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High-capacity magazine sellers raise millions for NRA

MidwayUSA is a Missouri company well known among gun enthusiasts for its firearms accessories: the company website boasts that the firm stocks "Just about everything for shooting, reloading, gunsmithing and hunting."

These wares include high-capacity magazines similar to those used in the Arizona shooting spree that enabled the accused assailant to kill six people and wound 14 others — including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords — by rapidly firing a fusillade of shots without pausing to reload.

Over the last two decades, MidwayUSA has done just about everything to help the National Rifle Association flourish financially.

In 1992 MidwayUSA developed a fundraising tactic to boost the NRA's fortunes, dubbed "Round-Up," that has yielded $5.7 million for the NRA's lobbying operations. The MidwayUSA money drive asks customers to "round up" the total of each order to the nearest dollar or higher. Then the company donates the difference to the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action, a lobbying arm of the gun rights group.

For good measure, Brenda Potterfield, the wife of Midway CEO Larry Potterfield and a co-owner of the firm, serves as vice president of the NRA Foundation's board of trustees. Little wonder that the firm's website declares that no company in the country is "more dedicated to, and more supportive of, the goals of the National Rifle Association than MidwayUSA."

A Center for Public Integrity review uncovered several little-noticed symbiotic ties between gun companies and the NRA.

Other companies that sell high-capacity magazines and gun gear also embraced the round up idea to boost the NRA's finances. The website of MidwayUSA notes that since 1992 other companies have deployed the same round up fundraising tool: together with MidwayUSA, other firearms industry players have funneled a total of $7.5 million to the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action.

During the first nine months of last year, the NRA and its ILA unit spent a total of $2 million on lobbying, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

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Further, some of these vendors of high-capacity magazines also boast executives who are board members of the NRA. Ronnie Barrett, the CEO of Tennessee-based Barrett Firearms Manufacturing, which makes a military-style rifle sold with high-capacity magazines, was elected to the NRA board in 2009. And Pete Brownell, who runs Iowa-based Brownells Inc., which also makes high-capacity magazines, joined the NRA board in 2010.

The strong financial and corporate ties to the NRA underscore how the gun rights goliath has become increasingly intertwined with some of the nation's leading accessory vendors that sell high-capacity magazines. All have big stakes in fighting a pending gun control measure in Washington.

The links between the NRA and the firms that sell high-capacity magazines are likely going to get more scrutiny as Congress weighs legislation that will be introduced Tuesday by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., to ban the transfer, importation or possession of high-capacity magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. (It would "grandfather" high-capacity magazines already in the possession of gunowners). A companion bill will be introduced in the Senate by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.

The NRA seems poised to launch a lobbying blitzkrieg to defeat the legislation. Last week the NRA issued a statement calling high-capacity magazines "standard equipment for self-defense handguns and other firearms owned by tens of millions of Americans." And the NRA also vowed to "stand front and center in defense of the rights of gun owners."

Gun control advocates are hoping to undercut some of the NRA's famously strong support among congressional Republicans and moderate Democrats by targeting these close ties between the NRA and high-capacity magazine distributors.

"The NRA acts as a trade association for the firearms industry," said Josh Sugarmann, the executive director of the Violence Policy Center, a gun control advocacy group that backs the new legislation. "The NRA's priorities are not gun owners but the manufacturers of guns and accessories."

The NRA's opposition to gun control measures, Sugarmann added, often "isn't about protecting the rights of millions of gun owners [so much] as protecting the financial interests of NRA board members and the NRA itself."

Both MidwayUSA and Brownells are major distributors of gun accessories including high-capacity magazines. And Barrett's high-capacity magazines are sold with one of their military-style rifles. For example, MidwayUSA offers magazines at 10, 15, 30, 33 and 40 rounds, all of which won 5-star reviews from users. "Well worth the money," said one buyer. Another wrote, "It doesn't get any better than this!"

Top executives from the three firearms companies were in Las Vegas this week for an annual trade show, dubbed the "SHOT Show," where numerous companies display their wares. None of the companies returned phone calls or emails seeking comment.

Members of Congress who back bans on the sale and manufacture of high-capacity magazines stressed that they are unnecessary for hunting. "The only purpose for the existence of these devices is to be able to shoot as many people as possible as quickly as possible," said Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband was killed and her son wounded in a commuter train mass shooting in 1993. In a "Dear Colleague" letter that she wrote as her House bill was being prepared. "There is no reason these devices should be available to the general public."

A weaker version of the McCarthy bill was part of the assault weapons ban which became law in 1994 and expired in 2004 — despite support for its renewal by President George W. Bush.

Reprinted by permission of The Center for Public Integrity.

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2 comments on this story

Jan 24, 2011, 4:20 pm
-0 +1

If the relationships between gun merchants and the NRA are obvious and innocuous, why the strong response followed by an admonition to “move along?”

Despite the somewhat editorializing language, “...done just about everything to help…,” I learned something new from the article.

Jan 23, 2011, 4:04 pm
-1 +0

Wow! Well done; very nice, indeed! As smear jobs go, this one is a real masterpiece! You even managed to use that scary term “high-capacity magazine” 16 times in your attempt to characterize a huge non-event as some kind of late breaking scandal that you have cleverly exposed. Well done.

Now if you don’t mind my injecting a little honest perspective into your ridiculous rant, let me just point out a few things:

First, implying that Brownells and Midway, as “firms that deal in high-capacity magazines”, are involved in some kind of nefarious relationship with the NRA is a lot like accusing WalMart of being in some underhanded relationship with oil companies because they sell oil filters.

Brownells and Midway sell gun parts and shooting supplies and stock tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of items. High-capacity magazines are just a minuscule part of their sales, and in spite of your admittedly heroic attempts to use the term as many times as possible, calling these retailers “firms that sell high-capacity magazines” is just plain stupid. It like calling WalMart a “firm that deals in high-powered weapons supplies” because they sell shotgun shells. Safeway and Kroger sell Drano, but it would be very misleading to refer to them (16 times, no less!) as “firms that deal in caustic chemicals”, now wouldn’t it?

Secondly, these stores ask customers if they want to round their purchase totals up to the nearest dollar so they can support an organization that is fighting to protect their rights to own guns in the first place. So what? If donating their pocket change to the fight for gun rights is asking too much, customers are free to decline.

And finally, as for your great expose’ about these same miscreants being on the NRA board of directors, I would just point out that the NRA board of directors is elected by the organization’s 4 million members. If not people who are somehow involved in the shooting sports in one way or another, who do you expect NRA members to elect, PETA members? Handgun Control (now called the Brady Campaign) supporters? Get real.

This is a total non-issue dressed up to look like something underhanded and scandalous. It’s not. It’s just shooters donating their loose change to an organization that many of them already belong to, and pay $35 a year for the privilege to boot. Move along; nothing to see here.

Nice try though.

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By encouraging consumers to 'round up' the price of high-caliber magazine clips, MidwayUSA – a firearms accessories company – has raised $5.7 million for the National Rifle Association’s lobbying operations since 1992.