Carm Lyman is President of Lyman Agency . Getty We live in a digital world that em...Read More
Preface. This is a book review of Busse’s 2021 “Gunfight. My battle against the industry that radicalized America”.
I have always wondered why stricter gun laws haven’t been passed after horrifying mass shootings at schools and workplaces. This book explains why: gun industry makes a lot more money from sales AFTER a mass shooting. And also more money by drumming up fear and conspiracies. Sounds like the Republican party, huh. Well, this book shows that the NRA (and now gun owners even if they are dissolved) own the Republican party. Made it is what is is today. The NRA was first to become a radicalized authoritarian “hate the libs” organization and taught and pushed the Republicans to be that way likewise, with tens of millions of dollars in campaign contributions, getting their right-wing gun members to vote Republican and vote politicians out who didn’t support NRA policies. Of course, the NRA wasn’t the only factor in pushing Republicans into the extremism of today, it’s a direction they’ve been headed in for decades now (i.e. read these book review posts: Pat Robertson, FOX news, and Republican John Dean’s “Conservatives without Conscience”).
There is a section of the book on gun control which is worth reading because it is frightening to how rational gun regulation once was and how the gun industry / Republican Party have successfully stopped any reasonable regulations from being implemented.
Author Ryan Busse grew up hunting with his Dad and loved it so much he thought his ideal job would be selling guns. Eventually he ended up selling Kimber guns, which were once very high quality, very expensive well-crafted all metal pistols, though now are downgraded to having plastic for a higher profit margin. This book explains how the NRA and gun culture evolved from an insider. When Busse entered the NRA decades ago, it was mainly an organization that taught gun owners safety in using weapons, fine with gun control and against machine guns.
Here are some quotes from the book:
For years, the gun manufacturers and the NRA had used fear and conspiracy whenever gun sales sagged. By the middle of 2020, Donald Trump bucked the normal Republican gun downturn by using fear, riots, racial division, hate, protests, Twitter lies, politicization of science, a raging pandemic, intimidation, and guns to generate incredible sales that brought our industry roaring back to profitability. The ridiculous fear of a Black Democratic president had been replaced by the fear of radical leftists, marauding gangs, and even neighbors whose politics might be suspiciously progressive.”
In the overriding need for higher sales, the industry turned its back on safety instructors and hunters. They were marginalized and even given the pejorative nickname “Fudds” in a reference to the simpleton cartoon character Elmer Fudd. The lessons and warnings that Fudds believed in were now just impediments to higher sales.
Another reason the NRA was against any regulations on guns what that “if new safety requirements, smart-gun mandates, and distribution regulations were forced on us, guns would become more expensive. And more-expensive guns meant that fewer people could buy them.
I shudder to think what will happen in the future as declining energy leads to increased poverty and extreme desperation and fear. Residents and police departments have at least 20 million assault rifles. Americans own 393.3 million guns or more (20 million of them assault rifles). No other nation on earth comes even close to having that number of guns per capita.
Alice Friedemann www.energyskeptic.com Author of Life After Fossil Fuels: A Reality Check on Alternative Energy ; When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation ”, Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels , “ Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers ”. Women in ecology Podcasts: WGBH, Planet: Critical, Crazy Town , Collapse Chronicles , Derrick Jensen , Practical Prepping , Kunstler 253 278, Peak Prosperity , Index of best energyskeptic posts
The [right-wing] amateurs at a [George Floyd 2020 “black lives matter” protest were not from any trained unit. They had probably met one another through such booming social media sites as AR15.com, Funker Tactical, Demolition Ranch, and the Military Arms Channel.
[An aside: I went to ar15.com where dozens of gun makers advertise, various topics are discussed, and there’s even a music section with song lyrics like: our government hates you, hates you ‘cause you’re free, the government hates you (repeat 7 times), Our government hates us, right by right taken away by the total state machine, our governments hate us because we’re not afraid, wont’ be silenced, never lose our faith, your government hates you (repeat 7 times) HATE YOUR GOVERNMENT!]
