Inside Story America

The NRA – America’s friend or foe?

We discuss whose interests the powerful US lobby is actually representing as the gun control debate rages on.

There was a celebratory atmosphere as the National Rifle Association (NRA) began its annual convention in Houston on Friday where about 70,000 members were expected to take participate in the gathering.

It s the Cadillac of grassroots lobbying groups - no one does it as well as the National Rifle Association. It is the quintessential grassroots organisation and whether you agree or disagree with their policy positions it is a wonderful way to look at real grassroots democracy in America.

by Richard Feldman, president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association

They met just two weeks after the NRA defeated US President Barack Obama’s push for tighter gun control – a push that came with strong support from an American public horrified by the Newtown school shootings.

Wayne LaPierre, the chief executive of the NRA, told media and members of the public: “We will never back away from our resolve to defend our rights and the rights of all law-abiding American gun owners.”

The victory is a testament to the political power of the NRA – power that the organisation says comes from the grassroots support of gun owners, which is four million strong.

According to its income statements:

  • The organisation has made more than $200m each year since 2010
  • More than half of that money comes from fundraising, sales, advertising and royalities – much of which is generated through its relationships with its “corporate partners”
  • According to a report by the Violence Policy Center: between 2005 and 2011, almost 75 percent of the money from “corporate partners” comes from firearms companies
  • For example: The Freedom group, the manufacturer of the Bushmaster assault rifle – the same gun used by the Newtown shooter – has donated up to $50,000 to the NRA
  • Cabela, an outdoors retailer that also sells ammunition including high-capacity magazines, has donated at least $1m – in cash

So, while the NRA brands itself as a grassroots, member-driven organisation and over the years has emerged as one of the richest and most powerful special interest groups in the US, we ask whose interests it really represents.

Inside Story Americas with presenter Kimberly Halkett discusses with guests: Paul Barrett the author of Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun; Richard Feldman, a former NRA lobbyist and president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association; and Mark Follman, a writer at Mother Jones.

“It is important to recognise that their reach extends to the state and local level in a pretty extraordinary way but there is no doubt that they have very powerful corporate allies – not just in money but literal involvement in running the organisation. We reported a few weeks back that the CEO of the Freedom Group sits on the nominating committee of the NRA, which is the small committee that controls the NRA’s board of directors. It’s a shining example of how the NRA is a direct representation of gun manufacturers’ corporate interests.”

Mark Follman, a writer at Mother Jones.