Beginning today, the National Rifle Association (NRA) will meet in Houston, Texas, for its annual convention, the public centerpiece of which is, according to the NRA, "the most spectacular displays of firearms, shooting and hunting accessories in the world." Gun companies participating in this show of the "firearm industry's latest and greatest products" include the manufacturers of the assault rifles used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, that left 20 students and six educators dead (Bushmaster, Booth 3834) and the Aurora theater shooting that left 12 dead and 58 injured (Smith & Wesson, Booth 2711).
That such effusive praise should be lavished on what is essentially an industry trade show akin to the auto shows that come out of Detroit (just replace cars with guns) is no surprise. Today's NRA is nothing less than a gun industry trade association maquerading as a shooting sports foundation.
As first revealed in the Violence Policy Center's (VPC) 2011 study Blood Money, the NRA now has an active and aggressive organized fundraising effort targeting the gun industry. According to NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, the organization's Ring of Freedom Corporate Partners Program "is geared toward your company's corporate interests" and "is an opportunity for corporations to partner with the NRA." Since the Ring of Freedom was established in 2005, our 2011 study detailed contributions from the gun industry as reported by the NRA as between $14.7 and $38.9 million. But this is only a self-reported, snapshot in time. The actual numbers today are increasing by the millions: $1.2 million from Sturm, Ruger & Co., a jump from Smith & Wesson from a mere $50,000 to more than a million. And as we know from departing NRA President David Keene (whose son is a convicted road-rage shooter) the NRA hopes to expand its industry support. As Keene told CNN's Candy Crowley earlier this year:
"Actually, Sandy [sic], we get less money from the industry than we'd like to get.... But we get some. We get more than we used to."
One measure of the NRA's confidence in getting "more than" they "used to" is the fact that while the original Ring of Freedom giving levels topped out at 10 million (the then-pinnacle being the Harlon Carter level, named for the former NRA head, ranking him above the Founding Fathers) since then the organization has added two new levels: The Theodore Roosevelt Society (for total giving between $10 million and just under $25 million) and the Charlton Heston Society (for giving over $25 million).
Also present at the show will be major smokeless and black powder vendors. As detailed in the new VPC study Time Bomb: How the NRA Blocked the Regulation of Black and Smokeless Powder to the Benefit of its Gun Industry "Corporate Partners" Today, since the 1970s the NRA has worked to stop the federal regulation of black and smokeless powder, including background checks on transfers. Among those who benefit today from this decades-long campaign are convention sponsor MidwayUSA (founded by NRA top corporate donor Larry Potterfield) and Brownells (owned by NRA board member Pete Brownell). According to numerous news reports, black or smokeless powder are among the explosives suspected to have been used in the Boston bombing.
And while the NRA promises that the meeting will draw more than 70,000 attendees, left unstated is the fact the vast majority of these participants aren't there to attend the organization's annual "meeting of members" and hear Wayne LaPierre and other NRA leaders offer their red-meat speeches to the C-Span masses -- but to see the products of the organization's gun industry patrons.
As firearms ownership has dropped over the past three decades, the NRA's leadership has turned to the gun industry for its future. Its predictable opposition to any and all gun violence prevention measures are not about defending gun rights, but protecting the bottom line of its gun industry partners. While the NRA celebrates the gun industry's "latest and greatest" products, the victims of gun violence mourn the lives and communities devastated by them.