By John Krull
INDIANAPOLIS – Perhaps the BBC responded to the tragedy in San Bernardino, California, in the most appropriate fashion.
John Krull, publisher, TheStatehouseFile.com
“Just another day in the United States,” the British news network said about the mass shooting that left 14 people dead and 21 others injured.
The sad thing is that the BBC is right.
These atrocities have become so common here that most Americans didn’t even realize that the carnage in California wasn’t the only mass shooting in the country on that Wednesday. There was another one earlier in the day in Savannah, Georgia. Four people were shot by two gunmen. One of the victims died.
The killings in Georgia and California pushed the U.S. total of mass shootings in the U.S. in 2015 to more than 350 – and the year is a month shy of being over. No other developed nation on earth comes anywhere close to that record.
There’s a reason so many people die and so much blood flows by gun here in America.
It’s because we Americans let it happen.
We have a culture in this country – particularly a political culture – that cares more about pleasing the National Rifle Association than it does about protecting people.
The NRA began its history as a kind of sportsman’s club, but it long ago stopped being that. It’s now almost exclusively a shill organization for the firearms industry.
Both the NRA and the gun industry go to some lengths to obscure their ties to each other. The NRA does because its leaders find it politically useful to present the NRA as a members’ organization. The gun industry’s reasons we’ll get to in a moment.
The truth is that companies that sell guns make massive financial contributions to the NRA – likely more than $60 million (and the real figure could be much higher) in the past 10 years.
Some of the support is straight-forward.
Many gun companies make large contributions to the NRA’s Ring of Freedom gifting program. Among the donors to the Ring of Freedom are Midway USA, Springfield Armory Inc., Pierce Bullet Seal Target Systems, Beretta USA Corporation, Cabala’s, Sturm Rugar & Co, and Smith & Wesson.
Gun companies also spend more than $20 million annually advertising with the NRA.
Other financial support from the firearms industry is more shadowy.
Taurus, for example, buys an NRA membership for everyone who buys one of its guns. The money shows up on the NRA’s books as individual membership income, but the cash comes from the gun industry. Other gun companies direct portions of their gun sales to the NRA.
(Anyone interested in looking into the NRA’s somewhat byzantine finances can find great information at the Violence Policy Center, the NRA’s 990 tax forms and the NRA’s own website.)
Why do the gun companies spend money so lavishly on the NRA?
The first and most obvious reason is that funding the NRA gives the firearms industry a tool for crafting financially advantageous gun laws at both the federal and state levels. Guns are big business. There are more than 200 million privately owned firearms in the United States. Gun sales amount to billions of dollars annually.
Spending tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars on the NRA to keep the cash registers ringing just makes good business sense for weapons sellers. (Much of that money, of course, takes the form of lobbying expenditures and political contributions, which will be the subject of a future column).
But there’s another reason the gun industry funds the NRA so generously. That organization serves as a shield. Mass shootings such as the one in California produce understandable public outrage, most of which the NRA absorbs.
If the NRA didn’t exist in its current form, the CEOs and boards of gun companies might find their businesses and homes picketed. By making the NRA the face of gun policy in America, those CEOs and board members are able to count their profits in private, away from the angry scrutiny of grieving survivors who have lost friends and family members to gun violence.
That’s why, even as we collect bodies from the streets in Georgia, California and everywhere else in America, gun sales soar. That’s the way the gun industry and its subsidiary the NRA want it.
Just another day in the United States.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.