The Gun Industry’s Power Broker
A Closer Look at the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the Front Group for America’s Gun Makers and Sellers
Every January, thousands of firearm, ammunition, and accessory manufacturers and importers gather in Las Vegas to show off their new products at the largest trade show of its kind. The Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show is the gun industry’s biggest event of the year, garnering some 55,000 attendees in 2020, before the pandemic, and currently boasting more than 2,400 exhibitors.1NSSF, “2022 SHOT Show Facts and Figures,” accessed November 14, 2022, https://shotshow.org/wp-content/uploads/SHOT-Show-2022-Facts-and-Figures.pdf. But unlike other gun shows, the SHOT Show is a closed-door event open only to exhibitors, potential customers who buy in bulk — including gun wholesalers, retailers, and military and law enforcement personnel — and media outlets that regularly cover firearms.
The first event associated with the annual SHOT Show falls on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, when attendees are shuttled 30 miles into the desert to shoot hundreds of new guns from various manufacturers at a massive outdoor shooting range in Boulder City, Nevada.2SHOT Show, “Industry Day at the Range” accessed November 14, 2022, https://www.shotshowrangeday.com/. The official convention then takes place indoors, at the Venetian Expo Center and Caesars Forum in Las Vegas, where attendees can walk “13.9 miles of aisles”3NSSF, “2022 SHOT Show Facts and Figures,” accessed November 14, 2022, https://shotshow.org/wp-content/uploads/SHOT-Show-2022-Facts-and-Figures.pdf. over four days to inspect all the new guns, ammo, and related gear on display — after getting through security.
With “Range Day” held in the remote desert and the rest of the convention walled off within the Venetian and Caesars Forum, SHOT Show symbolizes how far removed the gun industry is from the real-world consequences of its deadly products and how they are sold. While gun makers and sellers celebrated record-breaking sales throughout the pandemic,4See Guy J. Sagi, “Smith & Wesson Shatters $1 Billion Sales Barrier for the First Time,” Shooting Illustrated, June 22, 2021, https://www.shootingillustrated.com/content/smith-wesson-shatters-1-billion-sales-barrier-for-the-first-time/; Guy J. Sagi, “Ruger Defies 2021 Sales Trend,” American Rifleman, March 29, 2022, https://www.americanrifleman.org/content/ruger-defies-2021-sales-trend/; and Joe Walsh, “U.S. Bought Almost 20 Million Guns Last Year — Second-Highest Year On Record,” Forbes, January 5, 2022, https://www.forbes.com/sites/joewalsh/2022/01/05/us-bought-almost-20-million-guns-last-year—second-highest-year-on-record/?sh=34fce1613bbb. they never acknowledged the record-breaking surge in gun deaths, as over 45,000 and 48,000 Americans died from firearms in 2020 and 2021, respectively.5Jennifer Mascia, “Gun Deaths Hit an All-Time High (Again) in 2021,” The Trace, September 8, 2022, https://www.thetrace.org/2022/09/gun-deaths-cdc-2021-record/. Companies regularly debut new assault weapons at the SHOT Show despite the role they play in mass shootings — including the deadliest, which took place at a country music concert just two miles from the Venetian Expo Center in October 2017. But the SHOT Show went on as scheduled just three months later. And when a company called Wee1 Tactical used the 2022 SHOT Show to unveil a “JR-15” series of AR-15-style rifle scaled down for kids and marketed with colorful cartoons,6Joshua Zitser, “An Illinois gunmaker is under fire for launching a ‘JR-15’ rifle aimed specifically at kids,” Business Insider, February 19, 2022, https://www.businessinsider.com/gunmaker-under-fire-launching-ar-15-for-kids-reports-say-2022-2. the industry remained silent, as it has when confronted with the fact that firearms are now the leading cause of death among children and teens.7Aria Bendix, “In a first, firearms were leading cause of death for U.S. children and teens in 2020,” NBC News, April 22, 2022, https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/guns-leading-cause-death-children-teens-rcna25443.
The organization that fights the hardest to prevent the firearms industry from being held accountable for its role in endangering the public is the same one that sponsors the SHOT Show: the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the official trade association of the firearms industry, which derives over 75 percent of its revenue from the show itself, through entry fees and renting floor space to exhibitors.8ProPublica Nonprofit Explorer, “National Shooting Sports Foundation Inc: Audit for period ending March 2019,” accessed November 13, 2022, https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/display_audit/20970320191; ProPublica Nonprofit Explorer, “National Shooting Sports Foundation,” IRS Form 990 Filing March 2020, https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/organizations/60860132/202140419349301324/full. While the National Rifle Association remains mired in scandal and legal troubles,9NRA Watch, “Broken & Bankrupt: The NRA in 2021,” November 14, 2022, https://nrawatch.org/report/the-continued-decline-of-the-nra/. the NSSF has tried to fill the void — even though it is only backed by the gun industry and lacks a grassroots membership — and is increasingly influential in the halls of Congress and statehouses across the country. The NSSF isn’t as well known as the NRA, but as this report details, it shares many of the same goals, is just as extreme, and exacerbates our gun violence epidemic.
With “over 9,000 members” representing every facet of the firearm supply chain, from manufacturers and distributors to retailers and shooting ranges,10NSSF letter to ATF Acting Director Marvin Richardson, August 18, 2021, https://www.nssf.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/NSSF-SAMMI-PublicComment.pdf. the NSSF is the voice and lobbying arm of the firearms industry. In fact, the NSSF’s Board of Governors is composed of executives from the country’s largest gun companies,11NSSF, “NSSF Board of Governors,” accessed November 14, 2022, https://www.nssf.org/about-us/nssf-board-of-governors/. including Smith & Wesson and Daniel Defense, which made the AR-15-style rifles used in the recent Highland Park and Uvalde shootings, respectively.12House Oversight Committee, “The Committee’s Investigation into Gun Industry Practices and Profits,” July 27, 2022, https://docs.house.gov/meetings/GO/GO00/20220727/115024/HHRG-117-GO00-20220727-SD005.pdf. In the aftermath of those tragedies, it was Daniel Defense CEO and NSSF Governor Marty Daniel who told the House Oversight Committee that mass shootings are “local problems” in deflecting blame for his company producing military-style assault weapons and aggressively marketing them to civilians.13House Oversight Committee Hearing, “Examining the Practices and Profits of Gun Manufacturers,” July 27, 2022, https://www.congress.gov/event/117th-congress/house-event/LC69137/text.
Mass shootings are indeed “local” for the NSSF. As mentioned, the Las Vegas shooting occurred just down the Strip from where the SHOT Show is held every year, and the Newtown shooting transpired just three miles from the NSSF’s longtime headquarters in Connecticut. These high-profile mass shootings — carried out with AR-style rifles14See CNN, “Sandy Hook School Shootings Fast Facts, “ November 28, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2013/06/07/us/connecticut-shootings-fast-facts; and KTNV Staff, “LIST: Guns and evidence from Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock,” KNTV, January 19, 2018, https://www.ktnv.com/news/las-vegas-shooting/list-guns-and-evidence-from-las-vegas-shooter-stephen-paddock. made by NSSF members and SHOT exhibitors — along with countless others and the daily toll of gun violence, have not stopped the NSSF from working to relax gun regulations and further insulate its member companies from the effects of their deadly products and marketing.
The NSSF Opposes Commonsense Gun Safety Measures on Every Front
Today’s headlines paint a sordid picture of the United States and its relationship with firearms. Every day, more than 110 Americans are killed with guns, and more than 200 are shot and wounded.15Everytown Research & Policy, “Gun Violence in America,” May 19, 2020, https://everytownresearch.org/report/gun-violence-in-america/. In 2021 alone, there were over 700 road rage incidents involving firearms that left more than 500 people wounded or killed,16Sarah Burd-Sharps and Kathryn Bistline, “Reports of Road Rage Shootings are on the Rise,” Everytown Research & Policy, April 4, 2022, https://everytownresearch.org/reports-of-road-rage-shootings-are-on-the-rise/. and at least 392 unintentional shootings by children, resulting in 163 deaths and 248 injuries.17Everytown Research & Policy, “#NotAnAccident Index,” accessed December 20, 2022, https://everytownresearch.org/maps/notanaccident/.
