The anti-gun left has a new bogeyman to replace the NRA

For decades anti-gun activists have railed against “the gun lobby,” which to them has been synonymous with the National Rifle Association. Lately, however, the gun rights group has been less of a bogeyman for the left, which has found a new Public Enemy #1; gun manufacturers. More specifically, the firearms industry trade group known as the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

If it wasn’t obvious before now, the Daily Beast makes it explicitly clear that the gun control lobby is focused on demonizing the firearms industry in their latest piece, which claims that the NSSF may not be as well-known as the NRA, but it’s been spending “more money annually to influence policy, while pushing the country further to the right”; a statement that’s only accurate if you believe that the right to keep and bear arms is solely the provenance of political conservatives instead of a right of the people, regardless of their political affiliation.

As evidence, the Daily Beast relies primarily on gun control activists like Shannon Watts, who are eager to portray the firearms industry and the tens of thousands of Americans who are a part of it as cold, heartless, sociopaths who are intentionally arming criminals through negligent practices.

Shannon Watts, founder of gun control organization Moms Demand Action, told The Daily Beast that the NSSF is a “front group” for the firearms industry and “trafficks in the same extremist, guns-everywhere agenda” as the NRA.

“They’re focused on the profitability of the gun industry above all other concerns—including the safety of the American public,” Watts said.

Ryan Busse, who recently left firearms manufacturer Kimber America to become an industry whistleblower, told The Daily Beast that an ascendant NSSF, under the influence of a radicalized consumer base, will position itself “further right than the NRA ever thought.”

“The NRA has been sort of this messaging and PR mouthpiece for the industry, but the industry is in essence the truly powerful thing, which is why the NSSF is taking a more visible role,” said Busse, now a senior adviser at gun control advocacy group Giffords. “With all the lessons they’ve learned, they know that conciliation on policy is a losing proposition, so they’re going to be as far right or further right than the NRA ever thought.”

This would be the same NSSF that Busse and other activists claimed just a few months ago was working too closely with the ATF and its acting director Marvin Richardson. If the trade group has decided that being conciliatory is a losing proposition (and you shouldn’t just take Busse’s word at face value) it’s probably because the Biden administration is doing everything in its power to turn the agency into a gun control group with regulatory authority over the firearms industry.

“Gun politics aren’t at the center of politics? Bullshit,” Busse said. “It looks very much like Trumpism, and in fact it’s where Trumpism all started. The firearms industry radicalized and empowered a certain brand of consumer, and that base ends up setting the policy.”

The result, Busse said, is a gun industry that’s “increasingly addicted to or reliant on an ever-spiraling condition” in U.S. politics.

“It’s like a badly gerrymandered district, where the pressure only comes from the most extreme base,” he added. “That should frighten everyone.”

The thing that Busse conveniently ignores is the fact that the NSSF is not a gun owners’ group like the NRA, Gun Owners of America (which Busse called “crazily radical”), Second Amendment Foundation, or Firearms Policy Coalition. The NSSF represents manufacturers, distributors, and retailers, but not consumers.

Even more, based on what I’ve seen from the NSSF over the past couple of years, the group is highlighting the growing diversity of gun owners (including those on the left) far more than attaching itself at the hip to one political philosophy. Case in point; the recently introduced bill to repeal the 11% excise tax on firearms and ammunition proposed by Rep. Andrew Clyde of Georgia, who is himself a gun store owner. If Busse was right about the NSSF then it should be fully on board with Clyde’s proposal, but instead the NSSF is one of several organizations that has come out in opposition to the bill; arguing that if enacted it would jeopardize hundreds of millions of dollars in funds that go to promote the shooting sports as well as fund wildlife and habitat restoration programs.

It’s no coincidence that the Daily Beast report quotes Busse so extensively. His employer recently put out a “study” that argues the NSSF is really the top dog in D.C. when it comes to gun-related lobbying, not the NRA.

According to the Giffords report, the NSSF has now outspent the NRA in federal lobbying for five of the last seven years, including the last three—and even lobbied on the NRA’s behalf when the New York Attorney General’s office sought to shut the NRA down for misusing funds.

“This would appear to make the NSSF the dominant gun lobby in Washington,” the report concludes.

While the NSSF’s tax status allows it to keep its donor list private, it’s clear from financial disclosures and reporting that the group gets the bulk of its financial support from the firearms industry. Unlike the NRA, most of its money doesn’t come from donations and dues; it comes from an annual trade event, called the SHOT Show.

Of course it gets the bulk of its funding from the firearms industry. NSSF is the firearms industry trade group, for crying out loud. That’s hardly a secret. In fact, it’s emblazoned on the home page of the NSSF website.

The reason why the gun control lobby is elevating the NSSF and not, say, GOA as the new 800 lb. gun rights gorilla in D.C. is simple; demonizing and destroying the firearms industry gets them much closer to their goal than targeting another gun owners group. We just saw a House committee accuse gun makers of putting profits ahead of the lives of kindergarteners and the House narrowly approve a bill barring the manufacture and sale of so-called assault weapons, while House Democrats are still working on a bill to repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act once they return to D.C. from their August recess.

Even with the PLCAA in place gun control groups and their anti-gun allies in blue states from New York to California are working to make it easier to sue gun makers for the criminal misuse of their products, with a goal towards bankrupting the industry through the use of junk lawsuits. At the same time, the gun control lobby is trying to make it illegal to build your own gun. If they get their way you might still have the right to keep and bear arms on paper, but you’d be hard pressed trying to actually exercise those rights in practice. Their primary target may have shifted from the NRA to the NSSF, but the end goal of the gun prohibitionists is still the same; to erect insurmountable barriers between you and your right of armed self-defense.