Corruption in the NRA

Willow Walden

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.

Email This Story

    The National Rifle Association (NRA) was formed by Civil War veterans in 1871 in order to instruct gun owners in firearm safety and marksmanship. It was a bipartisan group that taught Boy Scouts and other U.S. citizens how to shoot safely, and worked to address issues of hunting rights and natural conservation.

The organization’s primary purpose began to change in 1975, however, after the Institute for Legislative Action was formed to increase access to firearms and slow or reverse gun control measures.

    The NRA has a non-profit, tax exempt status, as it is regarded as a “social welfare organization”, though this may be a generous term, given that according to the IRS, a social welfare organization is allowed to engage in political lobbying and advocacy, but only if it’s not the organization’s main focus or activity. Critics of the NRA have claimed that because the majority of the NRA’s lobbying, education, training and publication activities operate to benefit a private interest- the firearms and ammunition industry- the organization should not qualify to be tax exempt. NRA representatives reject this claim, maintaining the assertion that all profit that the gun manufacturing industry receives thanks to the NRA is coincidental. Whether or not this claim is 100% valid, gun manufacturers across the US such as Glock and SIG Sauer have reimbursed this “coincidence” with between 14.7 and 38.9 million dollars of funding, making themselves the main source of income for the NRA for over a decade. These reimbursements come in the form of contributions, grants, royalty income, and advertising, which alone earned the NRA $20.9 million dollars in 2010 – about 10 percent of its revenue (IRS Form 990). These statistics come together in support of one indisputable fact, regardless of your political orientation; The NRA’s revenues are inextricably linked to the success of the gun business. Handgun manufacturer Taurus buys an NRA membership for everyone who buys one of their guns, and Laser Sight manufacturer Crimson Trace donates 10 percent of each sale to the NRA. Sturm Ruger gives $1 to the NRA for each gun sold, which amounts to millions.  The NRA uses these funds to support their primary agenda of advocacy for gun rights, but in recent decades, this agenda has become addled in the midst of troubling ideology and the pursuit of profit.


    Many front runners of the NRA, for instance, took a major part in the United State’s role in supporting foreign dictatorships during the Cold War. NRA board member Bob Brown even personally accompanied a team of mercenaries to El Salvador on a mission to provide training to the forces of fascist leader Roberto d’Aubuisson, a principal proponent of political assassinations by “death squads”. The most high-profile victim of these squads was Bishop Óscar Romero, who was assassinated after speaking out about human rights abuses in El Salvador. In September 1984, Brown also sent over 100 men and $4 million in supplies to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua. During their war against the Nicaraguan government, the Contras committed a large number of human rights violations and used terrorist tactics, carrying out more than 1300 terrorist attacks. According to Brown’s 1986 editorial “I Am Soldier of Fortune: Dancing with Devils”, he also participated in foreign affairs in Afghanistan, writing “I’ve hunted terrorists with the Rhodesian African Rifles and fired up a Russian fort in Afghanistan with the Mujaheddin” (388). The Rhodesian African Rifles were a regiment that fought under the rule of white supremacist Prime Minister Ian Smith in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) from 1965 to 1979. Their campaigns targeted rebel forces in the country that opposed Smith’s apartheid policies by advocating for universal suffrage. These occurrences, as well as similar actions taken by other front running members of the NRA, were in support of the operations within the United States government in order to repel communism.


Abramoff scandal

    Two powerful members of the NRA Board of Directors — U.S. Rep. Don Young (R-AK) and Americans for Tax Reform founder Grover Norquist — were involved in one of the biggest American political corruption scandals of the last decade: the Abramoff Scandal. The Abramoff lobbying scandal was a United States political scandal exposed in 2005;  related to fraud perpetrated by political lobbyists Ralph E. Reed Jr., Michael Scanlon, Grover Norquist and Jack Abramoff on Native American tribes who were seeking to establish casino gambling on their reservations. The lobbyists grossly overbilled their clients, charging the tribes an estimated total of $85 million in fees. In one case, they actually covertly organized lobbying against their own clients in order to force them to pay for lobbying services. These men were also accused of bribing legislators Including State Representatives Bob Ney and Tom DeLay through illegally giving gifts and making campaign donations in return for votes or support of legislation. Unfortunately, this idea of front running politicians being the beneficiaries of campaign spending by the NRA is not a radical concept.



    Marco Rubio has been the beneficiary of $3,303,355 in campaign spending by the NRA, placing him sixth among current members of Congress. By 2016, the organization had also “invested” $7.7 million in John McCain’s campaign against his Senate electoral opponents, and since that time, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has received $1.3 million. From 2010 through 2018 thus far, the organization donated $111 million to political campaigns of federal candidates, including Senator Joni Ernst ($3.1 million since 2014) and Senator Dean Heller ($122,802 by 2016). These figures are practically pocket change, however, compared to the more than $30 million to help elect Donald Trump, including more than 19 million dollars in political propaganda attacking Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Whether or not these endowments are a driving force behind all of these politician’s advocacy against gun control remains controversial, but it has been made clear that the NRA has a history of withdrawing all financial support in the event that a beneficiary votes against their favor.

    One of the less debatable instances of direct political interference took place in 2015, during a Senate session regarding a measure proposed to prohibit members of the government’s terrorist watch list from buying guns. Collectively, all of the 54 senators who voted in favor of the bill were endowed by the NRA with no less than 37 million dollars in support. Only one Democrat voted against the measure, Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, who has never received NRA support. The result of a bill to require universal background checks for firearms purchases was also influenced by $27 million dollars from NRA, split between all 50 senators who voted against the bill, in the organization’s favor. Once again, Heitkamp, who has never received money from the NRA, was the only Democrat to vote against their favor. These are only a few examples of the corrosive effect on American politics that the National Rifle Association possesses. In 1996, in response to Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) funded research suggesting that having firearms in the home sharply increased the risks of homicide, the NRA encouraged Congress to strip the injury centers of 2.6 million dollars in funding for gun violence research. Congress then passed a measure drafted by then-Representative Jay Dickey forbidding the CDC to spend funds “to advocate or promote gun control.” The NRA initially hoped to eradicate the injury center entirely.

In the light of recent mass-shootings, these factors stir the American animosity against the National Rifle Association, making it not only one of the most supported organizations in the country, but also one of the most opposed.