For years prior to this protest, advertising executives in the gun industry had been encouraging the “tactical lifestyle” by spending millions of dollars with these websites and influencers, who, in turn, cultivated millions of followers.
[Tactical lifestyle revolves around admiring/purchasing tactical weapons designed for offensive or defensive use at relatively short range with relatively immediate consequences. They include weapons used for antitank assault, antiaircraft defense, battlefield support, aerial combat, or naval combat.]
The resulting feedback loop powered a culture that glorified weapons of war and encouraged followers to “own the libs.” The more extreme the posts, the more followers they gain, and the more guns we sold. Eventually, those followers began showing up at the capitol buildings in Virginia, Michigan, and Kentucky with loaded rifles.
I looked back at the armed men in disgust. Our country had arrived at the point where military guns were the symbols of an entire political movement. The NRA and the firearms companies had long ago harnessed this fear and hate as fuel, then dropped a match into the middle of it.
Each month, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives reported National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) numbers for the previous month, and the gun industry dutifully studied and mined these data for indications about market trends. The NICS report for March 2020, when the COVID-19 virus shut down the world, contained five of the 10 highest days ever recorded. More guns were sold on March 20 than on any other day in the history of the United States. As most of the country came to grips with the uncertainty of a global pandemic, gun retailers made 201,308 sales that day. March 2020 was the largest gun-sales month ever, with nearly 2.4 million guns sold, averaging nearly eighty thousand sales per day—almost double the previous March record.
An often-repeated truism about the industry: “The gun business is just like the booze business; it’s pretty good when times are good, and it’s fucking great when times are bad.
Pitching in to build the tools of political extremism was once part of my job. But slowly, then far too quickly, those political requirements meant that the firearms industry was not just another slice of the US economy. It and I were part of something much larger: a powerful political machine radicalizing our nation.
Growing Up with Guns
With an NRA membership came the American Rifleman magazine each month. I often leafed through the pages, reading the articles about interesting guns that I yearned to shoot. Through all my childhood years, the NRA magazines never featured angry politics or dramatic assertions about the impending demise of the republic. Instead, they devoted entire issues to celebrating the results of shooting competitions.
Some days I watched my dad sweat as he dug miles of irrigation ditches with a small shovel. By the time I was 12, I was helping stack hay in the hot sun. My brother Cory learned how to drive the truck through the field so that Dad and I could load the bales. The cattle were always escaping, which meant that we were always fixing fences. There were sick cows, dry water tanks, vaccinations—the work of the ranch never stopped. Because there was so much to do, we rarely took family vacations.
So my rifle became my personal respite from the work. That little Browning was my ticket to escapism. Whenever I got the chance, I wandered alone over the hills, the air sweet with sunflowers and kosha. I could hunt prairie dogs or fend off coiled rattlesnakes. I could bring home dinner or imagine I was a hero or a villain. My rifle was the conduit for it all.
Pheasant season started each November, and that’s when I borrowed an old Model 42 Winchester pump shotgun from Dad. Even before I could legally drive, I’d load the little pump .410 and my bird dog, Daisy, in an orange 1974 Chevy farm pickup and drive to a place on the ranch where pheasants were plentiful. I loved supplying my family with food that I harvested myself.
I was busy chasing success and didn’t give politics much consideration other than to know I was a hardworking, red-blooded, gunrunning American. In other words, I thought of myself as a Republican. Most of the people in my world told me that’s what I needed to be, anyway, and I complied. I also found that my “flyover-state” conservatism was a selling point for gun dealers. A right-wing joke here or there, and an occasional complaint about Bill Clinton or Portland liberals, made it easier for me to break the ice.
