Skip to content Skip to navigation

Profiting from fear: The National Gun Sellers Association

Acting in Faith  |  By Arnie Alpert, Jan 12, 2016

Governing under the influence.

Photo: AFSC

For the past 15 months AFSC staff and volunteers have been bird-dogging Presidential candidates with questions about Corporate influence on governance in the United States, raising awareness of the private prison lobby, the arms trade lobby, as well as the detention bed quota. In this piece Arnie calls out the NRA and reframes their efforts as supporting gun manufacturers and dealers. To learn more about Governing under the Influence, visit their website. - Lucy

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 to 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.  

People power over corporate power banner #whoprofits?

“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.

Governing under the influence banners in Des Moines

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.

Related content

Governing under the influence

Who profits from the refugee crisis?

On Trump, fear and uprooting the tree of white supremacy

About the Author

Arnie Alpert serves as AFSC’s New Hampshire co-director and co-coordinator of the Presidential Campaign Project, and has coordinated AFSC's New Hampshire program since 1981. He is a leader in movements for economic justice and affordable housing, civil and worker rights, peace and disarmament, abolition of the death penalty, and an end to racism and homophobia. More

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Quaker Meeting/Church Liaison Program

Looking for more ways to get involved? Click here for 11 Ways to connect your meeting/church to the work of AFSC.

Let Your Life Speak

Learn from lives that inspire. Click here to read seven stories of Quakers and AFSC working together for peace with justice.

Quaker Social Change Ministry Pilot Program

Learn more about the Quaker Social Change Ministry Pilot Program. Already interested? Please fill out an interest form.

About Friends Relations

Lucy Duncan works with other AFSC staff to foster strong relationships between AFSC and Quakers.

Lucy is AFSC’s Director of Friends Relations. She has been a storyteller for 20 years and has worked with Quaker meetings on telling stories for racial justice and of spiritual experience. She attends Green Street Friends Meeting (PhYM) and lives with her son and partner in a Quaker cemetery.

Christina is the Friends Relations Fellow this year who works closely with Lucy. She was born and raised in London, England and has a background in copywriting. Christina currently lives in the Wissahickon section of Philadelphia.

emailsignup

Monthly newsletter for Quakers and fellow travelers.

close