I wrote this one for AFSC’s “Acting in Faith” blog.
Next time you hear the National Rifle Association referred to as a “gun owners” group, ask yourself if the news would have a different impact if the NRA were called a “gun sellers” group. Or next time you read a story in which the NRA is called a “gun rights” group or “second amendment defenders,” consider what the impact would be if it were labeled a “lobby for firearms manufacturers.” The fact that makers and peddlers of firearms are big dollar supporters of the NRA ought to be part of the story.
According to the Violence Policy Center’s 2013 report, Blood Money II: How Gun Industry Dollars Fund the NRA, the NRA’s “Corporate Partners Program” generates between $19.3 million and $60.2 million a year for the organization. Included in the figure, the report says, are eight gun industry ‘corporate partners’ who have donate a million dollars or more a year.
“The NRA’s so-called ‘corporate partners’ in the gun industry are the nation’s top-selling manufacturers of firearms and accessories. One of the companies that has donated a million dollars or more to the NRA is Remington Outdoor Company (formerly Freedom Group), manufacturer of the Bushmaster assault rifle used at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut,” according to VPC.
The big donors, in the million-dollar-plus category, are Midway USA, Beretta, Brownells, Freedom Group, Pierce Bullet Seal Target Systems, Springfield Armory, Smith & Wesson, and Strum Ruger. Several firearm retailers (Cabella’s, Davidson’s, and Greg Martin Auctions) are in the $250,000 to $500,000 range.
“They are our voice” was how Smith & Wesson’s CEO, James Debney, put it in an NRA video.
“In its early days, the National Rifle Association was a grassroots social club that prided itself on independence from corporate influence,” writes Walter Hickey in Business Insider. Those days are gone.
“The bulk of the group’s money now comes in the form of contributions, grants, royalty income, and advertising, much of it originating from gun industry sources,” he writes, and adds, “The NRA also made $20.9 million — about 10 percent of its revenue — from selling advertising to industry companies marketing products in its many publications in 2010, according to the IRS Form 990.”
“Some companies donate portions of sales directly to the NRA,” Jarret Murphy reported several years ago on Alternet. “Crimson Trace, which makes laser sights, donates 10 percent of each sale to the NRA. Taurus buys an NRA membership for everyone who buys one of their guns. Sturm Ruger gives $1 to the NRA for each gun sold, which amounts to millions. The NRA’s revenues are intrinsically linked to the success of the gun business.”
That the NRA’s own website is notably lacking in details about the organization’s finances and governance does make it hard to understand the powerful organization’s inner workings. CNN Money says the organization’s revenue grew to $350 million in the year after the Sandy Hook mass killings, with about half coming from the members.
The NRA still provides marksmanship training and sponsors educational programs, but its reputation is based on its political role, including more than $3 million a year in federal lobbying expenses and nearly $30 million in election-related projects during the last campaign cycle. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, “the NRA’s influence is felt not only through campaign contributions, but through millions of dollars in off-the-books spending on issue ads.” Its lobbying targets include members of Congress, but also the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.
The Center for Public Integrity puts it this way: “The power of the gun lobby is rooted in multiple factors, among them the pure passion and single-mindedness of many gun owners, the NRA’s demonstrated ability to motivate its most fervent members to swarm their elected representatives, and the lobby’s ability to get out the vote on election day. But there’s little doubt that money, the political power it represents, and the fear of that power and money, which the NRA deftly exploits, have a lot to do with the group’s ability to repeatedly control the national debate about guns.”
The NRA is perhaps the key place where the culture of fear and the money-drenched political system have their closest correlation. Fear of crime, which often carries a racial tinge. Fear of immigrants, likewise. Fear of government officials taking or outlawing guns. Stoke those fears, and too many Americans rush to the local or online arms market for more guns and send money to the NRA. The manufacturers and peddlers of firearms add to the NRA’s cache of cash. The NRA uses its millions to stoke more fear and the cycle goes on.
And that’s what I’m afraid of.