Gun control history
Yes, the Second Amendment protected basic gun ownership, but as firearms became more lethal, cheaper, and accessible, the laws that governed them changed to keep up too—at least for the most part. Our nation came to expect the legal evolution. When the military developed powerful weapons of war, Congress passed laws to protect average citizens and prohibit civilian ownership. When gangster murders ravaged the country in the 1930s, the public spoke up to demand laws limiting access to fully automatic weapons. When John Kennedy was murdered with a gun that was advertised on the back page of the NRA’s American Rifleman magazine and then ordered through the mail, Congress passed laws to require in-store retail licensing and gun transfers.
During testimony on that 1968 law, the NRA’s own vice president offered reasoned and sober congressional testimony: “We do not think that any sane American, who calls himself an American, can object to placing into this bill the instrument which killed the president of the United States.
But something new was rumbling below the surface. The evidence of tectonic shifts came in headlines about domestic, anti-government insurrections such as the standoffs at Waco and Ruby Ridge, and the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. The 1980s and 1990s also saw the rise of a terrifying and inexplicable new kind of domestic terrorism: mass shootings. Like when a troubled man entered a store in Oregon and purchased a Chinese knockoff of the Russian Kalashnikov assault rifle. On January 17, 1989, Patrick Edward Purdy shoved that rifle into his Chevrolet station wagon and drove to Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton, California. As he parked near the school, the twenty-five-year-old lit his car on fire with a Molotov cocktail, loaded his AK-47 rifle, and walked into the crowded schoolyard playground, where he began shooting randomly at young children. He fired 106 rounds in less than two minutes. When he stopped, 5 children were dead, and 32 more were injured.
Police had arrested Purdy multiple times and knew that he supported White supremacy organizations. As news of his background leaked, there was a growing call for action. Days later, Time magazine summed up the mood of the nation: “The easy availability of weapons like this, which have no purpose other than killing human beings, can all too readily turn the delusions of sick gunmen into tragic nightmares.”
In October 1991, George Hennard, an unemployed 35-year-old former Merchant Marine, drove his truck through the window of a crowded Luby’s restaurant in Killeen, Texas. After the crash, Hennard waded into the diner with a Glock 17, a gun that came standard with 17-round high-capacity magazines. Hennard screamed his misogynistic screed as he targeted and shot mostly women. By the time his massacre was over, he had killed 23 people and injured 27.
As political pressure built up, an aspiring Texas politician watched the fallout with a keen eye. By the time George W. Bush became Texas governor a few years later, in 1995, he was already on the “less control” side of the gun issue.
Hupp had survived the 1991 Luby’s attack as she watched Hennard murder both her parents. Rather than fight against guns, she became an outspoken advocate for greater availability of guns. Hupp was an early adopter of what would come to be known as “the good guy with a gun” theory, which argues that if more people have guns, there is a higher likelihood that a bad guy will be shot by the good guys. Hupp ultimately convinced Governor Bush to expand the right of all Texas citizens to carry concealed guns.
A bold embrace of gun control was new for the Democratic Party. Governor Clinton used it artfully against the incumbent president. During their hard-fought 1992 campaign, Clinton reminded voters that George H. W. Bush had vetoed the Brady Bill and that he had repeatedly caved to pressure from the NRA. Clinton painted President Bush as soft on crime and beholden to special interests. The same public that created this pressure bought Clinton’s message, and he won in a rare defeat of an incumbent president. In the White House, Clinton kept his promise. After lengthy debate, he and a carefully crafted coalition of thought leaders and lawmakers beat back intense lobbying by the NRA, and the Brady Bill passed. Just one year after becoming president, Clinton had rallied the nation’s elected leaders, including several Republicans, to create a new gun policy in defiance of the NRA. With James Brady in a wheelchair by his side, Clinton signed the bill on November 30, 1993. This was a law that would keep thousands of people like Tolly Bolyard from buying a gun. It was a good thing for our country, yet inside the NRA and the gun industry some were already starting to envision a new reality that would force unimagined stress tests onto our political system.