But like the NRA, the NSSF pushes a guns-everywhere agenda, endorsing permitless carry18Larry Keane, “Stacey Abrams Sells a Gun Control Plan that Georgia’s Not Buying,” NSSF, June 29, 2022, https://www.nssf.org/articles/stacey-abrams-sells-a-gun-control-plan-that-georgias-not-buying/. and concealed-carry reciprocity between states,19Larry Keane, “The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act is Long Overdue,” NSSF, January 5, 2021, https://www.nssf.org/articles/the-concealed-carry-reciprocity-act-is-long-overdue/. for example, while claiming that “[g]un-free zones do not keep people safe”20Larry Keane, “#GUNVOTE on the Minds of Georgians,” NSSF, December 2, 2020, https://www.nssf.org/articles/gunvote-on-georgian-minds/. — though, ironically, SHOT Show attendees are prohibited from carrying their personally owned firearms.21NSSF, “Policies,” accessed December 2, 2022, https://shotshow.org/policies/. The organization has also opposed nearly every effort to regulate firearms, including commonsense solutions with enormous public and bipartisan support. The NSSF has echoed the NRA in its baseless claims that red flag laws infringe “upon [a] person’s Second Amendment Rights,”22NSSF, “‘Red Flag” Laws: Due Process is Crucial,” accessed November 14, 2022, https://www.nssf.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/NSSF-Factsheet-Red-Flag.pdf. that background checks on all gun sales would “require a national gun registry” and eventually could lead to the “confiscation of law-abiding owners’ firearms,”23NSSF, “So-Called ‘Universal Background Checks,’” accessed November 14, 2022, https://www.nssf.org/government-relations/factsheets/universal-background-checks/. and that laws regulating assault weapons24NSSF, “Background Information on So-Called ‘Assault Weapons,’” accessed November 14, 2022, https://www.nssf.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/NSSF-factsheet-Assault-Weapons.pdf. and high-capacity magazines25NSSF, “Another Ban on ‘High-Capacity’ Magazines?” accessed November 14, 2022, https://www.nssf.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/NSSF-factsheet-High-Capacity-Magazines.pdf. target items “rarely used” to commit crimes — ignoring the fact that the country’s deadliest mass shootings have involved both.26Quoctrung Bui, Alicia Parlapiano and Margot Sanger-Katz, “The Mass Shootings Where Stricter Gun Laws Might Have Made a Difference,” The New York Times, June 4, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2022/06/04/upshot/mass-shooting-gun-laws.html.
The NSSF even publicly withheld support for the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which provided resources for states to implement red flag laws and fund mental health services, and enhanced background checks for those under 21, that was signed into law in the aftermath of the mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde.27NSSF, “NSSF Statement on the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act,” June 23, 2022, https://www.nssf.org/articles/nssf-statement-on-the-bipartisan-safer-communities-act/. This failure to support the bill was particularly odd since it is widely known that the NSSF was “involved in setting the deal’s general parameters.”28Lindsay Wise and Julie Bykowicz, “Gun Industry Group NSSF Tries to Shape Senate Talks,” Wall Street Journal, June 18, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/gun-industry-group-tries-to-shape-senate-talks-11655578066?mod=hp_lead_pos11.
This should come as no surprise for a trade association funded by gun manufacturers and sellers that lobbies on their behalf. In recent years, the NSSF has outspent every other gun group on federal lobbying, reaching $4.6 and $5 million in 2020 and 2021, respectively.“29National Shooting Sports Foundation,” OpenSecrets, accessed November 30, 2022, https://www.opensecrets.org/federal-lobbying/clients/hired-firms?cycle=2020&id=D000054336 and https://www.opensecrets.org/federal-lobbying/clients/hired-firms?cycle=2021&id=D000054336. For comparison, the NRA spent $2.2 and $4.9 million on federal lobbying during those same years.“30National Rifle Association,” 2020 and 2021, OpenSecrets, accessed November 30, 2022, https://www.opensecrets.org/federal-lobbying/clients/summary?cycle=2020&id=D000000082 and https://www.opensecrets.org/federal-lobbying/clients/summary?cycle=2021&id=D000000082.
NSSF vs. NRA Federal Lobbying
The NSSF has also lashed out at its own members when they have attempted to reform their business practices. After the CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods announced that his retail stores would no longer sell assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, or firearms to anyone under 21 in the wake of the 2018 Parkland shooting, the NSSF expelled the company from its membership “for conduct detrimental to the best interests of the Foundation.”31NSSF, “NSSF Expels Dick’s Sporting Goods,” May 4, 2018, https://www.nssf.org/articles/nssf-expels-dicks-sporting-goods/.
In March 2000, Smith & Wesson signed an agreement with the Clinton administration to design safer firearms that could not accept high-capacity magazines, develop smart guns that could only be fired by authorized users, and more tightly regulate how its firearms were sold — refusing to do business with sellers who attend gun shows where customers do not have to undergo background checks, for example. But the NSSF immediately rebuked the company. The organization’s then-president Robert T. Delfay said Smith & Wesson’s decision “to forge an agreement with the most anti-gun administration in history has violated a trust with their consumers and with the entire domestic firearms industry.”32Sharon Walsh, “Gun Industry Views Pact as Threat to Its Unity,” Washington Post, March 18, 2000, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/2000/03/18/gun-industry-views-pact-as-threat-to-its-unity/b18b920f-afdf-44d1-a252-68b12863a032/. Gun dealers across the country then boycotted Smith & Wesson, which almost went bankrupt before it was sold to new owners.33Christina Austin, “How Gun Maker Smith & Wesson Almost Went Out Of Business When It Accepted Gun Control,” Business Insider, January 21, 2013, https://www.businessinsider.com/smith-and-wesson-almost-went-out-of-business-trying-to-do-the-right-thing-2013-1.
The NSSF also joined the NRA in lobbying for the passage of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) in 2005, which provided broad legal protections to the firearms industry and curbed the reach of the municipal lawsuits that had attempted to hold gun makers like Smith & Wesson responsible for gun violence, much like the previously successful lawsuits against Big Tobacco.34Dan Freedman, “Gun group from Newtown outspends NRA,” Connecticut Post, November 29, 2015, https://www.ctpost.com/news/article/Gun-group-from-Newtown-outspends-NRA-6662924.php.
More recently, the NSSF has railed against the Biden administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, which asks the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to revoke the licenses of “rogue gun dealers” who repeatedly fail inspections due to “willful violations,” including transferring a firearm to a prohibited person, failing to run a required background check, and falsifying records.35White House Briefing Room, “Fact Sheet: Biden-Harris Administration Announces Comprehensive Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gun Crime and Ensure Public Safety,” June 23, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/06/23/fact-sheet-biden-harris-administration-announces-comprehensive-strategy-to-prevent-and-respond-to-gun-crime-and-ensure-public-safety/. The NSSF has attempted to play down these violations as “infractions that at one time warranted only a correction and/or simple ATF citation,” and holds that the gun industry “cannot allow this to proceed unchecked.”36NSSF, “Are You Experiencing ATF Administrative Action As A Result Of The ‘ZERO Tolerance Policy’?” accessed November 14, 2022, https://www2.nssf.org/l/127421/2022-03-21/4h94v2. The issue of inspections and revoking the licenses of irresponsible dealers exemplifies the logical fallacy that has come to define the NSSF, as it simultaneously resists new gun safety measures as unnecessary because there are already laws on the books while also protesting the enforcement of those very laws when it comes to members of the gun industry.
The NSSF Supports the Proliferation of Increasingly Dangerous Weapons
Not only has the NSSF lobbied against gun safety measures like bans on assault weapons — which it rebranded as “modern sporting rifles,” or MSRs, in 200937Justin Peters, “Omar Mateen Had a ‘Modern Sporting Rifle,’” Slate, June 14, 2016, https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2016/06/the-sig-sauer-mcx-used-in-orlando-is-a-modern-sporting-rifle-not-an-assault-weapon-according-to-gunmakers-heres-why.html. — but the organization actively encourages its members to produce and sell more of these deadly products. The NSSF pushes “industry research,” including marketing reports and surveys, where it argues that assault weapons are commonly owned, for example, publicizing its estimate that 24 million such guns are in circulation.38NSSF, “Commonly Owned: NSSF Announces Over 24 Million MSRs in Circulation,” July 20, 2022, https://www.nssf.org/articles/commonly-owned-nssf-announces-over-24-million-msrs-in-circulation/. (Though comparing the NSSF’s data to ATF data and surveys on gun ownership shows that less than 10 percent of civilian gun owners actually own assault weapons, which represent just 5.4 percent of all firearms owned in the U.S.39Supplemental Declaration of Louis Klarevas, Miller v. Bonta, October 13, 2022, https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/16069141/137/5/miller-v-becerra/.)
NSSF reports also identify various types of potential first-time gun buyers as two-dimensional caricatures, including the “Fun Fanatic,” who is focused “on fun and not on the price tag,” as “most likely to purchase a modern sporting rifle.” At least four customers identified by the NSSF — the “Anxious Buyer,” “Unprepared Protector,” “Weaponless Wendy,” and “Unarmed Aaron” — all share a desire to obtain a firearm before sales are “further restricted,”40NSSF and Southwick Associates, “First Time Firearms Buyers Segmentation,” January 6, 2017, https://www.southwickassociates.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/NSSF-First-Time-Firearm-Buyers-Segmentation-Summary-1-6-17.pdf. a clear acknowledgement that the industry views fear-mongering about proposals, real or imagined, for the regulation of firearms ownership as a motivator for customers to buy its products. According to the NSSF, an “Unarmed Aaron” is “most interested in firearms that have been recommended to him or used by professionals,” whereas “[f]irearms such as MSRs that are more frequently targeted for sales restrictions are best bets” for sales opportunities with “Anxious Buyers.”41Ibid.
A more recent version of that report details potential marketing targets like the “Urban Defender,” who “has the highest rate of purchasing firearms for self- and at-home protection…The top reason for their most recent firearm purchase is feeling unsafe away from home, followed by feeling unsafe at home.”42NSSF and Southwick Associates, “2020 Firearm Consumer Personas,” February 2021, https://www.nssf.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/NSSF-Consumer-Segmentation-Report-Phase-I.pdf. In other words, the NSSF marketing guides imply that gun makers could capitalize on distrust of communities, fear, and social unrest — including the possibility of further gun restrictions and confiscation — to market their products.
