The NRA favors civilian shootings ... and massive profits

On December 14th, in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, I popped off with a quick, frustrated, angry tweet that seemed to me to be the simplest way to express the political situation in this country when it comes to gun laws:

shunn:  Can we just come out and say that the NRA, when its position is stripped down to basics, favors civilian shootings?

This didn't excite much comment on Twitter, but when the tweet reached Facebook it was a different story. The first comment, right out of the blocks, from a friend, was this:

Loved M. Gunns:  We could say that but we'd be stupid assholes for saying it.

A lot of very smart people (including some very smart, very wrong people) waded into the fray over the next 24 hours or so. I stayed out of it as long as I could, leaving the defense of sanity in the capable hands of my like-minded friends. But finally, after my own cousin called my initial comment "wrong and silly," I had to jump in and defend it.

Bill Shunn:  The NRA wants us to have more guns. (We already have 300,000,000 in this country, up 50% in the last 30 years.) More guns, the statistics show, leads to more shootings.

I suppose I was using a lot of words that were easy to pick on, verbs like "favors" and "wants" that imputed volition to an organization. This response was typical of what we saw in the exchanges:

Loved M. Gunns:  It's inaccurate to characterize the NRA as wanting us "to have more guns." Come on, you're smart as hell, Bill. You can argue a good case without making stuff up.

This is a typical response not just from my Facebook debate but from the gun-control debate at large. "You don't know what you're talking about," say gun advocates to opponents. "All your stats and science are so much nonsense."

Look, the NRA is a political-action group that has spent the past thirty years doing nothing but fighting to roll back every last sensible gun-control measure, to oppose every new gun-control effort, to crush every political candidate who talks about gun control, and to expand the accepted constitutional definition of the right to bear arms.

The NRA has created the conditions that have allowed firearms sales in U.S. to proliferate to ridiculous levels, and that in turn has created the conditions that have turned mass shootings into a regular feature on our television screens. In the same way that the resurgence of the American economy created conditions that favored an Obama victory in November, NRA lobbying efforts favor an atmosphere conducive to civilian shootings.

The NRA claims to be an organization representing the interests of gun owners, an organization that promotes gun safety and responsible gun use. If they truly favored safety, though, it seems to me that they'd support policies that ensured that guns would end up only in the hands of responsible owners. Instead, their opposition to any attempts to limit access to semiautomatic weapons or to impose background checks on gun buyers results in millions of gun sales that would never happen if saner policies were in force.

Particularly at a time when polls show that even the vast majority of NRA members are in favor of more background checks and limits on semiautomatic weapons, it becomes increasingly difficult to defend the idea that the NRA doesn't want us to have more guns. This seems so self-evident to me, in fact, that claims to the contrary (like that of my friend "Loved M. Gunns" above) strike me as willfully naive and, yes, stupid.

And why would an organization like the NRA want us to have more guns? There can only be one reason, and that reason has to be money. As I said to a different friend at the end of one of the saner exchanges in that Facebook thread:

Bill Shunn:  I suspect—will need to research—that the ultimate positive correlation with NRA lobbying efforts is the fortunes of the arms industry.

In other words, my guess—without having looked into the question at all—was that the NRA has become a tool of the firearms industry. Last week, the proof of this assumption landed on my doorstep.

The February 14th issue of Rolling Stone contains an excellent investigative article by Tim Dickinson called "The NRA vs. America" that delves into this very issue. I highly recommend you read the full piece, which is available online in its entirety, but let me just highlight a few salient passages.

Here's one about the composition of the NRA's board of directors:

Today's NRA is a completely top-down organization. It has been led since 1991 by LaPierre, its chief executive, who serves at the pleasure of a 76-member board that is all but self-perpetuating. Only one-third of the board's membership is up for re-election in any given year. Voting is limited to the NRA's honored "lifetime" members and to dues-payers with at least five consecutive years of being in good standing. Write-in candidates occasionally pepper the ballot, but in practice, the tiny slice of eligible members who bother to vote rubber-stamp a slate of candidates dictated by the NRA's 10-member nominating committee—one of whose members is George Kollitides II, CEO of Freedom Group, which manufactures the Bushmaster semiautomatic that Adam Lanza used to slaughter children in Newtown.

And another:

The NRA's board is stocked with industry brass. Pete Brownell, president of Brownells—an Internet arms superstore that features "ultrahigh-capacity magazines"—campaigned for his seat touting the importance for the NRA to have "directors who intimately understand and work in leadership positions within the firearms industry." Another board seat belongs to Ronnie Barrett, CEO of Barrett Firearms Manufacturing, whose company produces .50-caliber sniper rifles capable of piercing armor from nearly a mile away. Barrett's firm also sells scope-mounted ballistics computers that enable clueless civilians to hit targets like they were special-forces snipers. The ammunitions side of the industry finds a voice in board member Stephen Hornady, whose company peddles armor-piercing bullets and trades on the slogan "Accurate. Deadly. Dependable."

So that's the board of directors. Now here's a sobering passage about NRA funders:

The NRA insists in its publications that it is "not a trade organization" and that it is "not affiliated with any firearm or ammunition manufacturers or with any businesses that deal in guns and ammunition." That is a lie. NRA's corporate patrons include 22 firearms manufacturers, 12 of which are makers of assault weapons with household names like Beretta and Ruger, according to a 2011 analysis by the Violence Policy Center. The report, drawn from the NRA's own disclosures, also identified gifts from dozens of firms that profit from high-capacity magazines, including Browning and Remington. Donors from the industry and other dark reaches of the corporate world—including Xe, the new name of the mercenary group Blackwater—had funneled up to $52 million to the NRA in recent years.

More disturbing, the NRA receives funds directly from the sales of arms and ammunition. The "Round-Up" program, launched by arms retailer Midway USA, encourages customers to increase their purchases to the nearest dollar and sends the extra coin to the association. Midway customers alone have contributed nearly $8 million in this way to support NRA's lobbying division, the Institute for Legislative Action.

And finally, this passage about the NRA's allegiances:

Top corporate patrons are treated like royalty. Those whose giving to the NRA reaches $1 million or more are inaugurated into an elite NRA society called the "Golden Ring of Freedom" in a ceremony where they're presented with a silk-lined golden blazer with a hand-embroidered crest. Industry honchos seen in "the million-dollar jacket" include the heads of Ruger, Beretta, Midway and Cabela's, an outfitter that sells 12 models of semiautomatic rifles.

Much like elite funders of a major political party, these Golden Ringers enjoy top access to decision-makers at the NRA. Their interests, not the interest of the $35-a-year member, rule the roost. "They've got this base of true believers that they mail their magazines out to," says policy analyst [Tom] Diaz. "But the NRA is really about serving this elite."

Like I said, I highly recommend that you read the entire article (though I'd suggest you take your blood-pressure medication first), but I think it's obvious from these selections that the NRA could care less about the opinions or the well-being of the average hunter or sportsman. The NRA may not actively wish any given civilian to be shot by a gun-wielding lunatic (though in my opinion that's still open to debate), but as long as the firearms industry is pulling their strings, they seem perfectly happy to ignore all the collateral damage they're enabling.

In other words, the NRA favors civilian shootings. Q.E.D.