It seemed clear to most reasonable political observers that the massive bill should include the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, more commonly known as the assault weapons ban. Senator Joe Biden of Delaware agreed. He sponsored the legislation and promised to play a central role in shepherding it through Congress. As the bill made its way through the Senate and House, lawmakers had to first agree on the definition of assault weapon. This quickly became a hot debate because many popular hunting rifles and shotguns shared the same semiautomatic fire-control system as AR-15s, AK-47s, and Tec-9s. Knowing that most Americans thought of hunting as relatively safe, wholesome, and harmless, organizations like the NRA used this social acceptability to frighten voters by claiming that Clinton was trying to ban hunting guns, adding that people inside his administration were so out of touch they couldn’t tell one gun from another.
Fully automatic firearms, including any military rifle that can be converted to shoot in a continuous mode of fire, had been strictly regulated since the days of Al Capone’s. In 1934 produced the National Firearms Act (NFA). In proof of the NFA’s efficacy, none of the guns used in the shootings of the 1980s and 1990s were fully automatic. Indeed, no mass shooting over the past 25 years has involved a fully automatic gun. Unlike fully automatic guns, the shooter of a semiauto gun must pull the trigger to fire a single bullet. The rapid, “zipper-spray” sound of weapons common in movies or A-Team episodes comes from fully automatic guns. A semiauto can be fired quickly, but only as fast as the shooter can pull its trigger.
The broader definition of an automatic machine gun was more complicated. It started with semiauto weapons but included add-on features such as folding stocks, detachable magazines, pistol grips, flash suppressors, and grenade launchers. The parameters in Congress’s final version of the law meant that a gun would be considered an assault weapon if it had two or more of these features. Congress also banned any magazine with more than ten rounds, therefore setting the definition of high capacity at eleven rounds or more.
The NRA and firearms enthusiasts fought like hell to weaken the bill. They made the case that the technical definition was so broad and would include so many guns that no reasonable person could define them. Those writing the legislation ultimately agreed, and more than 650 specific guns, including hundreds commonly used for hunting, were exempted from the final regulation. Under the new law, Cory’s rifle, a gun that held 17 rounds in a tubular magazine, remained legal. In a final nod to the powerful gun lobbyists, lawmakers also added a grandfather clause to the bill that exempted any guns or magazines sold before the law’s enactment. During the whole debate, as I cut my teeth in this industry, manufacturers, dealers, and consumers went into a frenzy. All the uncertainty and attention, plus a strong fear and distrust of Bill and Hillary Clinton, meant that consumers rushed to buy any guns that might be banned, and gun sales exploded.
The NRA learned important and unforgettable lessons in this narrow defeat, reactions to which were so loud that a sleeping giant in US politics stirred awake. The organization had fought hard, but not hard enough. It had chipped away at defectors, but it failed to demand 100% loyalty. It had used fear of loss, but not enough to convince elected officials that they would lose their seats to pissed-off and terrified single-issue voters. The NRA had criticized leaders who voted for the bill but did not demonize them. The organization linked the gun issue to other hot-button right-wing social issues, but not enough to sway the last few senators they needed. The NRA allowed debate on the merits of the law instead of using all-or-nothing arguments and wild conspiracy theories. It even allowed a beloved Republican former president to lobby against its cause. These were all important lessons for the organization to quickly correct. They were not errors the NRA would make again.
The loudest and most frequent argument revolved around the slippery slope: “If we give them this win, then pretty soon it will be all gun sales that are outlawed.” I must have heard that a thousand times, even back in 1999.
In the weeks after Columbine, Kimber enjoyed a short sales spike, but this subsided after it became clear that no one seemed to be moving on gun control—something that would become a pattern over the next two decades. Frustrated politicians who had spent careers working on gun control turned to mayors who represented citizens affected by gun violence. Mayors from places such as Miami, Chicago, and New Orleans had legal standing and knew how to use it. As they celebrated the success of the tobacco settlements, they re-crafted the arguments and then filed similar lawsuits against many of the nation’s largest firearms companies, alleging broad liabilities. Many people across the country, including most of us, believed that the lawsuits would provide the leverage to force the same sort of concessions agreed to by Big Tobacco, including a cessation of most paid marketing and mandates requiring new safety devices and graphic warning labels on gun packaging. We also had reason to expect massive compensation payments to governments for the violent impacts of guns.
