from volatile situation rather than using lethal force.

“Up to now, if somebody chose to stick around when they really could have walked away, that was a way in which I could attach a liability for a homicide. But now, because the Legislature has affirmatively said, ‘You have no duty to retreat,’ that must mean something.”

It meant something to George Zimmerman, who confronted and shot to death an unarmed kid walking to his father’s house on a February afternoon in Florida.