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Guns in America

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Firearms Vendors Raise Millions for NRA

January 24th 2011

Congressional issues - Glock with 31-round mag

MidwayUSA is a Missouri company well known among gun enthusiasts for its firearms accessories: the company website boasts that the firm stocks “Just about everything for shooting, reloading, gunsmithing, and hunting.”

These wares include high-capacity magazines similar to those used in the Arizona shooting spree that enabled the accused assailant to kill six people and wound 14 others—including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords—by rapidly firing a fusillade of shots without pausing to reload.

Over the last two decades, MidwayUSA has done just about everything to help the National Rifle Association flourish financially.

In 1992 MidwayUSA developed a fundraising tactic to boost the NRA’s fortunes, dubbed “Round-Up,” that has yielded $5.7 million for the NRA’s lobbying operations. The MidwayUSA money drive asks customers to “round up” the total of each order to the nearest dollar or higher. Then the company donates the difference to the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, a lobbying arm of the gun rights group.

For good measure, Brenda Potterfield, the wife of Midway CEO Larry Potterfield and a co-owner of the firm, serves as vice president of the NRA Foundation’s board of trustees. Little wonder that the firm’s website declares that no company in the country is “more dedicated to, and more supportive of, the goals of the National Rifle Association than MidwayUSA.”

A review uncovered several little-noticed symbiotic ties between gun companies and the NRA.

Other companies that sell high-capacity magazines and gun gear also embraced the round up idea to boost the NRA’s finances. The website of MidwayUSA notes that since 1992 other companies have deployed the same round up fundraising tool: together with MidwayUSA, other firearms industry players have funneled a total of $7.5 million to the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action.

During the first nine months of last year, the NRA and its ILA unit spent a total of $2 million on lobbying, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Further, some of these vendors of high-capacity magazines also boast executives who are board members of the NRA. Ronnie Barrett, the CEO of Tennessee-based Barrett Firearms Manufacturing, which makes a military-style rifle sold with high-capacity magazines, was elected to the NRA board in 2009. And Pete Brownell, who runs Iowa-based Brownells Inc., which also makes high-capacity magazines, joined the NRA board in 2010.

The strong financial and corporate ties to the NRA underscore how the gun rights goliath has become increasingly intertwined with some of the nation’s leading accessory vendors that sell high-capacity magazines. All have big stakes in fighting a pending gun control measure in Washington.

The links between the NRA and the firms that sell high-capacity magazines are likely going to get more scrutiny as Congress weighs legislation that will be introduced Tuesday by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., to ban the transfer, importation, or possession of high-capacity magazines—magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. (It would “grandfather” high-capacity magazines already in the possession of gunowners). A companion bill will be introduced in the Senate by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.

The NRA seems poised to launch a lobbying blitzkrieg to defeat the legislation. Last week the NRA issued a statement calling high-capacity magazines “standard equipment for self-defense handguns and other firearms owned by tens of millions of Americans.” And the NRA also vowed to “stand front and center in defense of the rights of gun owners.”

Gun control advocates are hoping to undercut some of the NRA’s famously strong support among congressional Republicans and moderate Democrats by targeting these close ties between the NRA and high-capacity magazine distributors.

“The NRA acts as a trade association for the firearms industry,” said Josh Sugarmann, the executive director of the Violence Policy Center, a gun control advocacy group that backs the new legislation. “The NRA’s priorities are not gun owners but the manufacturers of guns and accessories.”

The NRA’s opposition to gun control measures, Sugarmann added, often “isn’t about protecting the rights of millions of gun owners [so much] as protecting the financial interests of NRA board members and the NRA itself.”

Both MidwayUSA and Brownells are major distributors of gun accessories including high-capacity magazines. And Barrett’s high-capacity magazines are sold with one of their military-style rifles. For example, MidwayUSA offers magazines at 10, 15, 30, 33 and 40 rounds, all of which won 5-star reviews from users. “Well worth the money,” said one buyer. Another wrote, “It doesn’t get any better than this!”

Top executives from the three firearms companies were in Las Vegas this week for an annual trade show, dubbed the “SHOT Show,” where numerous companies display their wares. None of the companies returned phone calls or emails seeking comment.

Members of Congress who back bans on the sale and manufacture of high-capacity magazines stressed that they are unnecessary for hunting. “The only purpose for the existence of these devices is to be able to shoot as many people as possible as quickly as possible,” said Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband was killed and her son wounded in a commuter train mass shooting in 1993. In a “Dear Colleague” letter that she wrote as her House bill was being prepared, “There is no reason these devices should be available to the general public.”

A weaker version of the McCarthy bill was part of the assault weapons ban which became law in 1994 and expired in 2004—despite support for its renewal by President George W. Bush.

Peter H. Stone writes for the Center for Public Integrity, from where this article is reprinted.


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