Another NSSF study that discusses the best methods for persuading hunters and target shooters to purchase assault weapons identifies television shows, magazines, and YouTube videos as potential marketing channels while encouraging gun shops and shooting ranges to offer these types of weapons as rentals and “generate more awareness.” Additionally, “programs hosted by state agencies and outdoor retailers can also inspire [people] to shoot an MSR.”43NSSF and Southwick Associates, “Paths to Participation,” May 2018, https://www.nssf.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/NSSF-and-SA_Paths-to-Participation_MSR-Target-Shooting.pdf.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the NSSF’s support for dangerous firearms and accessories. The NSSF has downplayed the seriousness of ghost guns and supports the sellers of these DIY kits that allow people, including those prohibited from owning firearms, to easily build unserialized, untraceable firearms in minutes. The NSSF has stated that ghost guns “are a gun control bogeyman” and “don’t present a public safety problem,”44NSSF, “Undetectable Firearms or So-Called Ghost Guns,” accessed November 14, 2022, https://www.nssf.org/government-relations/factsheets/ghost-guns-undetectable-firearms-explained-2/. despite the fact that law enforcement personnel have recovered approximately 45,240 ghost guns between 2016 and 2021, including those from 692 homicide or attempted homicide investigations.45Department of Justice, “Justice Department Announces New Rule to Modernize Firearm Definitions,” April 11, 2022, https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-announces-new-rule-modernize-firearm-definitions. Moreover, when the ATF proposed a new rule to curb the sale of ghost guns, the NSSF asked the agency to withdraw the rule, calling it “vague, ambiguous, confusing, ‘arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, [and] otherwise not in accordance with law,’” and that the ATF had “exceed[ed] its statutory authority.”46NSSF letter to ATF Acting Director Marvin Richardson, August 18, 2021, https://www.nssf.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/NSSF-SAMMI-PublicComment.pdf.
The NSSF has also allowed ghost gun makers and sellers to exhibit at the SHOT Show alongside the ATF, including Polymer80, the largest of these companies.47Everytown for Gun Safety, “THIS WEEK: NSSF ‘SHOT Show’ To Feature 27 Ghost Gun Sellers,” January 18, 2022, https://www.everytown.org/press/this-week-nssf-shot-show-to-feature-27-ghost-gun-sellers/. And after the ATF raided Polymer80 in December 2020 on suspicion that the company was selling complete firearm-building kits without a background check as required by federal law,48Scott Glover, “Feds raid ‘ghost gun’ maker whose products they say are linked to ‘hundreds of crimes,’” CNN, December 11, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/11/us/atf-raid-ghost-gun-manufacturer-invs/index.html. the NSSF’s senior vice president and general counsel, Larry Keane, said, “We have not seen credible evidence and statistics demonstrating that [ghost guns are] a significant issue.”49Zusha Elinson, “Ghost-Gun Concerns Prompt Feds to Meet With Firearms Makers,” Wall Street Journal, March 26, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/ghost-gun-concerns-prompt-feds-to-meet-with-firearms-makers-11616756403.
Similarly, when the ATF proposed another rule to curb the sale of easy-to-conceal, short-barreled AR-15 “pistols” that circumvent the registration requirements of the National Firearms Act of 1934 — like the kind used in the Dayton and Boulder mass shootings50See Bill Chappell, “The Pistol That Looks Like A Rifle: The Dayton Shooter’s Gun,” NPR, August 8, 2019, https://www.npr.org/2019/08/08/748665339/the-pistol-that-looks-like-a-rifle-the-dayton-shooters-gun; and Christal Hayes and Grace Hauck, “Boulder shooting suspect’s gun looked like a rifle. But it’s a pistol. Experts worry it’s helping people skirt gun laws,” USA Today, March 26, 2021, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2021/03/25/boulder-shooting-suspects-gun-looks-and-operates-like-rifle-but-its-pistol/6997038002/. — the NSSF responded by opposing the rule, saying that it “would not address criminal activity and would ultimately punish law-abiding gun owners and the Industry.”51NSSF letter to ATF Acting Director Marvin Richardson, September 7, 2021, https://www.nssf.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/NSSF-_BracesCommentLetter.pdf.
The NSSF was also a leading advocate for the Hearing Protection Act,52NSSF, “Hearing Protection Act,” accessed November 14, 2022, https://www3.nssf.org/share/factsheets/PDF/HearingProtectionAct.pdf. an extreme bill designed to make it easier for civilians to purchase silencers, which dampen the sound of gunfire and make it nearly impossible to identify where a gunshot originated, potentially allowing criminals to evade law enforcement. Congress wisely decided that these devices, like short-barreled rifles, posed an increased danger to the public in crafting the National Firearms Act of 1934. For nearly a century, owning a silencer has required an enhanced background check and ATF registration, but the Hearing Protection Act — and its reintroduction, which the NSSF “welcomed”53NSSF, “NSSF Welcomes Senate Hearing Protection Act Reintroduction,” June 16, 2021, https://www.nssf.org/articles/nssf-welcomes-senate-hearing-protection-act-reintroduction/. — would remove those requirements to increase silencer sales.
Finally, the NSSF has been quiet with regard to deadly innovations like auto sears that easily allow semi-automatic weapons — most notably Glock pistols — to function as fully automatic machine guns (Glock Vice President Josh Dorsey sits on the NSSF’s Board of Governors54NSSF, “NSSF Board of Governors,” accessed November 14, 2022, https://www.nssf.org/about-us/nssf-board-of-governors/.), or binary triggers that operate similarly and can dramatically increase an AR-15’s rate of fire (invented by Franklin Armory, an NSSF “patron member”55NSSF, “NSSF Patron Membership,” accessed November 14, 2022, https://www.nssf.org/membership/nssf-patron-membership/.), while at the same time casting skepticism on safer designs like smart guns, which the NSSF claims are unreliable and “still not ready for primetime.”56Larry Keane, “Don’t Believe the Hype. Smart Gun Tech Still Not Ready for Primetime,” NSSF, March 17, 2022, https://www.nssf.org/articles/dont-believe-the-hype-smart-gun-tech-still-not-ready-for-primetime/.
The NSSF Promotes Gun Sales No Matter the Cost
Trade associations are often tasked with helping their member companies market and sell their products. For the NSSF, that means getting AR-15s, ghost guns, and other deadly weapons into the hands of more Americans. One of the NSSF’s solutions: targeting minors.
While federal law prohibits anyone under the age of 18 or 21 from buying a long gun or handgun, respectively, the NSSF’s marketing materials make it clear that the organization views children and young adults as future customers. One NSSF video calls youth “the future of the shooting sports, so it’s important to get them involved and keep them involved…When taking a new youth shooter to the range, remember this: Keep it fun.”57NSSF, “Getting Youth Involved,” accessed November 7, 2022, https://play.zype.com/J0AtDsHdoUgEMQ3Dgt3v-xYkUAWw6yVIeQaqYTqg25DS2giQDSd_6akx7BBAJZvw/player/5bb4fba657adf710b9012c62?video_id=5bb4fba657adf710b9012c62. Nowhere in the video does it mention that firearms are now the leading cause of death among children and teens.58Aria Bendix, “In a first, firearms were leading cause of death for U.S. children and teens in 2020,” NBC News, April 22, 2022, https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/guns-leading-cause-death-children-teens-rcna25443.
NSSF research describes youth as “obvious ‘low-hanging fruit’ in recruitment,” and a “large relatively untapped market.”59NSSF and Responsive Management, “Hunting, Fishing, Sport Shooting, and Archery Recruitment, Retention, and Reactivation,” 2017, https://www.nssf.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/R3-Handbook.pdf. Another NSSF report — funded by a federal wildlife conservation grant — states that “[m]ost hunters start hunting in childhood, with younger initiation correlated with greater avidity and retention” (emphasis in original), and that “60% of active hunters had started by the age of 12.”60NSSF and Responsive Management, “The Future of Hunting and the Shooting Sports,” 2008, https://responsivemanagement.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Future_Hunting_Shooting_Report.pdf.
