This week, an investigation released by Al Jazeera showed how NRA lobbyists advised politicians from Australia’s far-right One Nation party who sought to loosen the nation’s gun-control measures and make firearms more accessible. Among other recommendations, the NRA representatives suggested shaming gun-control groups after mass shootings and ghost-writing columns in local newspapers.
This was not an isolated incident. In fact, just days after a gunman killed 50 people in Christchurch, New Zealand, figures affiliated with the NRA went into overdrive arguing that New Zealand’s gun-control measures led to the massacre. Twitter accounts began tweeting the NRA’s pro-gun propaganda at New Zealand lawmakers and citizens, and the country’s pro-gun lobbyIsts began parroting NRA talking points.
Similarly, at the end of 2016, prominent NRA-linked researchers appeared before the Mexican Senate to discuss bringing in more firearms, leading one Mexican newspaper to publish the headline, “The Mexican Senate Opens its Doors to the National Rifle Association.”
So why would an organization that wraps itself in the American flag and regularly attacks gun-control supporters for importing “European-style” socialism into the United States spend so much time working with pro-gun politicians and advocates in places such as Brazil, Australia, Russia and New Zealand — all in an effort to push those nations to loosen their gun laws?
The likely answer is that the lobby is motivated to find new international customers for American gun manufacturers and help foreign gun makers sell their firearms in the U.S. market. After all, it gets a cut.
The United States is already the largest gun exporter in the world, with firearm exports increasing over the past six years. A recent report from the Center for American Progress concluded that U.S.-sourced guns “were used to commit crimes in nearby countries approximately once every 31 minutes” between 2014 and 2016. And just last month, partly at the NRA’s behest, the Trump administration made it even easier for U.S. weapons manufacturers to send their products overseas by imposing a less onerous licensing process for exporters. The new system will also make it harder to track how American weapons are used globally.
As the NRA itself admitted after the administration’s rules became public, the goal of the measure is the “promotion of American industry, innovation, and competitiveness.”
But the self-proclaimed “oldest civil rights organization in the country” is happy to cash in from foreign gun makers as well. Almost one-third of all U.S. gun sales are imports, and many foreign gun makers are now producing their firearms right here in the United States.
As Iain Overton, a gun-control activist in London, explained to Bloomberg, “Europeans sell guns to the Americans that one isn’t allowed to have in Europe. ... People here see no irony in making guns here and shipping them off to the U.S.”
For those manufacturers, cultivating relationships with the American gun lobby is paramount for business. Who, after all, will defend foreign gun manufacturers after their firearms are used in mass shootings here in the United States and ensure that the market for American customers remains unrestricted? The alleged killer at the Pittsburgh synagogue in October relied on three Austrian Glock .357 handguns (along with a Colt AR-15 rifle). The shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary School used a Glock 10mm handgun and a German SIG Sauer P226 9mm handgun as well as an American-made assault weapon to kill 26 people.
So it’s no surprise that in 2008, Beretta, an Italian gun manufacturer, pledged to donate $1 million to the NRA. Belgian FN Herstal gave as much as $200,000 to the lobby in 2013. Glock donated at least $115,000 during 2011, and both Glock and Beretta are part of the lobby’s Golden Ring of Freedom, an elite circle for donors that gift $1 million or more. SIG Sauer is also part of that club.
Close financial ties between the NRA and foreign gun makers highlight just how far the NRA has evolved from an organization dedicated to improving the marksmanship of Union soldiers to a powerful and sophisticated lobby dedicated to advancing the economic interests of firearm manufacturers all around the world. It also raises important questions about the validity of its status as a tax-exempt social welfare organization that is supposed to primarily serve the community interest.
The NRA describes its mission as, “to protect and defend the US Constitution; to promote public safety, law and order, and the national defense; to train law enforcement agencies; to train civilians in marksmanship; [and] to promote shooting sports and hunting.” The gun lobby’s foreign adventures reveal that it’s far more interested in promoting the economic well-being of the global firearms industry.