"When I was at the NRA, we said very specifically, 'We do not represent the fi rearm industry,'" says Richard Feldman, a longtime gun lobbyist who left the NRA in 1991. "We represent gun owners. End of story." But in the association's more recent history, he says, "They have really gone after the gun industry."This is important to remember when listening to pitches from the NRA or even more radical gun-proliferation advocates like the Gun Owners of America. They promote fear to encourage more sales of guns and ammunition. And they push for changes in laws to increase gun proliferation to encourage more sales of guns and ammunition. They aren't lobbying for public safety. They're lobbying to sell guns.
Today's NRA stands astride some of the ugliest currents of our politics, combining the "astroturf" activism of the Tea Party, the unlimited and undisclosed "dark money" of groups like Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, and the sham legislating conducted on behalf of the industry through groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council. "This is not your father's NRA," says Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center, a top gun-industry watchdog. Feldman is more succinct, calling his former employer a "cynical, mercenary political cult."
The NRA's alignment with an $11.7 billion industry has fed tens of millions of dollars into the association's coffers, helping it string together victories that would have seemed fantastic just 15 years ago. The NRA has hogtied federal regulators, censored government data about gun crime and blocked renewal of the ban on assault weaponry and high-capacity magazines, which expired in 2004. The NRA secured its "number-one legislative priority" in 2005, a law blocking liability lawsuits that once threatened to bankrupt gunmakers and expose the industry's darkest business practices. Across the country, the NRA has opened new markets for firearms dealers by pushing for state laws granting citizens the right to carry hidden weapons in public and to allow those who kill in the name of self-defense to get off scot-free.
Dickinson also explains how the "NRA is a completely top-down organization," which makes any hope for some sort of internal political opposition that would dramatically change the direction of this organization very unlikely. And he has some interesting things to say about Wayne LaPierre, the organization's main fact to the world:
According to NRA legend, LaPierre is actually a menace with a gun. NRA's PR team once thought it would be sexy to film LaPierre at a firing range. "It was a nightmare," an NRA staffer told Davidson. LaPierre was aiming downrange for the camera when an engineer called for a sound check. To answer the man, LaPierre swung around, but he failed to lower his rifle, aiming it directly at the engineer – before someone took the gun away from LaPierre. The incident, terrifying at the time, became a dark joke at NRA headquarters. Staffers behind on their projects were threatened that they'd have to "go hunting with Wayne." (The NRA's press office did not reply to Rolling Stone inquiries.)However, today there is good reason to believe that the clout of the NRA in retail politics is greatly overblown. But with the Democrats having de-emphasized the gun regulation issue so much for years until just recently, the NRA has been an even more prominent face in the gun debate, which until the Sandy Hook school shooting had been far too one-sided.
Between 1978, when LaPierre was hired as a lobbyist, and 1991, when he took over as CEO, the NRA had been on a historic roll. In those early days, LaPierre served at the knee of a revolutionary NRA executive named Harlon Carter, who transformed an old-time shooters club into a political powerhouse – an "NRA so strong," Carter boasted, "that no politician in America mindful of his political career would want to challenge [our] goals." The NRA started grading politicians on guns – a process Bob Dole kvetched was "a litmus test every five minutes" – rewarding allies with campaign cash and subjecting foes to the backlash of millions of rabid, single-issue gun-owning voters. In 1980, the NRA made its first-ever presidential endorsement with Ronald Reagan, and by 1986 had the Gipper's signature on legislation, overseen by LaPierre, that would usher in a new era of unregulated gun shows.
For more on the topic, see also Blood Money: How the Gun Industry Bankrolls the NRA (Violence Policy Center; April 2011)
Tags: gun proliferation, gun regulation, nra, wayne lapierre