In 2007, the NSSF started the Scholastic Shooting Sports Foundation (SSSF),61Scholastic Shooting Sports Foundation homepage, accessed December 20, 2022, https://sssfonline.org/. which sponsors target-shooting competitions for school children and has the goal of becoming the “premier authority in all things pertaining to firearm-related pursuits for youth.” Its stated mission is to “pass on to future generations the legacy of lifelong, safe, responsible enjoyment of the shooting sports.”62Scholastic Shooting Sports Foundation, “About Us,” accessed November 14, 2022, https://sssfonline.org/about/ But a 2016 report that the NSSF produced for its members noted that SSSF competitors and their parents “are not only participating, they are purchasing” firearms, ammunition, and related gear.63NSSF, “Industry Intelligence Reports, 2016 Edition,” https://sssfonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/SCTP_IIR_2016_lo-res.pdf SSSF donors include such gun makers as Glock, Ruger, and Smith & Wesson as well as the owners of online firearms retailer MidwayUSA,64See SSSF Staff, “Glock Donates $25,000 to SSSF to Benefit Scholastic Pistol Program,” April 17, 2015, https://mysctp.com/glock-donates-25000-to-sssf-to-benefit-scholastic-pistol-program/; “Ruger Donates to SSSF with Proceeds from Auctions,” February 3, 2022, https://www.ammoland.com/2022/02/ruger-donates-to-sssf-with-proceeds-from-auctions/; “Smith and Wesson Continues Tradition of Support for the Scholastic Action Shooting Program,” May 27, 2016, https://sssfonline.org/smith-and-wesson-continues-tradition-of-support-for-the-scholastic-action-shooting-program/; and “Larry & Brenda Potterfield Donate Over $1.7 million to SSSF,” August 28, 2014, https://mysctp.com/larry-brenda-potterfield-donate-1-7-million-sssf and the SSSF is a major sponsor of Junior Shooters magazine, a quarterly publication written by and for youth shooting competitors that is replete with gun advertisements and reviews.65Junior Shooters, Spring 2022, Volume 46, https://indd.adobe.com/view/8819014b-07d8-4acb-a172-a299cbb76dee
At the same time, the NSSF has also published misleading statistics that downplay the dangers of firearms. NSSF studies claim that hunting with a firearm poses nearly the same risk of injury to children as playing pool, and is somehow safer than bowling,66NSSF, “Firearm-Related Accident Statistics,” May 2020, https://www.nssf.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/NSSF-IIR-Firearm-Related-Accident-Statistics.pdf while ignoring the fact that 2,281 children died from guns in 2020 alone.67Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS), 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/index.html Similarly, the SSSF website claims that the “shooting sports are one of the safest activities available to youth today!” and directs viewers to the NSSF’s statistics,68SSSF, “Safety Information,” accessed November 8, 2022, https://sssfonline.org/safety-information/ which focus on the rate of injury but withhold the severity. There is no mention of how often gunshot wounds lead to death or a severe disability compared to, say, spraining an ankle while playing soccer.
The NSSF uses a few different sources for its data. For the table of sports injuries that the NSSF uses in its “Firearm-Related Accident Statistics” report, shown below,69NSSF, “Firearm-Related Accident Statistics,” May 2020, https://www.nssf.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/NSSF-IIR-Firearm-Related-Accident-Statistics.pdf the organization pulls data from the National Safety Council (NSC), which warns that “[b]ecause the list of sports is not complete, and the frequency and duration of participation is unknown, no inference should be made concerning the relative safety of these sports and recreational activities.”70National Safety Council, “Sports and Recreational Injuries,” accessed November 28, 2022, https://injuryfacts.nsc.org/home-and-community/safety-topics/sports-and-recreational-injuries/ More importantly, the NSC no longer includes hunting data in its list of activities. For that, the NSSF includes data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission on “injury data for Tree Stands,” or how often someone falls from a hunting platform positioned in a tree,71U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, “CPSC Safety Alert: Hunting Treestands and Harnesses,” December 2008, https://www.cpsc.gov/s3fs-public/pdfs/blk_pdf_5200.pdf and the International Hunter Education Association (IHEA), which has received NSSF funding,72IHEA-USA homepage, archived March 25, 2019, https://web.archive.org/web/20190325045520/https://www.ihea-usa.org/ including a grant to maintain the organization’s “Hunter Incident Clearinghouse.”73NSSF, “National Hunter Incident Report Clearinghouse Data,” July 28, 2016, https://www.nssf.org/articles/national-hunter-incident-report-clearinghouse-data/. Thus, the NSSF isn’t transparent in how the data supports its claim that hunting with firearms is less dangerous than bowling.
Of course, parents are the key to getting children involved in firearms. In 2019, the NSSF’s Larry Keane was caught on hidden camera advising that a good way to increase youth participation in the shooting sports was to target “the moms.” “If Mom is OK with it, then everyone in the family will participate,” Keane said. “If Mom is against you, Dad’s just not going to fight that fight, right? Let’s be honest. And then the kids aren’t going to be allowed to. You’ve got to get the moms.”75Melissa Clarke, “Powerful US gun lobby encouraged One Nation to weaken Australia’s strict gun ownership laws,” ABC News, March 25, 2019, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-03-26/nra-encourages-one-nation-to-weaken-australia-gun-laws/10936224.
To make matters worse, in the aftermath of the Uvalde and Highland Park shootings, when Daniel Defense and Smith & Wesson came under fire for irresponsibly marketing AR-15s to teens using militaristic, hypermasculine imagery and references to video games and pop culture,76See Everytown Law, “Everytown Files Complaint with FTC Urging Investigation of Daniel Defense, LLC,” July 25, 2022, https://everytownlaw.org/case/everytown-files-complaint-with-ftc-urging-investigation-of-daniel-defense-llc/; and Everytown Law Everytown Calls on the FTC to Investigate Smith & Wesson’s Dangerous Assault Rifle Marketing Practices,” June 2, 2020, https://everytownlaw.org/case/everytown-calls-on-the-ftc-to-investigate-smith-wessons-dangerous-assault-rifle-marketing-practices/, Larry Keane declared it a “misguided witch hunt,” saying critics “want to muzzle and silence our industry…They want the [Federal Trade Commission] to burn gun manufacturers at the metaphorical stake and cut out their tongues.” In his response, Keane also stated that “recreational shooting…ranks among the safest sporting activities” — safer than “[g]olf, walking and tennis” — before once again directing readers to the NSSF’s misleading statistics.77Larry Keane, “Demonizing Gun Ads is a Misguided Witch Hunt,” NSSF, September 29, 2022, https://www.nssf.org/articles/demonizing-gun-ads-is-a-misguided-witch-hunt/.
When another gun maker, Remington, agreed to pay $73 million to the families of nine Newtown shooting victims for its reckless marketing practices, the NSSF was quick to comment that the decision to settle the case “was not made by a member of the firearms industry,” but the “various insurance carriers that held policies with Remington Outdoor Company,”78Cam Edwards, “NSSF says insurance companies, not firearms industry, agreed to Remington settlement,” February 15, 2022, https://bearingarms.com/camedwards/2022/02/15/national-shooting-sports-foundation-responds-to-remington-settlement-n55511. which had declared bankruptcy. The NSSF also remained silent when Wee1 Tactical showcased its “JR-15” rifles designed for children at the 2022 SHOT Show.79Joshua Zitser, “An Illinois gunmaker is under fire for launching a ‘JR-15’ rifle aimed specifically at kids,” Business Insider, February 19, 2022, https://www.businessinsider.com/gunmaker-under-fire-launching-ar-15-for-kids-reports-say-2022-2.
Recruiting children is just one method of many the NSSF has found for maximizing its members’ customer base. At the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, when large swaths of the country shut down in an attempt to limit the spread of the virus, the NSSF “began to press the White House, the Department of Homeland Security, governors and local officials to classify gun and ammunition dealers and manufacturers” — including gun shops and even shooting ranges — “as essential businesses that must remain open.”80Zusha Elinson and Jess Bravin, “Gun Industry Lobbies to Keep Selling Despite Coronavirus Shutdowns,” Wall Street Journal, March 24, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/gun-industry-lobbies-to-keep-selling-despite-coronavirus-shutdowns-11585042201. In his letter to the Department of Homeland Security, Larry Keane equated a person’s ability to purchase a firearm for protection with having “[f]ood, water, shelter and adequate medical care” to survive. According to Keane, “Americans are concerned that in this time of crisis, they will not be able to protect themselves, their families or their property. Ordering the shuttering of retailers will only serve to fuel this fear unnecessarily.”81NSSF letter to Christopher Krebs, March 20, 2020, https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/2022-05/nssf_emails.pdf.
