James Holmes was not a member of the National Rifle Association, according to a (rejected) gun range application released by Fox News. So he did not enjoy the benefits that come with a $35 one-year membership to the Fairfax, Virginia- based association, ranging from an "official NRA members-only Shooter's cap" to "24/7 defense of your Second Amendment freedoms" and "insurance for you and your guns." Yet the man charged this morning with killing 12 people at an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater nevertheless helped bolster the NRA's bottom line.
Three guns were used in the shooting: an assault rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun and a .40-caliber handgun. A second .40-caliber handgun was found in Holmes' car. The manufacturers of all four weapons contribute to NRA coffers.
Law enforcement officials said the assault rifle was an M made by Massachusetts-based Smith Wesson. In May 2012, the NRA celebrated Smith Wesson's entry into the association's "Golden Ring of Freedom," which comes with a hefty price tag: $1 million in cash or assets. According to the NRA release, Smith Wesson's support "far exceeds one million dollars in cash" distributed to various NRA programs, including the NRA Foundation, the association’s affiliated charity.
In January, Bloomberg News reported that from 2004 to 2010, the NRA's revenue from fundraising grew twice as fast as income from membership dues. Much of that fundraising -- at least $14.8 million since 2005 -- came from firearms companies and related industries.
These include Glock, the manufacturer that made Holmes's two handguns. In April 2012, Glock donated $115,000 to the association and its affiliated programs and provided 30 pistols to its law enforcement division. Of that total, $15,000 went to an affiliated "adventure camp" where children learn "the fundamentals of pistol, rifle, muzzle loading, and shotgun shooting skills with safety always foremost in mind;" in effect, the camp fosters the next generation of Glock owners.
The NRA store at this year’s annual meeting in April was sponsored by Remington Arms, the North Carolina-based company that manufactured Holmes' shotgun. Remington has also contributed to the NRA Foundation through its "Friends of NRA" grass-roots fundraising program.
In an e-mail statement on the day of the Aurora shooting, NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said: "Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and the community. NRA will not have any further comment until all the facts are known."
In a state court hearing today in Centennial, Colorado, the facts seemed pretty well established. Holmes was charged with 24 counts of first degree murder and 116 counts of attempted first degree murder. He could face the death penalty.
Holmes's guns were made by companies that help to bankroll NRA lobbying and political communications, the purpose of which is to make it easier to buy and carry more -- and more high-powered -- guns. The NRA's efforts have been so successful that Holmes appears to have amassed his deadly arsenal without breaking the law.
As it it turns out, Holmes did not have to pay the NRA a $35 fee to advance his interest in acquiring weapons. The gun manufacturers covered it.
(Zara Kessler is on the staff of Bloomberg View. Follow her on Twitter.)
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