By 2000, the list of entities that filed suits even expanded to include medium-sized cities such as Bridgeport, Connecticut, whose mayor, Joseph Ganim, went to court that January. Mayor Ganim made his case in a news conference on the same day he filed his $100 million suit: “We’re saying to the handgun manufacturers that from now on, you are responsible for the cost of handgun violence, not Bridgeport families.” Ganim also laid out the goals and tactics of the lawsuits, which focused on forcing gun companies to add safety modifications to their products by threatening court settlements.1 Miami mayor Alex Penelas also filed suit, and he laid the responsibility for dead children at the feet of our industry. “We will not allow the gun industry to escape accountability any longer,” Penelas said at a news conference. “They have killed our children by the dozens.”2 By they, Penelas meant us. Me. The lawsuits and corresponding press conferences sought to make advancements in two areas: improving safety devices on handguns and ensuring that companies controlled the distribution of guns to prohibit criminals from buying or stealing them.
When asked about the large monetary damage claims, Mayor Ganim explained that because the industry was in the habit of giving large contributions to the NRA to stop legislation, he believed it necessary to go after the industry’s money: “That’s the route that we’re going because [the NRA has] always very effectively, with big money, lobbied the legislature and kept laws from being passed.
The deal, negotiated with only one company and in secret, shielded Smith Wesson from the threat of lawsuits in exchange for committing to mandatory trigger locks on all guns and the eventual development of “smart guns.” Smart guns was a term that meant new technology to ensure that only the owner of a gun could fire the weapon had to be integrated in the fire-control systems. Perhaps more importantly, the deal also enforced strict limits on the marketing and display of firearms to the general public, and it all had to happen within three years.
First up was Glock, which found success as the largest supplier of firearms to America’s police departments, and it had won most of that business by beating out Smith Wesson over the previous decade. Glock executives knew that failure to comply could cost them their hard-won law-enforcement business. Indeed, the day after Shultz’s surprise press conference with Clinton, and under pressure from the White House, the mayors of Miami, Atlanta, and Detroit announced that their police departments would purchase only Smith Wesson firearms for their officers. Within an hour after that announcement the news leaked that Glock was strongly considering the administration’s deal.
The NSSF announced that all other gun companies would join forces to push back against the secret deal that Smith Wesson had negotiated in what Delfay called a “coordinated effort.” He relied on the strength and reputations of his organization’s members, which included Kimber and all other manufacturers. “We are confident that no other major manufacturers will desert this coordinated effort in favor of their own individual deal,
The NRA heaped on Smith Wesson, Inc., a British-owned company, recently became the first to run up the white flag of surrender and run behind the Clinton-Gore lines, leaving its competitors in the U.S. firearms industry to carry on the fight for the Second Amendment.
Everyone who worked in any gun company knew that the most effective way to send or receive any message was through cash flow. We also knew that a boycott was the fastest way to interrupt Smith Wesson’s supply of money.
I went to work calling and faxing dealers, imploring them to stop selling Smith Wesson products and to send back the guns they already had. Because of the wartime camaraderie common even among dealers, none of this came off as a competitive play. There was an understood and shared common goal to just stay alive. I reinforced that message too: Smith Wesson was out to hurt all companies that sold firearms. It did not matter if the message came from a competitor; it quickly resonated. And because of the dealer network I had developed, I enjoyed a direct line to accounts across the country and had hundreds of personal relationships.
In hundreds of subsequent news stories about the relationship between the gun industry and the NRA, there were many inferences to the fact that the NRA did the industry’s bidding. The stories might say things like “The NRA is just an arm of the gun industry.” In truth it is the opposite. The gun industry is an arm of the NRA, and the events of 2000 proved this to be true. Crushing Shultz and Smith Wesson reminded all companies that the NRA ran the show.