As discussed earlier, the NSSF knows how well fear sells, especially to “Anxious Buyers,” and “[b]usiness…boomed for the industry,”82Elinson, Bravin, Wall Street Journal. which saw record-breaking gun sales throughout 2020 and 2021. The NSSF’s push for more gun sales also helps explain why the organization opposes background checks on all gun sales yet supports online marketplaces like GunBroker.com, the “eBay of guns”83GunTab, “Best Cheap Guns: ArmsList vs GunBroker,” March 10, 2019, https://www.guntab.com/insights/cheapest-gun-deals-armslist-vs-gunbroker/. and the NSSF’s “Official Internet Auction Site.”84GunBroker.com 2016 Media Kit, https://www.medialodge.com/mediawp/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/GunBroker-2016-Media-Kit.pdf. The company has been a frequent SHOT Show sponsor85See NSSF, “SHOT Show Opens at Sands Expo Center in Las Vegas,” January 20, 2015, https://www.nssf.org/articles/shot-show-opens-at-sands-expo-center-in-las-vegas/; NSSF, “38th SHOT Show Kicks Off at Sands Expo Center in Las Vegas,” January 19, 2016,https://www.nssf.org/articles/38th-shot-show-kicks-off-at-sands-expo-center-in-las-vegas-2/; and GunBroker.com, “GunBroker.com NSSF Fundraiser Drive SHOT Show 2023,” accessed November 8, 2022, https://www.gunbroker.com/c/shotshow/donationform/. despite being used to conduct illegal sales in several gun trafficking cases that led to arrests.86See David Hanners, “Man sold semiautomatic rifles to pay for dog’s cancer treatment, ATF says,” Pioneer Press, April 16, 2013, https://www.twincities.com/2013/04/16/man-sold-semiautomatic-rifles-to-pay-for-dogs-cancer-treatment-atf-agents-say/; WVEC Staff, “UPDATE: Former Navy SEAL sentenced for selling government ammunition,” 13 News Now, July 18, 2014, https://www.13newsnow.com/article/news/update-former-navy-seal-sentenced-for-selling-government-ammunition/294130691; Levi Pulkkinen, “Meth-smoking white supremacist amassed assault rifles despite felonies,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 29, 2014, https://www.seattlepi.com/seattlenews/article/Meth-smoking-white-supremacist-amassed-assault-5183040.php; Department of Justice, “Saint Paul Man Indicted for Dealing Firearms Without a License,” February 18, 2016, https://www.atf.gov/news/pr/saint-paul-man-indicted-dealing-firearms-without-license; Department of Justice, “Southbridge Man Pleads Guilty to Illegally Exporting Assault Rifle and Pistol Parts,” August 25, 2016, https://www.justice.gov/usao-ma/pr/southbridge-man-pleads-guilty-illegally-exporting-assault-rifle-and-pistol-parts-0; Department of Justice, “Former Arizona DEA Agent Pleads Guilty To Illegally Selling Assault Rifles,” August 14, 2018, https://www.justice.gov/usao-nv/pr/former-arizona-dea-agent-pleads-guilty-illegally-selling-assault-rifles; Department of Justice, “Malaysian Nationals Charged with Conspiring to Illegally Export Firearms and Firearm Parts to Hong Kong,” January 31, 2019, https://www.justice.gov/usao-ma/pr/malaysian-nationals-charged-conspiring-illegally-export-firearms-and-firearm-parts-hong; Everytown Law, Kansas City v. Jimenez Arms, January 7, 2020, https://everytownlaw.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2020/07/kansas-city-complaint.pdf; Judy Harrison, “Mainer charged with illegally selling guns says he did it to supplement Social Security,” Bangor Daily News, June 16, 2020, https://www.bangordailynews.com/2020/05/13/news/portland/mainer-charged-with-illegally-selling-guns-says-he-did-it-to-supplement-social-security/; and United States of America v. 43 Firearms, May 12, 2022, https://storage.courtlistener.com/recap/gov.uscourts.txsd.1872713/gov.uscourts.txsd.1872713.1.0.pdf
Another NSSF member is Topple,87Topple, Instagram, February 17, 2022, https://www.instagram.com/p/CaFIQJZsNx5/. a “firearms-friendly” advertising exchange that helps gun companies place digital ads outside of Google and Facebook. Topple “allows brands to advertise anything legal, from guns to ammunition or crypto to cannabis,”88Ashley McGee, “It’s Possible: Paid Digital Marketing Campaigns,” Shooting Industry, September 2022, https://shootingindustry.com/discover/its-possible-paid-digital-marketing-campaigns/. and perhaps unsurprisingly, Topple was named a “Gold Sponsor” of the NSSF Marketing and Leadership Summit in May 2022. In that announcement, Topple’s CEO stated that gun companies had for years been “forced to find creative ways to work around vague, ambiguous, overly broad and constantly changing rules about how they can reach their target customer with the latest in digital advertising technology.”89NSSF, “Topple Becomes Gold Sponsor of NSSF Marketing and Leadership Summit,” April 29, 2022, https://www.nssf.org/articles/topple-becomes-gold-sponsor-of-nssf-marketing-and-leadership-summit/.
And the NSSF has fully embraced “shoot now, pay later”90GrabAGun, “Gun Financing, Better than Layaway,” accessed November 14, 2022, https://grabagun.com/layaway. financing through Credova, a company that allows people to purchase firearms and ammunition in installments instead of paying the full price up front, lowering the barrier to entry for new gun owners. A SHOT Show sponsor,91NSSF, “SHOT Show Makes Strong Return to Las Vegas,” January 21, 2022, https://www.nssf.org/articles/shot-show-makes-strong-return-to-las-vegas/. Credova offers zero-interest loans that it promises won’t hurt a prospective buyer’s credit score92Credova, “Shoppers,” accessed November 9, 2022, https://credova.com/forshoppers — perks that often appeal to younger shoppers93Cheyenne DeVon, “Many young people prefer ‘buy now, pay later’ to credit cards—here’s why,” CNBC, October 27, 2022, https://www.cnbc.com/2022/10/27/gen-z-and-millennials-prefer-buy-now-pay-later-services.html — and states that merchants who use Credova can see up to a 51 percent increase in sales volume.94Credova, “Business,” accessed November 9, 2022, https://credova.com/forbusiness. To that end, the company has already partnered with “nearly 70 gun merchants,”95Rob Wile, “Democrats send letter to company offering buy now, pay later firearms financing,” NBC News, August 29, 2022, https://www.nbcnews.com/business/consumer/buy-now-pay-later-guns-ammo-credova-financial-lawmakers-demand-answers-rcna45273. including online retailers like Brownells, Guns.com, Primary Arms, and GrabAGun, which notes that buyers can pay “$0 down.”96GrabAGun, “Gun Financing, Better than Layaway,” accessed November 14, 2022, https://grabagun.com/layaway. Several gun makers, including Daniel Defense, boast that prospective buyers can receive Credova “approvals in seconds.”97See Daniel Defense, “Shooting Sports Financing,” accessed November 14, 2022, https://danieldefense.com/daniel-defense-financing; Maxim Defense, “Finance with Credova,” accessed November 14, 2022, https://www.maximdefense.com/financing/; and Spike’s Tactical, “Financing Available,” accessed November 14, 2022, https://www.spikestactical.com/financing-available/.
Calculating the Cost of Gun Violence
While the firearms industry rakes in an estimated $9 billion in revenue annually,1Shahool Al Bari, “Guns & Ammunition Manufacturing in the US,” IBISWorld, December 2021, 19-20. Note: Civilian and law enforcement sales accounted for 46.9% of the gun industry’s total estimated revenue of $18.4 billion for 2021. gun violence exacts a terrible human toll. Every year, tens of thousands of Americans are killed and injured by firearms, forever shattering the lives of survivors. But even those who aren’t directly affected by gun violence end up paying for it.
An analysis by the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund using a PIRE injury cost model and CDC data shows that gun violence costs $557 billion every year through the resulting police investigations, medical costs, long-term physical and mental health care, earnings lost to disability or death, criminal justice costs, and more.2Everytown Research & Policy, “The Economic Cost of Gun Violence,” July 19, 2022, https://everytownresearch.org/report/the-economic-cost-of-gun-violence/.
In other words, while the firearms industry celebrates record-breaking sales and continues to develop increasingly deadly products to boost profits, American taxpayers absorb the costs of gun violence.
The NSSF and Its Members Spread Far-Right Conspiracy Theories and Fuel Culture Wars
On April 30, 2020, armed protestors and militia members stormed the Michigan State Capitol in what would later be regarded as a “dress rehearsal” for the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.98Kathleen Gray, “In Michigan, a Dress Rehearsal for the Chaos at the Capitol on Wednesday,” The New York Times, January 9, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/09/us/politics/michigan-state-capitol.html. Far-right extremists and white supremacists also used the George Floyd racial justice protests in the summer of 2020 as opportunities to display military-style weapons to incite fear, suppress civil discourse, and threaten public safety.99Everytown Research & Policy, “Armed and Dangerous: How the Gun Lobby Enshrines Guns as Tools of the Extreme Right,” September 30, 2020, https://everytownresearch.org/report/extreme-right/. Though shocking, these incidents are unsurprising to those who have closely followed gun groups like the NRA and NSSF, who have spent decades trying to loosen gun regulations — making it easier for extremists, including the Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, and boogaloo supporters, to obtain weapons — while using dangerous rhetoric that exacerbates political tensions and paints guns as necessary tools.100Ibid.
Speaking for the gun industry, the NSSF’s messaging closely aligns with, if not mimics, the NRA’s in many ways. Like the NRA, the NSSF has spread “gun confiscation” conspiracy theories and repeatedly demonized the Biden administration for alleged authoritarianism. In its “fact sheet” denouncing background checks on all gun sales, the NSSF states that the ultimate “goal of registration for antigun advocates is confiscation of law-abiding owners’ firearms,” citing what happened in “Nazi Germany” and echoing NRA claims.101NSSF, “So-Called ‘Universal Background Checks,’” accessed November 14, 2022, https://www.nssf.org/government-relations/factsheets/universal-background-checks/.
The NSSF’s Larry Keane also stated that President Biden “would pursue an unconstitutional firearm confiscation agenda” when elected, “ending Second Amendment rights and reducing them to a nanny-state privilege that’s closely monitored and meted out piecemeal to a select few,”102Larry Keane, “NSSF: Take Joe Biden on His Word With Gun Control,” AmmoLand News, November 10, 2020, https://www.ammoland.com/2020/11/nssf-take-joe-biden-on-his-word-with-gun-control/. and would “weaponize the ATF against retailers to close them down for even minor clerical errors in inspections.”103NSSF, “ICYMI: Biden-Harris Would Weaponize ATF Against Firearm Retailers,” October 12, 2020, https://www.nssf.org/articles/icymi-biden-harris-would-weaponize-atf-against-firearm-retailers/. Again, those purported “minor clerical errors” that the ATF has promised to take action against are willful violations of federal law, including transferring a firearm to a prohibited person, failing to run a required background check, and falsifying records.
