Last week I wrote, with Peter Stone, about the growing personal and financial ties between the gun industry and the National Rifle Association. As we noted in our piece, those ties have coincided with a hardening of the NRA's anti-gun control stance, and have raised questions about whether the gun lobby represents its members, or the industry.
Those ties have also made many of the NRA's own members uncomfortable. On Wednesday, Mother Jones reported that George Kollitides of the Freedom Group, the company that made the Bushmaster military-style rifle used in the Newtown massacre and other mass shootings, holds a seat on the NRA board's nine-member nominating committee. He was appointed to this powerful spot after his bid to win a seat on the NRA's board of directors was derailed by by gun bloggers who oppose the industry's influence over the NRA. The nominating committee, Mother Jones reports, "closely controls who can be elected to the NRA board."
Elections for the NRA board, which oversees the organization's nearly 800 employees and more than $200 million in annual revenues, occur annually for 25 directors, who serve three-year terms. The vote typically involves less than 7 percent of NRA members, according to past NRA ballot results and pro-NRA bloggers. A low election turnout among members is not uncommon among nonprofit groups, but how a candidate gets his or her name on the ballot is key. According to an NRA supporter and self-proclaimed Second Amendment activist in Pennsylvania who blogs under the handle "Sebastian," this occurs one of two ways: It requires a grassroots petition by members, which rarely gets a candidate on the ballot, or a candidate must be included on the official slate endorsed by the Nominating Committee.
"Read the bios in your ballot and you'll see that almost all were nominated by the nominating committee," complained "Pecos Bill" from Illinois last January in one pro-gun-rights forum. "Seems the NRA, fine organization that it is, is being run like a modern corporation and the 'good ol' boys' are keeping themselves in power."
I reached out to the NRA for comment but did not immediately hear back.
In 2011, the New York Times reported that Kollitides lost his bid for a board seat after opposition from gun bloggers "who viewed him as an industry interloper."
Questions about who controls the NRA's agenda have increased over the past month in the wake of the Newtown shootings as the organization has staked out a hardline stance considered out-of-step with many the views of many gun owners.
The NRA has described the measures that President Obama announced today -- a renewal of the assault weapons ban along with background checks for all gun buyers -- as nothing less than an assault on liberty.
Yet a 2012 poll conducted by GOP pollster Frank Luntz for Mayors Against Illegal Guns, for example, found that 74 percent of NRA members support mandatory background checks for all gun purchases, a position that the NRA has stridently opposed.
A majority of self-described gun owners who responded to my own unscientific query about the NRA's priorities also suggested the organization was out of step with their interests.
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