It is not too much of a stretch to say the National Rifle Association profits from mass killings like the slaughter at the theater in Aurora, Colo., and the killings at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis. The NRA is, after all, a fundraising machine that runs on fear and a sense of crisis, even when the fear is false and the crisis manufactured.
A former Republican lawmaker has made public a four-page fundraising letter from the NRA's executive vice-president, Wayne LaPierre, that was sent out to gun enthusiasts just three days after a young man styling himself as the Joker turned a showing of the new Batman movie into a bloody massacre. The Republican whistleblower apparently found the timing of the solicitation just a bit unseemly. At the same time, he insisted on anonymity. Even an ex-officeholder does not want to end up on the NRA's hit list.
In the NRA's defense, such mailings for money generally take weeks to prepare, so it is highly unlikely the letter was sent in response to the Aurora incident. Still, it was convenient timing. In the days after the Joker went wild, sales of firearms and ammunition boomed. The gun-loving populace, it seems, has been convinced by years of NRA propaganda that any mass shooting will be used as an excuse for government agents to start confiscating firearms, so they rushed to stock up before the feds came to their door.
Mr. LaPierre's fundraising missive was yet another example of this fear mongering. In the letter, the NRA leader says President Barack Obama's re-election would lead to "confiscation of our firearms" and, potentially, a "ban on semi-automatic weapons."
"The future of your Second Amendment rights will be at stake," writes Mr. LaPierre. "And nothing less than the future of our country and our freedom will be at stake."
The truth, of course, is that most Democrats have given up the fight to restrict guns, and Mr. Obama has shown no inclination whatsoever to renew that battle. Nevertheless, the NRA needs money, and the money will not come if gun owners do not think they need the lobbying power of the NRA to protect their right to keep and bear arms. In recent years, revenue from NRA membership dues has dropped, as has total income for the organization. So, increasingly, Mr. LaPierre and company have come to depend on contributions from freaked-out gun nuts.
One steady stream of NRA dollars comes from an interesting source. A 1986 law erased the ban on interstate sales of ammunition. Since then, consumers have been encouraged to add a little extra to the total when they buy their bullets online or by mail order. That tip goes to the NRA. Since 1992, these nifty gratuities have reportedly brought in $9.3 million to the organization. That means that every time there is a run on ammo in the wake of a mass shooting, Mr. LaPierre's budget gets a nice boost.
There is a sick symbiosis between the deranged acts of the lone gunmen and the revenue stream of the NRA. In no way can the NRA be blamed for the actions of the shooters, of course, but it sure would be nice to see Mr. LaPierre take a day off from stoking the fear and raising the dough, at least while families mourn the dead.
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Horsey is a political commentator for the Los Angeles Times. Go to latimes.com/news/politics/topoftheticket/ to see more of his work.