The NRA’s control had far-reaching implications, including any advancements of gun-safety technology, for example. I saw it in our own leadership discussions too. “Why don’t we quietly work on a smart gun?” one of the members of our team asked as we considered possible new projects. “If we could figure out a design that really worked, we could make a huge splash!” “Yeah, that’s a decent idea,” Dwight responded before he winced and added, “but if the NRA ever found out they’d stop it”.
For years there had been a lot of controversy around the idea of developing a “smart gun” with electronic security to prevent children or other people from firing a gun they did not own. Resistance came from many angles, and they were all magnified by the NRA. Some believed that the electronics would fail, causing the gun to be useless. Some believed a conspiracy theory that electronics might provide the government with a way to disable guns. Some resisted because the guns might be more expensive. All gun-company executives could see the promise in perfecting the new technology, but we were all scared to death to try.
FEAR, Democrats, Republicans
The NRA also found three reasons for celebration. The first was the elevation of Bill and Hillary Clinton, who turned out to be fundraising megastars for the NRA. From that day forward, any mention of the Clintons and their easily understood threat to freedom and guns resulted in ready cash and new memberships. The NRA would go back to that well time and again, eventually elevating Hillary Rodham Clinton to her own special fundraising category.
The second reason was a realization that fear of impending elections or legislation could be used to explode gun sales and NRA memberships.
The third reason for celebration was language slipped into the legislation in an attempt to garner enough Republican votes for passage. At the insistence of the NRA, negotiators added a sunset provision to the text, mandating the expiration of all components of the ban if a future president did not reenact the bill with a simple signature. Including that provision seemed safe. Back then, most Americans broadly accepted it.
Donald Trump weighed in with support. As he said in 2000, “I generally oppose gun control, but I support the ban on assault weapons and I support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun.
This is when the NRA realized that it had to play a long game. Immediately after Clinton’s 1994 legislative win, it began forming a strategic coalition with the religious Right. From that day forward, guns would be intertwined with other divisive political issues such as abortion, which resulted in religiously loyal single-issue voters.
As the feelings of aggrievement took hold, most people in the gun business believed that we were fighting a war being waged by Democrats who were directly targeting our industry.
The NRA was using the anger in the gun business to make up its own definition of good and evil. Soon it succeeded and bound up the industry with the Republican Party: one huge, reliable block of moral activists. The immediate message was clear: Bill Clinton and the Democrats were evil. I was supposed to fight them. It was right to fight them.
We should have all seen the warning signs telling us how dangerous it would all become. Just months before I started at Kimber, Timothy McVeigh, a man who sealed his letters with “I Am the NRA” stickers, was so motivated by this fear and hatred that he blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City. Other early extremist events should have urged caution against taking this rhetoric too far. David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, the Freeman in Montana, and the Unabomber—they were all motivated by guns and irrational fears.
The day that Clinton put his signature on the assault weapons ban, things got much tougher. Dozens of distributors and hundreds of dealers went bankrupt or just closed up shop. Between 1994 and 2000, licensed firearms dealers in the United States dropped by almost two-thirds, from a high of more than 215,000 to fewer than 78,000.
Prior to the 1990s, US gun consumers usually purchased rifles and shotguns. But our country’s appetite for handguns had grown over the previous decade. Handgun sales were even beginning to eclipse rifle and shotgun sales. This trend accelerated in the coming decade as the act of carrying concealed firearms became legal in almost every state.
We often called guns like Glocks “guns for dummies” because they had no safety and could be operated easily by people who knew nothing about guns. Numerous safety tests confirmed the “dummy” label. In those tests people who knew nothing about guns usually figured out on their own how to fire pistols like Glocks in just a few seconds, whereas figuring out a gun like the 1911, which has two external safeties, might take them a minute or two. Conversely, we took pride in those who believed the 1911 was the “expert’s pistol.” Many serious shooters agreed, as evidenced by the fact that select SWAT teams and military Special Forces units still carried their old 1911s. For the most part, those highly trained users understood that a defensive gun did not need more than a few rounds. The 1911 found a cult following, and people paid hundreds to add new, modern features to their existing old guns, much like upgrading a classic car.
