Whether it's a quiet Friday afternoon or the day after a mass shooting, chances are it's not the appropriate time to talk about gun control. Thanks to the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its massive $200 million-plus war chest, politicians are forced to treat assault rifle ownership like it's as sacrosanct as the First Amendment.
Unsurprisingly, the manufacturers of those rifles play a massive role in helping the NRA set the terms of the debate. Because of a study carried out last year by the Violence Policy Center, we know that firearm makers - such as GLOCK, Smith & Wesson and Remington - have given the NRA between $14.7 million and $38.9 million since 2005.
But the amount actually given by gunmakers could be a lot more than that. In 2010 alone, IRS filings show that the NRA took in over $71 million in grants, donations, and gifts and made just under $21 million by selling advertising. It wouldn't be farfetched to assume that gunmakers and sellers were the primary sources of this revenue, which made up around 40 percent of the NRA's cash flow that year. In 2010, membership fees totaled around $100 million, but also constituted less than half of the organization's income.
What this means is that the NRA is more likely to pay heed to gunmakers at the expense of rank-and-file members, who actually tend to support gun control. According to a poll of 945 gun owners conducted by the pro-gun-control Mayors Against Illegal Guns, over seven in ten NRA members back stricter gun-control measures. Those rules include: mandated safety training as a prerequisite for concealed carry permits; forbidding those convicted of violent misdemeanors from obtaining concealed carry permits; criminal background checks for gun purchases, and stopping people on terrorist watch lists from obtaining guns. Six in ten NRA members also supported forcing gun owners to report stolen firearms to police. And more NRA members (87 percent) than non-NRA member gun owners (83 percent) agreed that "support for 2nd Amendment rights goes hand-in-hand with keeping illegal guns out of the hands of criminals."
But because NRA executives have diversified their portfolio, they can ignore the research suggesting that gun control isn't a high-voltage third rail, after all. Annual membership fees at $35 a pop pale in comparison to the millions from industry players who helped finance the NRA's $136 million worth of influence-pushing in 2010, when the group spent around that amount on legal services, professional fundraising, advertising and promotion, conferences, member communications, program services and legislative action. The institution appears to be more of a lobby for gunmakers than an organization that stands up for gun owners.
And it's money well spent for industry players. Between 2008 and 2011, the National Shooting Sports Foundation estimated that the gun industry's "direct economic impact" doubled to $13.6 billion.
Thanks to the NRA's alarmist fear-mongering, these trends - industry growth and lobbying - are likely to continue, no matter who is in the White House in January. If Obama wins, it's likely that a small number of paranoid gun-clutchers will fuel a shopping spree similar to the one that occurred in November 2008. If Romney wins, it's even more likely that the federal government will pass no new firearm regulations between 2013 and 2017. It's a win-win situation for gunmakers.
But there will be losers: namely, the 268 Americans who fall victim to gunshots every day. Undoubtedly, some could have been saved by modest gun-control legislation. If the arms makers continue to have their way, victims' legislators might not even feel comfortable raising the issue.