One thing we’ve seen play out since the gun control issue exploded after the Sandy Hook tragedy last month, is the incredible disconnect between the leadership of the NRA and the rank and file members of the organization.
Most members of the NRA support the creation and enforcement of rational gun laws, but what’s been on display from people like Wayne LaPierre and David Keene has been a wildly different story. And we may have a few answers as to why this deviation between members and leadership exists.
The NRA likes to tout the fact that they represent a large swath of the citizenry, boasting a purported four million member base, although, as Mother Jones points out, that number has never been confirmed and the organization refuses to release their membership rolls:
Whenever the National Rifle Association is accused of extremism, it trots out the claim that it represents a large chunk of America’s gun owners. Last week, it said it has 4.2 million members and counting. Though the group doesn’t publish its membership rolls and didn’t respond to questions about its size, there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that it is making itself out to be bigger than it truly is.
Estimates of the size of its membership have varied widely over the past 20 years. At different times in 2008, for example, it pegged its membership at 3 million and 4.3 million—a difference of more than 40 percent. A 2012 document for prospective sponsors of the NRA’s annual meeting (PDF), found by Bloomberg News, said the group had 4 million members, of which 2 million were the “most active and interested.”
Those members are supposed to be active in choosing the Board of Directors for the NRA, but Mother Jones has uncovered something completely different. The election of board members is supposed to be a somewhat organic process led by members:
Elections for the NRA board, which oversees the organization’s nearly 800 employees and more than $200 million in annual revenues, occur annually for 25 directors, who serve three-year terms. The vote typically involves less than 7 percent of NRA members, according to past NRA ballot results and pro-NRA bloggers. A low election turnout among members is not uncommon among nonprofit groups, but how a candidate gets his or her name on the ballot is key. According to an NRA supporter and self-proclaimed Second Amendment activist in Pennsylvania who blogs under the handle “Sebastian,” this occurs one of two ways: It requires a grassroots petition by members, which rarely gets a candidate on the ballot, or a candidate must be included on the official slate endorsed by the Nominating Committee.
“Read the bios in your ballot and you’ll see that almost all were nominated by the nominating committee,” complained “Pecos Bill” from Illinois last January in one pro-gun-rights forum. “Seems the NRA, fine organization that it is, is being run like a modern corporation and the ‘good ol’ boys’ are keeping themselves in power.”
But it would seem it’s the nominating committee that is the real power behind board elections:
The NRA leadership is known as much for its organizational secrecy as its absolutist interpretation of the Second Amendment. That may be why, until now, little has been known about some of its most powerful insiders. They sit on the NRA board of directors’ nine-member Nominating Committee, which, despite ballots distributed annually to legions of NRA members, closely controls who can be elected to the NRA board.
So, who are the members of this nominating committee? Well, two of them have very uncomfortable ties with Newtown:
- George K. Kollitides II, the chief executive of Freedom Group—which made the Bushmaster military-style assault rifle used in the Newtown massacre—was appointed as a member of the current committee, despite his failed attempts to be elected to the NRA board.
- The current head of the Nominating Committee, Patricia A. Clark, lives in Newtown, just a couple of miles from the school where 20 young children and six adults were massacred.
- While longtime NRA members and election watchers have reported that the Nominating Committee consists entirely of elected board members, the organization’s bylaws allow for three members to be appointed from outside the NRA board—as three of its current members were.
- Two additional outsiders appointed to the current Nominating Committee include Roger K. Bain, a licensed federal firearms dealer in Pennsylvania, and Riley B. Smith, a timber company executive in Alabama.
Kollitides’ Freedom Group, could be the real push behind the NRA machine. The company’s website describes itself thusly:
We are the world’s leading innovator, designer, manufacturer and marketer of firearms, ammunition and related products for the hunting, shooting sports, law enforcement and military markets. As one of the largest manufacturers in the world of firearms and ammunition, we have some of the most globally recognized brands including Remington®, Bushmaster® Firearms, DPMS/Panther Arms™, Marlin®, H&R®, The Parker Gun™, Mountain Khakis®, Advanced Armament Corp. ®, Dakota Arms®, Para™ USA and Barnes® Bullets.
You know that old saying – “Follow the money” – well, this is the treasure trove, and they have become the kings of consolidation within the gun industry:
In recent years, many top-selling brands — including the 195-year-old Remington Arms, as well as Bushmaster Firearms and DPMS, leading makers of military-style semiautomatics — have quietly passed into the hands of a single private company. It is called the Freedom Group — and it is the most powerful and mysterious force in the American commercial gun industry today.
Never heard of it?
You’re not alone. Even within gun circles, the Freedom Group is something of an enigma. Its rise has been so swift that it has become the subject of wild speculation and grassy-knoll conspiracy theories. In the realm of consumer rifles and shotguns — long guns, in the trade — it is unrivaled in its size and reach. By its own count, the Freedom Group sold 1.2 million long guns and 2.6 billion rounds of ammunition in the 12 months ended March 2010, the most recent year for which figures are publicly available.
Behind this giant is Cerberus Capital Management, the private investment company that first came to widespread attention when it acquired Chrysler in 2007. (Chrysler later had to be rescued by taxpayers). With far less fanfare, Cerberus, through the Freedom Group, has been buying big names in guns and ammo.
So it appears that the NRA isn’t really representing its members; instead, it’s merely part and parcel of the gun and ammo industry, which would explain their staunch opposition to any form of gun safety proposals – which is itself in staunch opposition to the wishes of the majority of its members – because their coffer masters could stand to lose a boat-load of cash in that case.
This report really isn’t a surprise or a shocker, but it does show where the real power lies within the organization – and it’s not all those “law-abiding gun owners” they so love to claim they are standing up for.