In articles posted on the NSSF’s website as well as those popular among gun enthusiasts and the far right, Keane regularly provides biting political commentary and attacks “woke” targets, including banks that refuse to work with gun companies104Larry Keane, “Lawrence Keane: Ending Banking Discrimination is a Necessary Fight for the Firearm Industry,” Breitbart, March 19, 2022, https://www.breitbart.com/politics/2022/03/19/ending-banking-discrimination-necessary-fight-firearm-industry/. and credit card companies, some of which Keane characterized as “financial institutions with woke boardrooms carrying water for progressives who are perfectly happy to vilify legal gun owners and American businesses through a ‘big brother’ style surveillance operation.”105Larry Keane, “The Tide is Turning Against ‘Woke Capitalism,’” NSSF, October 31, 2022, https://www.nssf.org/articles/the-tide-is-turning-against-woke-capitalism/.
Keane even described Bank of America as “selling out” for sending information on customers that purchased guns and ammunition to federal authorities investigating the January 6 insurrection. To Keane, Bank of America’s actions crossed into “big brother, sci-fi truth-is-stranger-than-fiction territory” and that it is “no longer the Bank of America. It is a gun control cabal working to undermine American freedoms, label gun owners as criminals and use their customers’ money and information as the tools to get it done. Welcome to the Bank of Gun Control America.”106Larry Keane, “Bank Of America Sells Out Gun & Ammo Buyers As Potential Criminals,” Daily Caller, February 9, 2021, https://dailycaller.com/2021/02/09/bank-of-america-sells-out-gun-ammo-buyers-as-potential-criminals/. These right-wing political rantings have come to define the NSSF.
And like an NRA surrogate, Keane has called those who support tighter gun regulations “anti-gun,”107Larry Keane, “Gun Control Mayors Conspiring Against Firearm Manufacturers,” NSSF, July 27, 2022, https://www.nssf.org/articles/gun-control-mayors-conspiring-against-firearm-manufacturers/. “anti-Second Amendment,”108Larry Keane, “Your Favorite Jeans Might Be in Gun Control’s Pocket,” NSSF, September 27, 2021, https://www.nssf.org/articles/your-favorite-jeans-might-be-in-gun-controls-pocket/. and “cozying with communists.”109Larry Keane, “Bloomberg’s Gun Control Push, His ‘News’ Site & the Chinese Communist Party,” NSSF, May 25, 2021, https://www.nssf.org/articles/bloombergs-gun-control-push-his-news-site-the-chinese-communist-party/.
Considering the NSSF’s politically charged rhetoric, it should come as no surprise that many of the NSSF’s members also traffic in conspiracy theories and appeal to extremists. But Keane and the NSSF remained silent when Palmetto State Armory, a large South-Carolina-based firearms manufacturer, retailer, NSSF member, and SHOT Show exhibitor,1102023 SHOT Show Planner, “Palmetto State Armory,” accessed November 14, 2022, https://n1b.goexposoftware.com/events/ss23/goExpo/exhibitor/viewExhibitorProfile.php?__id=1058. began selling a “Big Igloo Aloha” AK-47 with a Hawaiian-shirt-themed paint job related to “boogaloo” extremists who want to violently overthrow the U.S. government. Hawaiian shirts have become the unofficial uniform of these extremists, and “big igloo” is a play on “boogaloo,” the nickname for their proposed war against government forces.111Ian Karbal, “A Gunmaker Marketed Anti-Government Boogaloo Products. Then It Lobbied Congress.” The Trace, March 15, 2021, https://www.thetrace.org/2021/03/palmetto-state-armory-boogaloo-south-carolina-nelson-mullins/.
While Palmetto State Armory has since discontinued its boogaloo AK-47, the company still offers a T-shirt depicting a boogaloo supporter guarding a pile of toilet paper rolls.112Citation available upon request. The “#ComeAndTakeIt Big Igloo TP Tee Shirt” may be an attempt to poke fun at pandemic shortages, but it belies the fact that boogaloo extremists participated in the January 6 attack on the Capitol,113A.C. Thompson, Lila Hassan, and Karim Hajj, “The Boogaloo Bois Have Guns, Criminal Records and Military Training. Now They Want to Overthrow the Government.” ProPublica, February 1, 2021, https://www.propublica.org/article/boogaloo-bois-military-training. the attempted kidnapping of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer,114Ben Collins, Brandy Zadrozny, Tom Winter and Corky Siemaszko, “Whitmer conspiracy allegations tied to ‘boogaloo’ movement,” NBC News, October 8, 2020, https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/whitmer-conspiracy-allegations-tied-boogaloo-movement-n1242670. and planned acts of domestic terrorism surrounding 2020’s racial justice protests.115See Katie Shepherd, “An officer was gunned down.The killer was a ‘boogaloo boy’ using nearby peaceful protests as cover, feds say.” Washington Post, June 17, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/06/17/boogaloo-steven-carrillo/; and Katelyn Newberg, “3 alleged ‘boogaloo’ members charged in Las Vegas protests,” Las Vegas Review-Journal, June 3, 2020, https://www.reviewjournal.com/crime/3-alleged-boogaloo-members-charged-in-las-vegas-protests-2044384/. The company also offers “meme” lower receivers, the basic building blocks of AR-style rifles, with engravings of the Gadsden flag, calls to “Build the Wall,” and “Let’s Go Brandon” — gun parts that, at best, trivialize the seriousness of owning a deadly weapon and, at worst, appeal to political extremists.116Citation available upon request.
Hours after the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse, which was celebrated across the gun industry, another large firearm retailer and SHOT Show exhibitor,1172022 SHOT Show Planner, “Big Daddy Unlimited,” accessed November 14, 2022, https://n1b.goexposoftware.com/events/ss22/goExpo/exhibitor/viewExhibitorProfile.php?__id=2290. Big Daddy Unlimited, posted an image on Instagram118Citation available upon request. of Rittenhouse — portrayed as an “Urban Defender” — with the words “Be a Man Among Men,” a “slogan of the Rhodesian colonist army, which has become a source of inspiration in white supremacist circles.”119House Oversight Committee, “The Committee’s Investigation into Gun Industry Practices and Profits,” July 27, 2022, https://docs.house.gov/meetings/GO/GO00/20220727/115024/HHRG-117-GO00-20220727-SD005.pdf. The firearm retailer reportedly said the meme was created by a former employee who “did not understand the historical significance” of the slogan’s reference, but the company has not removed it from Instagram as of this writing.120Mike McIntire, Glenn Thrush and Eric Lipton, “Gun Sellers’ Message to Americans: Man Up,” The New York Times, June 18, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/18/us/firearm-gun-sales.html.
When confronted with an image of Palmetto State Armory’s boogaloo AK-47 during a House Oversight Committee hearing, Ruger CEO Chris Killoy — who sits on the NSSF’s Board of Governors121NSSF, “NSSF Board of Governors,” accessed November 14, 2022, https://www.nssf.org/about-us/nssf-board-of-governors/. — refused to condemn the marketing of firearms to “identified extremist groups” and “domestic terror threats.” Instead, Killoy stated that “the National Shooting Sports Foundation does not control individual member companies or their ads.”122House Oversight Committee Hearing, “Examining the Practices and Profits of Gun Manufacturers,” July 27, 2022, https://www.congress.gov/event/117th-congress/house-event/LC69137/text. This is a statement that drips with irony in light of the NSSF’s efforts to silence members like Smith & Wesson and Dick’s Sporting Goods when they break with the organization’s extreme gun rights orthodoxy.
The NSSF’s “Real Solutions” Are Merely a Start When it Comes to Solving Real Problems
For decades, the gun industry has avoided taking any responsibility for America’s gun violence. When advocacy groups suggest that gun makers and sellers better police their supply chains to curtail trafficking, create safer products, and reform their marketing practices, the NSSF instead points to its trademarked “Real Solutions,” claiming that the firearms industry is already doing the work, that it “leads the way in creating safer communities through proven partnerships with law enforcement, elected officials, and community leaders.”123NSSF “Real Solutions” homepage, accessed November 14, 2022, https://www.nssfrealsolutions.org/. But these programs are cynically used to distract from real problems relating to gun violence, accidental shootings, and firearm thefts.
One NSSF program under the “Real Solutions” umbrella is Project ChildSafe, which helps distribute cable locks so gun owners can secure their weapons when they aren’t being used. While these gun locks are helpful and a step in the right direction, they’re also the bare minimum when it comes to secure storage. In February 2001, the NSSF, in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), recalled 400,000 gun locks that could “open without the use of a key.”124CPSC, “CPSC, National Shooting Sports Foundation Announce Recall to Replace Project HomeSafe (Now Project ChildSafe) Gun Locks,” February 7, 2001, https://www.cpsc.gov/Recalls/2001/cpsc-national-shooting-sports-foundation-announce-recall-to-replace-project-homesafe. Three months later, Ruger recalled another two million gun locks that it had provided with its firearms that could be opened “if struck with force” or “using keys other than those originally provided with the locks.”125CPSC, “CPSC, Sturm, Ruger & Company, Inc. Announce Recall to Replace Padlocks and Cable Gun Locks,” May 9, 2001, https://www.cpsc.gov/Recalls/2001/CPSC-Sturm-Ruger-Company-Inc-Announce-Recall-to-Replace-Padlocks-and-Cable-Gun-Locks.
