Backgrounder: the History of the NRA/ALEC Gun Agenda

"We've endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years," President Obama said in response to horrifying shooting massacre of 20 little children and six of their educators in Connecticut.

Mark Fiore Shoot Em Up Charlie"Whether it is an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago, these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods and these children are our children. And we're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics," he noted.

"Meaningful action" has been thwarted, largely because of the power and wealth of the National Rifle Association (NRA). One of the key avenues it has used to exert its influence is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). For decades, the NRA has helped bankroll ALEC operations and even co-chaired ALEC's "Public Safety and Elections Task Force," where it secretly voted on bills alongside elected representatives. At ALEC's annual meeting this summer, the NRA had the biggest booth at the convention in Salt Lake City and also underwrote a shooting event along with one of the largest sellers of assault weapons in the world.

Numerous bills to bar or impede laws that would help protect Americans from gun violence were drafted by the NRA and adopted by ALEC corporations and legislators as "models" for the rest of the country. And, dozens of these special interest bills have become law in states across the country. As a result of the NRA's efforts, a city in Connecticut recently repealed the only ban in the state on carrying a concealed firearm. Allowing "concealed carry" has been a long-standing part of the NRA-ALEC agenda, passing in Wisconsin a year ago at the urging of Governor Scott Walker, who was given an award by the NRA for making this item law along with a version of the controversial ALEC-NRA "Stand Your Ground"/"Castle Doctrine" bill. A concealed carry law also was just passed last week in Michigan, along with the so-called "Right to Work" union-busting bill on ALEC's corporate wish list.

Here is a review of the NRA-by-way-of-ALEC gun agenda:

  • The retail sale of machine guns has been barred by federal law since the gangster era but, as uncovered by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), one year ago at ALEC's "policy summit" in Arizona, the NRA obtained unanimous support from the corporate and lawmaker members of ALEC's Task Force for "amending" ALEC's "Consistency in Firearms Regulation Act" to expressly bar cities from banning "machine guns." Other provisions of that bill prevent cities from banning armor-piercing bullets and from banning efforts to alter guns to make them more deadly if the state does not do so. It also bars cities from suing gun manufacturers for gun deaths based on the theory of liability used by governments to sue tobacco manufacturers for smoking deaths.
  • In 2008, as noted by CMD, in the aftermath of the tragic massacre of students and professors by a heavily armed Virginia Tech student, ALEC adopted a model bill to remove state prohibitions of guns on college campuses and to allow students to bring guns to class.
  • Also in 2008, as CMD has documented, ALEC also weighed in on litigation challenging a handgun ban in the city of Chicago. ALEC filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in that case, McDonald v. Chicago, on the same side as the NRA.
  • In 2005, at an ALEC task force meeting co-chaired by Wal-Mart, corporate lobbyists and politicians voted to approve the NRA's request that a law it spearheaded in Florida with ALEC members become a "model" for other states.  That ALEC bill was misleadingly named the "Castle Doctrine," but is also known as the "Stand Your Ground" or "Shoot First" or "Kill at Will" law. That Florida law, was initially invoked by law enforcement to prevent the arrest and prosecution earlier this year of high-school student Trayvon Martin's killer. The law creates legal immunity for shooters claiming self-defense, going well beyond the reach of the traditional rights of self defense to create what some call a "license to kill."
  • CMD connected those dots and documented that the NRA's lobbyist Marion Hammer pushed this bill through the Florida legislature in early 2005. She then brought the law to the closed door ALEC task force meeting in Texas that summer to become a priority for ALEC legislators. According to the NRA at that time, her pitch was warmly received and "unanimously" adopted by the private and public sector members at that meeting. The list of special interest reps attending that meeting is not publicly available, but it is known that the nation's largest retailer of ammunition and long guns, Wal-Mart, was the corporate leader of that task force; earlier this year, Wal-Mart announced it was resigning from ALEC.
  • Also around that time, ALEC pushed a variety of legislation to require reciprocity between states for "concealed carry" laws, laws that result in more people carrying concealed firearms in public places, as CMD has noted.
  • In 2000, as CMD has reported, when Koch Industries was the chair of ALEC's corporate board, ALEC's crime task force adopted the "Defense of Free Market and Public Safety Resolution" as a national template for states across the country. That resolution was an effort to thwart law enforcement from using contracts -- to buy firearms for police officers -- to favor gun manufacturers that adhered to a code of conduct. As part of a lawsuit settlement, gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson (S&W) had agreed to penalize S&W retailers who sold guns that tended to end up used in crimes, barred S&W retailers from using the gun show loophole to avoid conducting criminal background checks on prospective buyers, and forbade dealers from releasing more than one handgun to a purchaser per day. It also required retailers to sell all of its handguns with mechanical trigger locks to help protect kids from accidentally killing themselves or others. ALEC's resolution sought to bar states from rewarding S&W with contracts for police weapons or creating an incentive for other gun manufacturers to adopt similar voluntary codes of conduct.
  • In 1995, ALEC promoted as model legislation a bill that would create state-based criminal background checks for firearms purchases different from the federal Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which established the National Instant Check criminal background check system at the FBI. As analyzed by CMD, ALEC's bill expressly exempts firearms sales at gun shows from its background checks (creating a "gun show loophole"). It also exempts holders of "concealed carry" permits from a background check, even though the Brady Law attempts to protect the public through background checks regardless of whether a person had previously obtained a permit to carry a gun, such as from people who subsequently become fugitives or persons adjudicated to be mentally unstable.
  • As CMD has shown, ALEC also strongly opposed the 1994 "Assault Weapons Ban," which sought to expand the long-standing federal bar on fully automatic machine guns by preventing the purchase of rapid-firing "semi-automatic" assault-style weapons. Certain military-style firearms -- such as the .223 Bushmaster rifle reportedly found at the scene of the Connecticut school massacre and similar to the one used in the sniper shootings that terrorized D.C. in 2003 -- include versions for sale in the U.S. that were modified by manufacturers for the civilian market along with versions that allow three-shot bursts of fire with each pull of the trigger for law enforcement rather than their faster-firing military-style kin like an M4 or AK-47, in light of the federal assault weapons ban. The ban was allowed to expire during the George W. Bush administration, which had very close ties to the NRA.

