What We Learned From The NRA's Tax Documents (Hint: They Profit From Gun Sales)

Over the past two years  I’ve collected the stories of families affected by gun violence. Traveling from city to city in the U.S. and having the gut wrenching task of asking people to relive their most heartbreaking moments,  I began to see through the smoke and mirrors the NRA has so masterfully created. They had sold an idea to the American people that you need a gun; laws can’t protect you but guns can.  However, the same "failed laws" the NRA claimed couldn't protect human life, were worth spending millions to protect guns. It made no sense until we discovered who pays the NRA. That’s when I began to connect the dots.

In 2014, 13-year-old Eddie Holmes was shot in the chest, unintentionally, by another child playing with a shotgun that the boys found loaded and stashed haphazardly behind a parent’s bed.

That same year, the National Rifle Association, the lobbying front-group for the major gun companies, spent $345 million and change (more than the entire annual budget of several island nations). Some of that money went to ensuring that no one got prosecuted, or even fined, as a result of Eddie’s death. Some of it went to marketing fear, selling the idea that having a loaded shotgun at the ready – and in reach of a child – will keep your family safe. Eddie’s is one of the five  stories Brave New Films will tell in Making a Killing: Guns, Greed and the NRA (trailer above) which comes out in March. We’d like you to be a part of it.

Given that the group took in less than it did the year before -- a mere $310.5 million in revenues -- this was what passes as a bad year for the National Rifle Association.

Still, it was enough to stifle common-sense gun violence prevention and the will of the vast majority of Americans. In Wisconsin, they battled for, and in 2015, won, a repeal of the state’s 48-hour waiting period for purchase of a handgun. Had such a law been in place in Oregon, law student Kerry Lewiecki’s family believes he might have been alive today.  Nationally, despite bipartisan consensus and a nation mourning the devastating shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school, the NRA had the year before shut down efforts in Congress to require background checks for all gun sales. Without universal background checks, any law with the goal of protecting victims of domestic violence, like Kate Ranta, would be useless. 

Some of the millions that made it possible for the NRA to create the facade that they are for the very Americans they were aiding in killing were spent on things like publications, such as NRA Family, which this month features a cartoon entitled “Little Red Riding Hood Has a Gun.” This promises to be the first in a series of classic fairy tales retold to “comfort” children with the concept of armed and dangerous Hansels, Gretels and the like riding off into the sunset.  The price tag for these publications, in truth propaganda, was more than $26 million.

Also included in the gun lobby’s massive expenditures in 2014 is $56.6 million dumped into advertising and promotion to scare politicians into believing that votes for common-sense laws that would, for example, require firearms be locked away, or even just out of reach of children, are career killers.  

In case those politicians didn’t get the message clearly enough, that same year the NRA spent (or at least admitted to spending) approximately $1.1 million on lobbying, $5.7 million on political expenditure and another $23 million on unspecified “legislative programs.” The actual amount the NRA spends to influence legislation is almost impossible to pin down. Between 2008-2014, the NRA failed to disclose over $58 million in political spending to the IRS.

All this was managed by staff who raked in a total of $43 million in salaries in 2014. Nearly a million of that went to Wayne LaPierre, the notorious executive director who will go down in history for his callous and ridiculous call to arm school personnel in the wake of Sandy Hook. Perhaps he was worth the money. Or maybe, if he just made a little less, and the gun companies were a little less greedy, Eddie Holmes would be alive today.