I did some more shoe-leather journalism this week by heading out to the National Rifle Association’s board meeting. The experience was interesting mostly for how run-of-the-mill it was. You wouldn’t have known the gun giant had just blown tens of millions of dollars on a failed bankruptcy or that it is still facing possible dissolution in a New York lawsuit.
Still, there was interesting information shared about the state of the group’s political advocacy and how the biggest gun stories in politics are shaping up. I may have been able to get some more insight from NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre when I went to speak with him after the meeting ended but he was ushered out of a side door as I approached.
Beyond the NRA, I’ve been annoyed by a talking point about the connection between gun sales and murder that’s been popping up more lately. So, I decided to dissect it. Interestingly, there may be something to the connection but not in the way people might expect.
Plus, I’ve got a new feature coming to The Reload and I’m hoping to get some insight from you guys.
TYSONS CORNER, VIRGINIA–The National Rifle Association returned to business as usual on Saturday as its board met during a special session in Northern Virginia.
The group’s precarious legal situation was not brought up in the open session of the meeting. Neither the NRA’s failed attempt to file for bankruptcy in Texas as a legal strategy to avoid a New York corruption suit nor the tens of millions of dollars it cost the group were mentioned. The ongoing New York suit, brought by rival AG Letitia James (D.) to dissolve the group, was absent from the discussion.
Instead, the group was focused on rebuilding its operations and defending against an aggressive gun-control push from the Biden Administration. Several board members advocated for placing a larger emphasis on the group’s safety and training operations after the department has seen significant cuts over the past several years. Jason Ouimet, the NRA’s top lobbyist, also explained the gun-rights group’s efforts to combat Biden’s moves. He gave a frank assessment of the political situation in a report to the board.
Ouimet said David Chipman, who President Joe Biden (D.) nominated to run the ATF despite his history working for gun-control groups, nearly has the 50 votes required for confirmation. He said the NRA believes Senators Manchin (D., W.Va.), Toomey (R., Pa.), Tester (D., Mont.), and King (I., Maine) are undecided on Chipman. He said the group is applying as much pressure to them as possible through a $2.5 million ad campaign and lobbying effort.
He noted Chipman failed to pass out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday after a tie vote. However, Ouimet said the tie meant either the minority or majority leader could discharge him to the floor for a final vote. He said if Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) decides to put Chipman to a full vote after the upcoming recess, it likely means he’s secured enough votes to be confirmed.
Ouimet also updated the board on Biden’s attempt to ban most pistol braces and tighten regulations on unfinished firearm parts through executive action. He said the NRA is pushing members to comment on both proposals and pans to add comments to both as an organization as well. He said he expects to generate hundreds of thousands of comments against the proposals.
However, Ouimet warned President Biden might well push the proposals through despite the opposition. He said those proposals would give Chipman–if he is confirmed–greater leeway over how to regulate the firearms industry than any other ATF director before him.
Ouimet praised the group’s efforts at the state level, especially its push to enact permitless gun carry laws. He pointed to the policies passing in Iowa, Montana, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah as proof of the NRA’s continued influence. He said no other gun-rights group had that kind of nationwide influence.
“So goes the NRA, so goes the Second Amendment,” Ouimet said.
He also pointed to the Chipman hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee as another example of the NRA’s reach. Ouimet claimed the group helped write talking points for some of the Senators.
“The reason a lot of these Senators and everybody tweets about these great quotes and some of these things that come out of these Senate Committees – those are coming from our staff,” Ouimet said. “A lot of those things are being given to these guys. A lot of these guys look really good on a lot of occasions. Some of them come up with their own creative stuff on their own – I’ll give it to you. Sen. Grassley said, ‘putting Antifa in charge of Portland is the same as putting Chipman in charge of ATF.’ That was good. That was his.
“But a lot of this stuff is us.”
He said that while other gun groups may focus on social media, the NRA is in the room working on gun legislation with lawmakers across the country.
“Make no mistake about it, without us doing this work, the void that would exist would be astronomical and to think that somebody else is going to fill it with a tweet or a meme somewhere is just silly – honestly,” Ouimet said.
The NRA board went into “executive session” shortly after Ouimet’s report, which was only open to board members and certain staff. The NRA has 76 board members, but The Reload counted only 45 board members in attendance at the Saturday meeting. Multiple sources told The Reload, which was the only news outlet at the meeting, board members were warned against talking to the outlet while it wasn’t present in the room. Though, many board members did not follow the advice.
NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre was present for the entire board meeting. However, LaPierre was shuffled out a side door and through a kitchen area when The Reload approached him at the end of the meeting–a scene similar to what happened at the group’s March board meeting. Security told The Reload that LaPierre could not stop and speak because he was on his way to a business meeting.
Update 11:43 am 6/27/2021: This post has been updated with direct quotes from a transcript of Ouimet’s speech obtained on Sunday. The Reload has replaced a paraphrase of Ouimet as claiming the group puts words in the mouths of senators with a direct quote to more accurately explain the point he was making.
Two things have happened over the past year and a half. Gun sales have hit record highs, and the murder rate has skyrocketed.
Murder is up 24 percent so far in 2021. Similarly, gun sales are up again this year even after 2020 set an all-time record. Some have noticed this short-term correlation and argued it constitutes causation. President Biden (D.) has even focused his response to the murder surge on pushing new gun-control policies and increased enforcement against licensed gun dealers.
But there’s little evidence the gun sales spike is what’s driving the increased violence. In fact, there’s evidence the exact opposite may be happening.
First, what we refer to as an increase in gun sales is actually an increase in gun-related background checks. By design, there’s no gun registry in the United States and no way to track every sale. Instead, we use the number of background checks as the best indicator of what sales are.
That means the surge in gun sales has been to people who can pass a background check. Those are people who don’t have a serious criminal record or people who have been involuntarily committed. They are, by nature, less likely to carry out crimes than the general public.
And ATF trace data indicates it often takes years or decades for a gun to be used in a crime after it’s sold. In 2019, the agency reported it took an average of 8.29 years passed between when a traced gun was sold at a store and when it was used in a crime.
Additionally, surveys of those who’ve committed gun crimes indicate they aren’t getting their guns through legal purchases from gun dealers. Instead, they rely on family, friends, and illegal street dealers for their guns. A 2016 study done by the University of Chicago found less than 1 percent of the criminals surveyed reported legally buying a gun from a store.
So, while it’s not impossible somebody without a criminal record may commit a crime after buying a gun, that happening en masse would go against a lot of what we know about how legal gun sales and gun crime work.
On top of all that, it’s more likely the spike in murders is driving the surge in gun sales than the other way around. The largest relative increase in gun sales in 2020 came after violent riots erupted in cities around the country. Last June saw unprecedented sales levels just as the violence was ramping up.
Still, gun sales have likely been driven by many factors beyond the rioting over the past year and a half. More study is needed on both propositions before anything definitive can be said with certainty, but, thus far, there’s more evidence the violence drove gun sales than gun sales drove the violence.
The increase in gun sales causing the increase in murder would go against the national trend of the past several decades, where the murder rate fell dramatically as gun sales throughout the country rose. Anyone saying the correlation between gun sales and violence proves one is definitively causing the other needs to provide far more evidence than what’s actually available today.
New Podcast Coming!
I’m launching a new podcast shortly and I want to get the members involved. As members, you’ll get early access to each episode. You’ll also get more direct input on the podcast. I want to hear who you guys want on the podcast. What guests would you be interested in?
Also, what topics do you want to see discussed? What questions do you have on recent or ongoing stories?
Please leave your thoughts in the comments!
That’s it for now. I’ll talk to you guys again soon.