I knew the Kimber company needed a lot of guns to raffle and auction as the main draw of the banquets. The NRA could be, in effect, one of Kimber’s largest dealers, and it would eventually host nearly 1,200 banquets across the country each year. Every one of those banquets needed dozens of guns for fundraising. Over the next 20 years, Kimber developed and sold tens of thousands of our new 1911s through those banquets, making the NRA one of Kimber’s most reliable sales outlets. We perfected the customization theme, selling well more than 200 different variations of the 1911, many of which retailed for more than $2,000 apiece. Soon the monthly demand for our 1911s surpassed the annual sales for our high-end rifles.
Whereas most business in the firearms industry was done by extending credit to dealers and allowing them to pay for their products in sixty to ninety days, Denis required Kimber to expect cash on delivery (COD) for our shipments to many of our dealers.
The early reports of the shooting at Columbine High School indicated that two students had used a variety of guns and explosives to kill thirteen and wound twenty-four more. Not long after the entire nation began learning about the massacre in Columbine, my phone rang. “You watching this?” Sara said, her voice trembling. “Those poor kids! The gun industry is OK with this shit?” I must have stammered for a few awkward moments before she added, “Are you OK with this, Ryan?
Like those at the other gun companies, we were conditioned to convert news of events like the Columbine massacre into calculations about how they would affect our work of selling guns.
“Don’t worry. You don’t have to be embarrassed about selling a Kimber,” I’d say while recruiting salespeople. “Ours are not guns that will end up in BATF criminal traces.… We don’t make that kind of stuff and never will as long as I’m here.
“These dealers think there might be a sales spike,” one of my salesmen told me after I stuck my head into his office. Dealers were parroting three years of NRA talking points: “The Democrats are going to use this to jam more gun-control shit down our throats. So they’re doubling and tripling their orders!
Hammer became a legendary national political figure who, among other accomplishments, would be almost single-handedly responsible for passage of Florida’s controversial “stand your ground law,” which allows any person “the right to stand his or her ground and use or threaten to use… deadly force if he or she reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such forces is necessary. Hammer was also influential in the passage of many laws across the country that allowed Americans to carry concealed firearms. In her speech at the Dallas NRA convention in 1996, Hammer seemed to tap into a new, long-lasting source of fear and hatred that could keep the pressure cooker of a divided America just one tick below maximum. Apparently, she also knew that it was important to divert attention from reality. She made no mention of the White mass murderers Hinckley, Purdy, Ferri, and Hennard. She made no mention of the White supremacy and misogynist hate that motivated them—even back in 1996. She made no mention of the racist gun shows and militia meetings where Timothy McVeigh had been “hanging out” as he drew up plans to blow up 168 innocent people in Oklahoma City. The gun industry did its best to avoid letting its members have personal epiphanies like that. People like me were supposed to put self-reflection aside and wait this out.
The gun industry doesn’t own the NRA – the NRA owns the gun industry
Manufacturers even allowed NRA officials to name their products so that the organization had a vested interest in their success. And the NRA magazines mailed to millions of members every month, including American Rifleman and American Hunter, usually got the first crack at all new-product announcements.
There were dozens of other advertising venues, but most companies spent an inordinate amount of advertising budgets with the NRA. Kimber was no exception. Eventually, we wrote huge checks every year to advertise with the organization. This sort of industry spending got so out of control that the NRA had to invent ways to allocate the funds. Free videos, web ads, banquet sponsorships, then NRATV. Most of the advertising made no real business sense, but the last thing anyone wanted was to be marched to the Shultz gallows.
