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The National Rifle Association is the premier gun and ammunition lobbying organization in the United States. A 501(c)4, the NRA is a powerful political and legislative opponent of gun violence prevention laws at both the state and federal level, with an annual budget in excess of $345 million in 2014.
Despite the NRA’s claims to represent the interests of gun owners, the organization’s extreme pro-gun positions differed with opinions expressed by the majority of gun-owning households (at most ten percent of American gun owners were NRA members, per the Washington Post) and even rank-and-file NRA members:
- While the NRA opposed universal background checks, 62% of gun owners thought the NRA “did not represent their thinking” on background checks, and 87% of people in gun-owning households favored background checks at gun shows. Additionally., 74% of NRA households favored expanded background checks.
- While the NRA opposed an assault weapons ban, half of gun owners supported such a policy.
- The NRA’s opposition to a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines stood in contrast to the 51% of gun-owners who supported such a ban.
The reason for the disconnect between the NRA and average gun owners was simple, and was correctly described by the 59% of gun owners who agreed that the NRA was “overtaken by lobbyists.” An analysis of the NRA’s tax documents, as well as of the composition of the NRA board of directors reveals that the NRA had deep ties to the firearms and ammunition manufacturing and sales industry.
Below the jump, more information on the NRA’s ties to the gun industry, and how the NRA is actively making America less safe:
The NRA’s Ties To The Gun Industry
As Business Insider reported, “The NRA’s revenues are intrinsically linked to the success of the gun business.’ In fact, per the same article, unlike most membership organizations, less than half of the NRA’s annual revenues came from program fees and membership dues paid by NRA members. Instead, “the bulk” of NRA revenues came “in the form of contributions, grants, royalty income, and advertising, much of it originating from gun industry sources.”
One of the key ways that the NRA routed money from the gun industry was from programs that tied gun sales directly to filling the NRA’s coffers. Examples include:
- Gun manufacturer Strum, Ruger & Company pledged to donate $2 to the NRA for every gun sold between 2015 and 2016, with the goal of selling two million guns. The company previously participated in a $1-per-gun-sold campaign between 2011 and 2012 which raised $1.25 million.
- Laser sights manufacturer Crimson Trace donated “10 percent of each sale to the NRA.”
- Taurus purchased a one-year NRA membership for anyone who bought a gun from them.
- NRA offered “licensing deals” to corporate sponsors to mark their firearms and other products with NRA branding.
- The NRA “Ring Of Freedom” Program received as much as $52.6 million from the gun industry.
Additionally, The NRA’s 501(c)3 Foundation and the NRA-ILA (its lobbying arm) both offered “round-up” or “add-a-buck” programs allowing those making purchases at gun retailers to simultaneously make donations to the organizations. The programs were the brainchild of MidwayUSA CEO Larry Potterfield, who claimed MidWayUSA customers had contributed nearly $14 million to the NRA-ILA endowment as of 2014. The NRA-ILA, despite being a massive lobbying operation, spent only 5% of the interest from Round-Up donations each year to fight against gun-safety measures.
The NRA’s 501(c)3, the NRA Foundation, provides the NRA with another way to route gun industry money into its coffers. As a 501(c)3, donations to the NRAF were tax deductible in a way that donations to the main 501(c)4 were not. Between 2002 and 2014, the NRAF – which had no staff and paid no salaries – contributed over 50% of its outgoing grants annually into the NRA. A program called “Friends of the NRA,” which had forty-two “industry supporters,” has raised more than $600 million for the NRAF since 1992.
The NRAF also had a pattern of election-year contributions to other NRA entities which, despite being allegedly “non-political,” focused on voter registration of gun-owners. In 2010, the NRAF contributed $77,000 to the NRA Freedom Action Foundation, which ran a “Trigger The Vote” campaign to register gun owners. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington raised concerns that many of the NRA’s schemes violated election laws.
In addition to financial support, the NRA’s Executive Leadership and Board of Directors were both riddled with gun-industry ties, including:
- NRA First Vice-President Pete Brownell, CEO of Brownells, Inc., “The world’s largest supplier of firearms accessories and gunsmithing tools.“
- NRA Secretary and General Counsel John Frazer, whose private law firm represented gun owners, dealers, manufacturers, and importers.
