The 47,000 gun-loving Americans who attended the 138th NRA Convention in Phoenix bore the hopes of many disgruntled, mostly white Americans who seek to check what they see as Washington’s liberal trajectory.

They represent one of the most organized and entrenched groups opposed to the Obama administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress, so it’s no coincidence that Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, potential Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, and GOP chairman Michael Steele all spoke May 15 at a leadership forum during the convention.

Moreover, they are growing: Membership is booming, gun registrations are skyrocketing, and ammunition stores are back-ordered by the millions. This success is giving the NRA significant clout in an electorate polarized by issues ranging from gun control to government bailouts.

In addition, it is threatening to merge the organization’s firebrand rhetoric – which, critics say, sometime verges on paranoia – with a broader band of political discontent.

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