The NRA's gun agenda helps protect and expand the market for the firearms sold by the weapons companies that bankroll its multi-million dollar lobbying and influence operations. Although ALEC's crime task force no longer officially exists, ALEC is doing nothing to undo the damage done through its many years of advancing the wish list of the gun industry through laws like "Stand Your Ground"/"Shoot First," pushing for guns on college campuses, and even opposing government purchasers from rewarding codes of conduct by gun makers and sellers.

NRA BarbecueThree months after ALEC issued a PR statement that it was eliminating its Public Safety and Elections Task Force, the NRA announced that it would still be hosting its regular annual shooting event at ALEC's summer convention, held in July of this year. For the past several years, on the Saturday of ALEC's annual meeting, the NRA has regularly hosted an outing for ALEC legislators and lobbyists to go shooting together -- with complimentary guns and ammo. July's event was co-sponsored by Browning Arms Company, whose foreign parent company is one of the world's largest sellers of machine guns, as noted by CMD.

"Calling for 'meaningful action' is not enough," said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, founder and co-chair of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. "We need immediate action. We have heard all the rhetoric before. What we have not seen is leadership -- not from the White House and not from Congress. That must end today. This is a national tragedy and it demands a national response."

Facts are still coming in about how the 20-year-old shooter -- who under Connecticut law is too young to possess the pistols he was found with -- came to use the assault weapon fired repeatedly and rapidly in the assault on the school children, or why his mother (who was apparently also shot to death by him) reportedly brought or allowed such an arsenal of weapons into the home she shared with her son, who has been called "mentally ill." But, some observers are pointing out the terrible coincidence of a knife attack that injured 22 students in China within a day of these 20 American school children being murdered in a matter of minutes by a gunman in Connecticut, which shows yet again that the ready availability of guns in the U.S. can be the difference between life and death. And easing access to deadly firearms has been a major part of the NRA/ALEC agenda, underwritten by ALEC corporations and advanced by ALEC politicians, for years and years.

The library of NRA/ALEC gun bills can be accessed here.

CMD's Brendan Fischer contributed to this report.

Lisa Graves is Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy ( and She formerly served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Policy at the U.S. Department of Justice where she handled national gun policy and was the Managing Editor of the National Integrated Firearms Violence Reduction Strategy. She also served as the Chief Counsel for Nominations for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, as a Deputy Chief at the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, and as an adjunct professor of law.

Lisa Graves

Lisa Graves is President of the Board of the Center for Media and Democracy and President of True North Research. She is a well-known researcher, writer, and public speaker. Her research and analysis have been cited by every major paper in the country and featured in critically acclaimed books and documentaries, including Ava Du Vernay’s award-winning film, “The 13th,” Bill Moyers’s “United States of ALEC,” and Showtime’s “Years of Living Dangerously.”



Although the state of Conn. has one of the toughest gun laws on their books, in the US., the laws of ownership can not prevent these disasters from occurring. Take away the means of self-protection from law abiding citizens and only Criminals,US Military,and Law Enforcement will have a means to control our personal lives, "for OUR safety".