Just like the eventual Republican devotion to Donald Trump, the NRA’s grip on our industry was nearly total. Whenever there was an opportunity for a gun company or executive to comment about some controversy or policy, we all knew to run it by the NRA in advance. In future years, when the New York legislature considered gun-related bills, Kimber and all other companies parroted the talking points from the NRA, and we stuck to those messages because we knew not to upset anyone in far-off Fairfax, Virginia. Most executives never even spoke to politicians without the NRA’s involvement. If you wanted to stay employed, you were expected to toe these lines.
The NRA also expected us to help drum up membership. We firearms companies sold millions of guns each year, and the NRA knew damn well that each sale meant a potential new NRA member. Almost all gun companies happily sought more approval by adding NRA membership cards inside their packaging. Kimber placed the card in our boxes, like a Hallmark card tucked inside a birthday present. Many companies went even further in displaying devotion and paid for free NRA memberships with the purchase of a new gun.
I had, in fact, helped organize a boycott of Smith Wesson. I had sent multiple emails directing my staff to help. I sent faxes filled with explicit requests. I had initiated dozens of conversations with dealers. To make matters worse, I did it all without much consideration of any antitrust laws.
What we did was apply another future tactic of modern politics, developed by the NRA and soon to be adopted by the political Right. That tactic was to summon legions of gun companies together to form a single, massive, unstoppable army dedicated to protecting the center of power that sold our guns and, more importantly, to build a culture that made those guns sacred. Every joke, every sideways glance, every comment about “fucking Democrats” kept all soldiers constantly at the ready.
Years later, troll armies on the Right and enforcers in the Trump White House, like campaign manager Paul Manafort and fixer Michael Cohen, acted under the same unwritten enforcement rules. The directions came to all of us in quiet signals that we were trained to look for, from racist dog whistles to the subtle winks that empower White supremacists (just like Trump’s directive to the White nationalist group the Proud Boys, during his 2020 debate with Joe Biden, to “stand back, stand by”). Whether the directive was written or not, everyone knew that we were called to protect our pro-gun leaders and attack everyone else.
I helped prove out a system where any criticism is met with insults, boycotts, trolling, and even the destruction of livelihoods. I helped the NRA perfect politics that bled into the Republican Party and conservative politics,
In the lead-up to the 2000 election, Wayne LaPierre cohosted a black-tie dinner that raised nearly $20 million to help elect Texas governor George W. Bush to the presidency, placing the NRA on the highest rungs of Republican politics.
We helped the NRA develop a small but forceful demographic of single-issue voters who voted only for guns, thus wielding incredible influence in key races. Grover Norquist, the outspoken conservative anti-tax warrior, confirmed the strategy in 2000. Our industry was almost exclusively populated with people who were in it because they simply loved guns. Even guys at the NRA had stories about accidental discharges in their headquarters. Loving guns was the only common requirement for entry into the tight group of people who were fueling change in America. “It’s the same for dealers,” the other executives commented. “Most of them are not businesspeople. They’re just guys who really love guns.
An almost unnatural affinity for firearms even reduced the pressure on gun companies to provide high compensation packages. “We all know we could probably make more money elsewhere,” someone would say. “But we work here because we love being in the gun business. The same common love of guns is how the NRA cultivated a few million gun customers to become single-issue voters. The organization was learning that one thing was more powerful than this deep, visceral love of guns: the threat of having those guns taken away.
That, the NRA knows, is far more powerful than common sense, the safety of others, or even economic self-interest. The NRA had twisted the old Republican principles into a new religious fervor that was toxic to any environmental policy. The NRA even made room for dozens of powerful politicians and a national Republican Party platform plank that specifically attacked public lands. In an attempt to prevent more people from seeing that they were actually harming public land, they formed groups like the NRA Hunters’ Leadership Forum and continued to make unsubstantiated claims such as “The NRA does more for hunters than any other organization, hands down.”
Carm Lyman is President of Lyman Agency . Getty We live in a digital world that em...Read More
In May 2020, a one-minute video tugged on the heartstrings of locked-down viewers all over the worl...Read More