When the Biden administration finalized a rule requiring that gun dealers provide locking devices with all firearms — not just handguns, as required by the Child Safety Lock Act of 2005 — Larry Keane responded by saying that “[s]ince 1997, firearm manufacturers have been voluntarily providing free locking devices with each new firearm they ship from their factory.”126Larry Keane, “DOJ Publishes Final Rule to Do What Gun Industry Already Does,” NSSF, January 6, 2022, https://www.nssf.org/articles/doj-publishes-final-rule-to-do-what-gun-industry-already-does/. The real story requires a bit more context, however. It was the American Shooting Sports Council (ASSC), another firearms industry trade association, that urged gun makers to voluntarily include locks with their handguns as a way to stem proposals for a federal requirement. Participating gun makers and the ASSC appeared at the White House Rose Garden to celebrate the announcement in October 1997,127James Bennet, “Gun Makers Agree on Safety Locks,” The New York Times, October 9, 1997, https://www.nytimes.com/1997/10/09/us/gun-makers-agree-on-safety-locks.html. which “infuriated key leaders” of the NRA and NSSF, who eventually worked to disband the ASSC. The NSSF’s then-president, Robert Delfay, “emerged as a major opponent of reform and began working closely with the NRA to prevent anything like the safety lock initiative from happening again.”128Allen Rostron, “Smoking Guns: Exposing the Gun Industry’s Complicity in the Illegal Gun Market,” Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 2003, https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2111318, 19.
Further undercutting Project ChildSafe is the fact that the NSSF has lobbied against state and federal “child access prevention” laws that would require gun owners to lock up their firearms when they aren’t being used to keep them out of children’s hands.129See Saja Hindi, “Two gun bills dealing with storage, stolen firearms advance in the Colorado Legislature,” Denver Post, March 5, 2021, https://www.denverpost.com/2021/03/05/colorado-democrats-gun-bills-safe-storage-reporting/; and Larry Keane, “Letters: How to address gun burglaries (2/13/21),” Denver Post, February 13, 2021, https://www.denverpost.com/2021/02/13/letters-how-to-address-gun-burglaries-2-13-21/. In written testimony for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on safe gun storage, NSSF President Joe Bartozzi wrote that the NSSF could not support a federal requirement for gun owners to secure their guns because the issue could become “politicized” and “because we feel that education and training on the topic of firearm safety and safe storage is more effective than government mandates.”130Joseph H. Bartozzi written testimony, “Stop Gun Violence: Safe Storage” Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing, May 25, 2021, https://www.judiciary.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Joe%20Bartozzi%20Statement.pdf. But despite the NSSF’s insistence that it promotes “firearm safety,” according to IRS filings, the NSSF never spent more than 5.8 percent of its annual revenue on “safety and education” programs from April 2014 to March 2019.131ProPublica Nonprofit Explorer, “National Shooting Sports Foundation Inc,” IRS Form 990s, https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/organizations/60860132.
And while the NSSF boasts that Project ChildSafe has handed out more than “40 million” free gun locks,132Larry Keane, “DOJ Publishes Final Rule to Do What Gun Industry Already Does,” NSSF, January 6, 2022, https://www.nssf.org/articles/doj-publishes-final-rule-to-do-what-gun-industry-already-does/. at least 32 million, or 80 percent, were delivered before 2006 — most of which were paid for through federal grants. As Larry Keane admitted, the program received “a number of different grants” from the Department of Justice that “totaled $90 million over 8 years.”133Jon Greenberg, “Loesch: Obama slashed funding for gun safety program,” PolitiFact, September 8, 2014, http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2014/sep/08/dana-loesch/loesch-obama-slashed-funding-gun-safety-program/. When those grants dried up, the NSSF created a separate 501(c)(3) for the program in 2013,134ProPublica Nonprofit Explorer, “Project ChildSafe Inc,” accessed December 12, 2022, https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/organizations/462147964. “which has since struggled, pulling in less than $700,000 total over the last six years while spending less than $200,000 on the program itself.”135Roger Sollenberger, “The Gun Group Picking Up Where the NRA Left Off,” Daily Beast, August 1, 2022, https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-gun-group-national-shooting-sports-foundation-is-picking-up-where-the-nra-left-off. But unintentional shootings remain a serious problem, especially those involving children. Since 2015, there have been at least 2,721 unintentional shootings by children, resulting in 1,048 deaths and 1,764 injuries nationally.136Everytown Research & Policy, “#NotAnAccident Index,” accessed December 20, 2022, https://everytownresearch.org/maps/notanaccident/.
Other programs under the “Real Solutions” banner include “Don’t Lie for the Other Guy,” a public awareness campaign to combat illegal “straw purchases,” where someone buys a gun for another (often prohibited) person, and “Operation Secure Store,” an initiative to educate gun shop owners and employees in ways to secure their inventories, and that matches ATF rewards for information on gun store burglaries and thefts. But the NSSF lobbies against measures that would curb trafficking, including background checks on all gun sales, limiting individuals to one gun purchase per month,137Larry Keane, “Virginia Senators Introduce Antigun Bill to Ration Rights,” NSSF, April 28, 2021, https://www.nssf.org/articles/virginia-senators-introduce-antigun-bill-to-ration-rights/?hilite=limits. and requiring gun shops to secure their firearms during non-business hours by installing security systems, which the NSSF contends would be too “costly” and “burdensome” to gun shop owners138NSSF, “October Legislative Update from the NSSF,” NASGW, October 29, 2021, https://news.nasgw.org/news/october-legislative-update-from-the-nssf-2021?hs_amp=true. and drive them out of business.139Chris Eger, “Dems Back Strict Gun Shop ‘Security’ Mandates,” Guns.com, October 6, 2021, https://www.guns.com/news/2021/10/06/dems-back-strict-gun-shop-security-mandates. Recall that the NSSF has also opposed the Biden administration’s attempts to shut down “rogue gun dealers,”140Larry Keane, “The Firearm Industry Needs a Giant Biden ‘I Did That!’ Sticker,” NSSF, May 19, 2022, https://www.nssf.org/articles/the-firearm-industry-needs-a-giant-biden-i-did-that-sticker/. and the organization withheld support from the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which, by the NSSF’s own admission, “strengthen[ed] federal criminal law to address straw purchasing and firearms trafficking.”141NSSF, “NSSF Statement on the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act,” June 23, 2022, https://www.nssf.org/articles/nssf-statement-on-the-bipartisan-safer-communities-act/.
Over 84,000 firearms were lost or stolen from gun dealers between 2016 and 2020.
At least 122,089 firearms were trafficked across state lines before being recovered by law enforcement between 2017 and 2021.
While the NSSF has not disclosed how many retailers have adopted its “Operation Secure Store” and “Don’t Lie for the Other Guy” campaigns, the data on lost, stolen, and trafficked guns in recent years remains deeply troubling. According to ATF data, over 84,000 firearms were lost or stolen from gun dealers between 2016 and 2020, and “the number of loss incidents remained relatively steady” during that time frame.142ATF, “National Firearms Commerce and Trafficking Assessment: Firearms in Commerce,” May 5, 2022, https://www.atf.gov/firearms/docs/report/national-firearms-commerce-and-trafficking-assessment-firearms-commerce-volume/download, 110. ATF data also shows that at least 122,089 firearms were trafficked across state lines before being recovered by law enforcement between 2017 and 2021, and that figure increased 48 percent in 2021 alone.143Everytown Research & Policy, “Five Things to Know About Crime Guns, Gun Trafficking, and Background Checks,” October 10, 2022, https://everytownresearch.org/report/five-things-to-know-about-crime-guns/. This number is likely an undercount as well because it only includes crime guns that are newer (less than three years old), that crossed state lines, and that were successfully traced back to their original point of sale.
And while the ATF seeks to improve its track record of inspecting gun manufacturers, importers, and dealers — the agency inspected just 4.5 and 4.9 percent of all licensees in 2020144ATF, “Fact Sheet – Facts and Figures for Fiscal Year 2020,” April 2021, archived June 18, 2022, https://web.archive.org/web/20220618061210/https://www.atf.gov/resource-center/fact-sheet/fact-sheet-facts-and-figures-fiscal-year-2020. and 2021,145ATF, “Fact Sheet – Facts and Figures for Fiscal Year 2021,” August 2022, https://www.atf.gov/resource-center/fact-sheet/fact-sheet-facts-and-figures-fiscal-year-2021. respectively, down from the pre-pandemic “high” of 10.1 percent in 2019146ATF, “Fact Sheet – Facts and Figures for Fiscal Year 2019,” June 2020, archived March 18, 2021, https://web.archive.org/web/20210318232807/https://www.atf.gov/resource-center/fact-sheet/fact-sheet-facts-and-figures-fiscal-year-2019. — and let fewer repeat offenders off the hook,147Brian Freskos, Daniel Nass, Alain Stephens, and Nick Penzenstadler, “The ATF Catches Thousands of Lawbreaking Gun Dealers Every Year. It Shuts Down Very Few.” The Trace, May 26, 2021, https://www.thetrace.org/2021/05/atf-inspection-report-gun-store-ffl-violation/. the NSSF’s Larry Keane lambasted the Biden administration’s request for the ATF to receive more funding to hire 140 more special agents and 160 inspectors, stating that the “administration’s intent to hire more ATF inspectors than special agents signals that it is more interested in punishing the industry than actually going after criminals” and once again falsely claiming that the ATF will “revoke licenses of retailers who are working diligently to adhere to laws and regulations.”148Larry Keane, “President Biden’s Budget Request Targets Firearm Industry,” NSSF, March 29, 2022, https://www.nssf.org/articles/president-bidens-budget-request-targets-firearm-industry/.