<p>Connecticut gun laws were not so tough as to protect the children from the murderer&#39;s mother stockpiling deadly weapons in her home, including reportedly the rapid-firing assault rifle that was used to fire multiple bullets at first-graders -- six-year old little boys and girls -- murdering them in cold blood.&nbsp; The purpose of such assault weapons and their ammunition is to inflict as much massive, deadly damage to the human body as possible as quickly as possible, stealing the lives from the victims who die painful and terrible deaths. Most Americans are rightly concerned about the consequences of the widespread availability of these tools for perpetrating mass murder.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p>

So, What kind of law and how many laws would have been necessary to keep this disaster in Conn. from happening?? The answer is NONE!!! Laws do not and can not deter sick and evil people from comitting their crimes; whatever weapon may be used. I am sad these innocent children and adults were taken out of this life BUT Social Laws can not fix this problem.

Guns DO kill people, and assault weapons do it devastatingly fast and in a horrifically thorough way. The Constitution does not guarantee the right to own assault weapons. They need to be banned, as they were from 1994 to 2004, and as soon as possible.

There was another New Town – in Australia – which experienced a mass shooting that killed 35 people in 1996 (with an AR-15, similar to the weapon used in Sandyhook). Just 12 days after what became known as the Port Arthur massacre, Australia’s government responded by announcing a bipartisan deal to enact gun control measures, including a national assault weapons ban. There was also a 650,000 gun buy-back-and-destroy campaign, larger than any other in the world. There have been no mass killings since, gun deaths have dropped 50%, and the nation is saving not only hundreds of lives every year but also about $500 million in economic costs of gun violence.

Wisc. resident: please refer to response below regarding Australia. The prime minister at the time said (paraphrase) we will not allow this American disease to infect us. If "Social Laws cannot fix this problem." (sic) why have any laws at all? It's a little to easy to express sadness over the innocent children and adults without expressing a need to address the problem. You haven't really thought this through, have you?

Lisa, first please stand corrected. Assault rifle, as classified by the US government is a Class 3 device, and quite restricted I can assure you. Capable of Fully automatic fire and Semi automatic fire. To obtain on of these you will need to undergo Evaluation and investigation from the FBI, ATF, Chief local Law Enforcement and That of your local police. So I somehow highly doubt that this is "what as you claim was being stockpiled." Also I can assure you the purpose contrary to your belief's is said weapons and the ammunition is not to inflict the most possible damage, but quite the contrary. this is why said firearms utilize fully Jacketed bullets, and not expanding bullets as these were determined to be inhumane by the Hague convention and later the Geneva convention. Perhaps you are referring to commercial semi-automatic rifles? Or semi-automatic (Styled after military use) rifles? Which is a different animal than the "assault rifle" as we have established. If so then please point out in great detail how this can differ from a semiautomatic hunting rifle? Please next time make sure you understand the differences than parroting the same soundbytes, that the also uniformed news media has parroted for so long. The fact is you demonize, an inanimate object in the wake of a heinous act. the object has no more control over it's use for good or bad and to attribute this ability is well neurotic at best. At the end of the day it's a tool no more no less. Do we go forth, and then blame all objects for their misuse. I've sen riots Occur with fatalities, because of broadcasted news reports, so perhaps we need censorship here. I've seen Mass fatalities occur with alcohol and vehicles. Perhaps we should ban and or limit these. And the real problem with the logic is that the problem is not the tool but lies with the person who at the end of the day is wielding it. It's obvious, that here we have a person who is troubled, why don't we just say we round them up those that are antisocial, maladjusted and institutionalize them. I mean this way we'd be sure that we wouldn't have them on the street to find different ways to cause harm. I mean if you take away all firearms as Japan has done you'd still have the massacre that occurred in Osaka, Akihabara, Tokyo. And I could go on. The fact is many places have tried the Gun control, and found that it just trades one form of terminal violence for another and until you address the root of the problem, which is the abuser of the tool you will still have the problem.

