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You’re being fooled about NRA fundraising

Friday, June 19, 2015 8:23
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Gun control advocates get hung up on a fascinating mix of strange fixations.  As I’ve mentioned before, some claim that we owe criminals a fair fight, by which they mean an even chance to win the conflict.  Then there are the outright howlers, such as the assertion that they don’t want to take our guns or that they care only about safety.  But one telling accusation that’s been floating around for a while has caught my attention, namely the belief that the NRA represents the interests of gun manufacturers, not gun owners.

The argument being made here breaks down into two parts.  First, we are told that the NRA receives far more money from gun makers than from donations, subscriptions, and annual dues from members.  But also, gun control advocates say that the NRA exists to push the desires of companies that make and sell guns, rather than promoting the rights of ordinary citizens.

Now the specific details of the NRA’s budget are for others to address, as has been done in another article on this site.  The official trade association group for the firearms industry is the National Shooting Sports Foundation.  Does the NRA get money from gun makers?  Certainly.  Do such gun makers have an interest in seeing gun rights defended?  Of course.  Is there anything sinister going on here?  Not at all.

Consider that statement.  Would we be surprised to find that a publisher made donations to groups that defend our right to a free press or to freedom of expression generally?  Control advocates laugh at this question, but what that shows is the fact that they don’t really see gun rights as rights at all.  This takes us back to the concept of framing the debate.  Rights are rights.  We don’t have second-class rights that aren’t effectively different from privileges to be granted by our betters.  Whether or not the NRA gets significant contributions from companies that make guns isn’t really a meaningful question, unless we find a difference in the interests of companies and citizens.

And that’s the second half of the claim.  One such argument was made in an article by Walter Hickey for Business Insider.  In “How the Gun Industry Funnels Millions of Dollars to the NRA,” Hickey runs through various figures on donations and spending before he gets to asserting that the gun-rights group is in fact doing what the tobacco industry did a while ago—promoting their own bottom lines against the interests of ordinary, and by implication non-greedy, Americans.

Examine this claim.  For one, are guns really like tobacco?  I mean no disparagement to smokers here, as we all should be free to ingest what we wish, but tobacco has no safe dose.  And as is now a matter of public record, tobacco companies spent decades hiding facts from the public.  By contrast, what a gun does isn’t in dispute.  When properly functioning, a gun sends a chunk of metal down and out the barrel at speed.  Where that bullet goes—presuming no mechanical defect—is up to the user.  And not only are the vast majority of gun owners responsible and law-abiding, but hundreds of thousands of us defend our lives each year with a gun.  The effect of guns on society is complex, but it is not all, or even mostly bad.  And millions of us use guns in ways that make our lives better, whether that’s collecting them as a hobby, putting food on the table, or defending ourselves from a violent attack.

But there’s more.  Many times I’ve seen the criticism that gun makers are in the business to make a profit.  Shall we all gasp here?  Or should we understand that the essence of capitalism is precisely the making of profits?  What’s at the heart of the attack on the NRA and its budget is a belief, either explicit or more likely implicit and not even recognized, that making money is evil.

Guns are not the sole expression of the American way, and they aren’t our only freedom, but among our core values are the principles that we have the right to make ourselves wealthy from the fruit of our labors and that we have the right to defend ourselves from criminal violence.  Complaining about how the NRA is funded strikes at both of those, and it’s up to us who honor these basic liberties to stand up to these attacks.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of

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