In that same statement, Keane warned that the Biden administration’s efforts endangered not only the “Don’t Lie for the Other Guy” and “Operation Secure Store” campaigns, but also the willingness for gun dealers to “work with ATF special agents to help solve crimes” by providing valuable gun-tracing information. According to Keane, the administration’s “actions…threaten to chill that cooperative relationship.”149Ibid. Cooperation, it should be noted, required by federal law. But Keane’s statement says the quiet part out loud: The NSSF invokes its glossy public awareness campaigns as a way to resist actual changes to federal law that would improve public safety.
However, the NSSF has no problem lobbying Congress for more funding for the ATF when it helps the industry sell more guns. The NSSF helped secure funding for the ATF to revamp its “eForms” system, which came online in December 2021 and has dramatically streamlined the ATF approval process for people to own silencers, short-barreled rifles, and other dangerous items regulated by the National Firearms Act. What used to take several months has now been reduced to 90 days or less. One silencer retailer tells customers that the process is “faster than ever,” and “[s]ome applications…have been approved in as little as 7 days.”150SilencerShop, “eForms Update: ATF eForms has launched!” December 3, 2021, https://www.silencershop.com/blog/post/eforms-update-atf-eforms-launch-imminent.
During an interview between Larry Keane and the ATF’s then acting director, Marvin Richardson, at the 2022 SHOT Show, Richardson gave “credit where credit is due” to Keane for helping to obtain the extra funding. Or as Keane put it, “the NSSF works to secure additional appropriation funding from Congress to provide the customer service that the industry needs to conduct business, and so eForms is a great example of that.”151SHOT Show, “Marvin Richardson, Acting ATF Director – SHOT TV Studio | SHOT Show 2022,” YouTube, January 20, 2022, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sizijobPa2E&ab_channel=SHOTShow.
In other words, the NSSF will work with the ATF, and even help fund it, when it’s good for business, but attempts to seal the cracks that guns slip through to reach the illegal market are seen as government overreach. The NSSF will accept government grants to pay for gun locks, but any step further in requiring that those locks be used is a step too far. This is why the NSSF’s “Real Solutions” should be viewed with skepticism. In the end, they do not stand up to real scrutiny.
Is the NSSF Maintaining a Secret Gun Registry?
For decades, gun groups have wielded far-right conspiracy theories around supposedly looming mass gun confiscation to fight for policies that prohibit the ATF and FBI from modernizing gun sales records for fear that the government could create a national database of gun owners and, in the eyes of conspiracy theorists, confiscate weapons at will. To that end, four separate legal provisions prevent such a national gun registry from being created.1Congressional Research Service, “Statutory Federal Gun Registry Prohibitions and ATF Record Retention Requirements,” March 4, 2022, https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/IF/IF12057/3.
But these fears did not stop the NSSF from reportedly compiling personal information from gun owners through its member companies’ warranty programs, which ask for owners’ names, addresses, ages, races, marital statuses, education levels, incomes, and more.2See, Walther Arms, “Walther Product Registration,” accessed November 14, 2022, https://waltherarms.com/register/; Ruger, “Product Registration,” accessed November 14, 2022, https://ruger.com/dataProcess/ownerCard/; and Smith & Wesson, “Product Registration,” accessed November 14, 2022, https://www.smith-wesson.com/customer-service/product-registration. The NSSF then allegedly gave that information to Cambridge Analytica, a now-defunct foreign political consulting firm infamous for a Facebook data privacy scandal,3Nicholas Confessore, “Cambridge Analytica and Facebook: The Scandal and the Fallout So Far,” The New York Times, April 4, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/04/us/politics/cambridge-analytica-scandal-fallout.html. ahead of the 2016 election. This questionable use of gun owner data for political targeting did not come to light until October 2022 reporting and a corresponding inquiry from a U.S. senator.4Jose Pagliery, “Dem Senator Targets Gun Group Over Its Secret Gun Registry,” Daily Beast, October 3, 2022, https://www.thedailybeast.com/dem-senator-richard-blumenthal-targets-gun-group-national-shooting-sports-foundation-over-secret-gun-registry. According to leaked emails about the project, the NSSF had been “leveraging a database of firearms manufacturing warranty cards (collected by the firearms companies) to determine his targeting in key states (millions of people, if they bought a gun, and what kind of gun they bought).”5Ibid.
The NSSF’s maneuvering, labeled a “voter education” campaign, seems ironic given that it hinges on the organization maintaining a secret database of gun owner information — the same type of list of gun owners the NSSF fear-mongers about publicly. For instance, Larry Keane has repeatedly warned that a national gun registry would be akin to “a watchlist”6Larry Keane, “Giffords Spreads Lies to Push Antigun Agenda,” NSSF, August 25, 2021, https://www.nssf.org/articles/giffords-spreads-lies-to-push-antigun-agenda/. and the “first step to confiscation.”7Larry Keane, “President Biden Chooses ‘Malarkey’ Gun Control Over Real Solutions,” NSSF, February 16, 2021, https://www.nssf.org/articles/president-biden-chooses-malarkey-gun-control-over-real-solutions/. But Keane’s warnings did not end with government databases: He recently said that “a registry of gun owners maintained by private corporations” would be “concerning the same way a government database would be concerning.”8The Weekly Reload Podcast, “NSSF’s Larry Keane on the Industry Reaction to New Credit Card Codes for Gun Stores,” September 19, 2022, https://thereload.fireside.fm/nssfs-larry-keane-on-the-industry-reaction-to-new-credit-card-codes-for-gun-stores?t=830.
Like the Gun Industry as a Whole, the NSSF Needs Greater Accountability
Through lobbying and litigation, the NRA, which claims to represent gun owners, and the NSSF, the official voice of the gun industry, both fight to loosen gun regulations and limit the government’s ability to enforce those regulations already on the books, driving up the number of guns in the hands of American citizens. Both organizations have also pushed the gun world to the far right with dangerous, politically charged messaging that, in turn, drives more gun sales. But because the NRA is more outspoken — and receives the most attention and criticism of any gun group — the NSSF has largely gone unnoticed.
This has allowed the NSSF to take a “less confrontational approach” with lawmakers behind the scenes, as demonstrated during the negotiations for the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.152Lindsay Wise and Julie Bykowicz, “Gun Industry Group NSSF Tries to Shape Senate Talks,” Wall Street Journal, June 18, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/gun-industry-group-tries-to-shape-senate-talks-11655578066?mod=hp_lead_pos11. But as the facts here demonstrate, the NSSF’s agenda is just as dangerous as the NRA’s, and it increasingly wields power and influence while the NRA wallows in scandals and legal troubles. The NSSF spends more money on federal lobbying than any other gun group. It combats popular, reasonable gun safety measures and has resisted reforms — even those proposed by its own members — that might save lives and make it harder for criminals to obtain firearms. As mentioned, the NSSF even helped dismantle a rival trade association, the ASSC, which “pushed for a broad ‘self-examination’ of industry practices” and “advocated a proactive approach and new efforts to curb criminal acquisition and use of guns” in the late 1990s. To counter the ASSC’s proposed reforms, the NSSF’s then-leader, Robert Delfay, sent letters to members of Congress stating that the industry stood united behind the NRA, and private memos to gun industry executives, claiming that they faced “a serious and urgent” problem and needed to rein in the ASSC’s leader. Major gun companies then resigned from the ASSC before its “board finally agreed to eliminate the organization by merging it into [the] NSSF under Delfay’s leadership,” per a 2003 study on the gun industry’s role in contributing to the illegal firearm market.153Allen K. Rostron, Smoking Guns: Exposing the Gun Industry’s Complicity in the Illegal Gun Market (2003). Legal Action Project, Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 2003, available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2111318, 19-20.
Since that consolidation, the NSSF has maintained a firm grip on the firearms industry. It has helped gun companies market and sell increasingly dangerous weapons, including military-style assault weapons and ghost guns, and capitalize on the pandemic. It laid the groundwork for firearm advertising that appeals to minors and extremists, yet maintains that it “does not control individual member companies or their ads” after deadly mass shootings.
While the NSSF works to grow its influence and stature, it’s important for everyone, including gun owners, policymakers, and law enforcement officials, to understand the organization’s history and motivations. The NSSF is looking out for gun makers and sellers and their bottom lines, not public safety.
Everytown Research & Policy is a program of Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, an independent, non-partisan organization dedicated to understanding and reducing gun violence. Everytown Research & Policy works to do so by conducting methodologically rigorous research, supporting evidence-based policies, and communicating this knowledge to the American public.