<p>Dear Craig:</p> <p>My grandfather taught me how to shoot, and I can assure you that the Bushmaster .223 for civilian use is not the kind of weapon my family has used for hunting deer.&nbsp; The Bushmaster is a assault-style rifle designed to kill human beings, not deer -- the primary market for the military class version of the weapon, sometimes called an M4, is soldiers for use in war to kill other soldiers.&nbsp; Based on the market/purchaser type (civilian, law enforcement, or military), it has different mechanisms for how rapidly it fires and what size of magazines can be used to fire rounds of ammunition as well as other features (like grenade launchers), and different rules for who can possess it.</p> <p>I understand that the NRA prefers that such weapons be called merely &quot;rifles,&quot; and not be called &quot;assault&quot; weapons, and that the federal Assault Weapons Ban referenced specific models of guns along with other rifles, pistols, and shotguns with specified features for the ban -- but manufacturers worked around these rules to provide models that did not fire as many rounds as quickly as weapons subject to the AWB (and were not allowed to use the larger capacity magazines) or the pre-existing ban on fully automatic machine guns. Such weapons are still deadly though less deadly than the more rapid or continuous firing versions. The firing speed for the civilian version of the weapon depends in part on the speed of the shooter&#39;s trigger finger.</p> <p>But, I think most Americans understand that the style of weapon used here to rapidly cause mass casualties at the elementary school in Connecticut is an assault weapon in the most basic sense of the word. Consistent with the style of weapon, as opposed to a six-round pistol for example, the coroner who examined the bodies of several of the dead children said that all of them suffered three to 11 gun shot wounds each. The &quot;feat&quot; of mowing down 26 human beings in short order is more easily accomplished with a Bushmaster .223 style weapon that a six-shooter a person would have to load and reload and reload and reload and reload and reload and reload some more to fire that many shots into that many victims.</p> <p>The state&#39;s chief medical examiner also noted that, as for the ammunition, &quot;the bullets are designed in such a fashion that the energy . . . is deposited in the tissue and so the bullet stays in&quot; the body of the victim. See, Interview with Dr. H. Wayne Carver, II (12-15-12). You may quibble about whether that design, or caliber or speed, is intended to maximize damage because you believe the particular bullet used bullet does not &quot;expand&quot;/explode like some banned ammo, but I stand by what the coroner said, even though the location of a wound is one of the biggest factors in its deadliness. Beyond that, there has been no specific public confirmation yet about whether the ammo was hollow point bullets or full metal jacket ones.</p> <p>Your suggestion that attributing any blame to the weapon is &quot;neurotic at best&quot; is quite frankly callous at the least. Let&#39;s reframe that, nuclear bombs don&#39;t kill hundreds of thousands of people, people kill people -- except without the capacity for such mass destruction in the span of a few moments fewer people would die by the hand of one man.&nbsp;</p> <p>Similarly absurd is your suggestion that people expressing concern want emotionally troubled people &quot;rounded up.&quot; I think reasonable people simply do not want an emotionally troubled young man to have access to weapons like the Bushmaster.&nbsp;</p> <p>It is fascinating that you chose Japan as an example of how a murderer can kill without guns as with the terroristic poison gas attack in the subway a few years ago. But, let&#39;s look at Japan, which has some of the strictest gun control laws in the world.&nbsp; In 2008, the U.S. &quot;had over <a href="">12 thousand</a> firearm-related homicides. All of Japan experienced <a href="">only 11</a> . . . ,&quot; as noted in Max Fisher&#39;s piece from earlier this year in The Atlantic magazine. See</p> <p>Nevertheless, there are a range of factors that affect overall homicide rates in countries as well as cities, including poverty and culture. As Michael Moore pointed out in &quot;Bowling for Columbine,&quot; Canada has a similar rate of gun ownership (including lots of hunting rifles) as the U.S. but a much lower homicide rate. &nbsp;</p> <p>I stand by our article&#39;s statement that the ready accessibility of weapons that make it easier to kill more people faster in fact makes it easier to kill more people faster, and that this is a problem. But, it&#39;s more than that, it&#39;s a series of tragedies waiting to happen, and the massive loss of life in Connecticut is a heart-wrenching example of that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p>

I have struggled with this question of semi automatic guns for years. Probably since the first ban was signed into law in 1994. As someone who has hunted and been around guns for years, I do have an opinion on gun laws. I also have hunted with a semi auto 22lr for small game. (looks nothing like bushmaster, and certainly more practical for hunting) First let me say there is absolutely no reason to have a clip holding more than 10 rounds period. Not for target practice, not for hunting, not for self defense , no not for any reason. There is no accuracy when shooting rapid fire with a semi auto. So if your hunting usually one shot is all you will get. Perhaps if your lucky the animal will stick around. So you get off 2 more rounds. After that your target is gone. If your target shooting you want to take your time there as well, so why on earth have a large capacity clip?. It has to be some macho thing that comes into play here. Or perhaps some delusional thinking, and you believe you are partaking in a video game. Even if you believe you will use your Bushmaster for self defense . How many rounds do you need to take out one or two intruders? If you shoot more than 10 you are probably killing your neighbors, and other innocents 2 blocks over. I think that we can all agree sensible limits are in order here. And I for one could agree to eliminating 30 round clips ASAP Unless we are going to war and want mass casualties