- NRA Board Member Ronnie Barrett, CEO of Barrett Firearms Manufacturing, the manufacturer of the first .50 caliber rifle for civilian use, which could take out commercial planes or helicopters.
- NRA Board Member Stephen Hornady, President of Hornady Manufacturing, an “Industry Leading Ammunition Development and Innovation” company, which sold armor-piercing bullets.
- NRA Board Member Jim Porter, a lawyer with noted “Expertise in defending gun manufacturers in lawsuits.”
- NRA Board Member William Dailey, An attorney for firearms manufacturer Springfield Armory, which specialized in rebuilding battlefield firearms for civilian use.
- NRA Board Member Todd Rathner, an Arizona lobbyist for gun and firearms industry companies.
- NRA Board Member Bob Nosler, President and CEO of ammunition company Nosler, Inc.
- NRA Board Member R. Lee Ermey, a spokesman for Glock Firearms.
- NRA Board Member Charles Cotton, an attorney for shooting ranges in Texas.
In exchange for all the material support, the NRA pushed policies that would enrich the gun industry, and engaged in relentless fearmongering against Democratic politicians, especially after mass shootings and similar firearms tragedies, which resulted in increased sales for the industry. As a former ATF agent put it to the Huffington Post, the NR and the gun industry have “a symbiotic relationship.”
According to the New York Times, the NRA’s “number one” legislative priority was the passage of a law shielding firearms manufacturers from lawsuits regarding liability for gun deaths. The law, which was signed by President Bush in October 2005, “has smothered lawsuits by cities around the country” and saved gun manufacturers hundreds of millions of dollars. The law’s passage resulted in the family of a victim of a mass shooting not only losing their court case, but being forced to pay $203,000 in attorney fees a gun company (who planned on donating the money to the NRA). Immediately following the passage of the law, the NRA launched a fundraising drive targeted at the industry.
The NRA helped the industry in other ways that undermined public health and safety, including:
- Successfully pushing for the passage of concealed carry laws across the United States. NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer was the author of a model bill in Florida which was eventually passed in more than 40 other states. The bills led to increased sales of handguns in states they were passed.
- The NRA fought various bills limiting purchases of weapons, including opposing a bill requiring convicted domestic abusers to turn over or sell their guns.
- The NRA even fought to make it more difficult to convict those guilty of certain gun crimes, including bringing trafficking charges against straw purchasers.
- Despite early opposition from the NRA to the use of “silencers” on weapons, the NRA was recruited by an industry organization in 2011 to ease state restrictions on silencers. The NRA took credit for legalizing silencers in 39 states, despite law enforcement opposition to their use. The result: sales of silencers “soared.”
- The NRA helped create the infamous “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida, spread it nationally, and defended it after the killing of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin brought its deficincies to light.
At both the state and national level, the NRA has fought against reasonable gun safety measures, defeated assault weapons bans, prevented research on stopping gun violence, pushed for doctors in schools, banned doctors from talking to patients about guns, fought high-capacity magazine bans, promoted laws banning local governments from more restrictive gun laws than their state government, fought efforts to crack down on gun trafficking and illegal sales, attempted to overturn laws restricting the sales of guns, lobbied against “smart gun” technology which would prevent anyone but the owner from firing a gun, and tried to weaken enforcement of existing laws. All the while, NRA officials relentlessly fearmongered about the Obama administration, Hillary Clinton, and other Democrats, spiking gun sales up yet again.
Relationship to the Koch Network
The NRA isn’t satisfied to exclusively represent the gun industry; they also forged relationship with the far right and the libertarian wing of the Republican party, including the Koch network. The Kochs, in turn, view the NRA’s effective political and lobbying operations as a key way to increase votes for the Kochs’ preferred politicians. The result? Yet another “symbiotic relationship.” The Koch-backed Center to Protect Patient Rights – now named American Encore – contributed $3.15 million to the NRA in 2012, and the Kochs’ “secret bank,” Freedom Partners, gave an additional $3.465 million. Freedom Partners continued the contributions in 2014 with $4.9 million to the NRA. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was no transaction in 2013, a non-election year.
Additionally, the Kochs’ political longarm, Americans for Prosperity, worked closely with the NRA, and AFP’s VP for Government Affairs, Brent Gardner, formerly worked as an NRA lobbyist. While at NRA, Gardner promoted a law “Restricting the use of state dollars… on gun-control issues,” a bill that was supported by AFP.