Just across the highway from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in a stately white building with an American flag flying out front, is the headquarters of the United States’ premiere industry association for gun retailers.
It’s not the consumer-focused National Rifle Association. The National Shooting Sports Foundation has kept a lower profile over the years, but is likely the second-most-powerful force for firearms use in the country.
Take its lobbying activities. While the gun lobby in general has spent less in 2012 than it has in recent years, the NSSF’s spending has exploded, spiking from about $100,000 in 2008 to $500,000 so far this year (in comparison to the NRA’s $2.2 million). The lion’s share of that went to Patrick Rothwell, the group’s director of government relations, who served for three years as chief of staff to the House Republican Policy Committee. He spent a lot of time this year working on legislation that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating chemicals in gun ammunition and fishing equipment, and the organization has backed a slew of concealed-carry bills.
The NSSF was also active this election cycle, rallying members under the hashtag #gunvote, though its campaign contributions only came to about $26,000. Its general counsel, Larry Keane, is widely quoted in the media making the case for gun ownership.
The bulk of the foundation’s $26 million yearly income goes towards shooting education programs, grants for range management, research on the firearms industry, a gigantic trade show in Las Vegas, and a CEO who makes $333,000 per year.
Hours after the elementary school shooting Friday morning, the NSSF posted a statement on its website: “Our hearts go out to the families of the victims of this horrible tragedy in our community. Out of respect for the families, the community and the ongoing police investigation, it would be inappropriate to comment or participate in media requests at this time."
It’s not that the NSSF’s presence—or its youth outreach campaign—has anything to do with the fact that a 20-year-old named Adam Lanza allegedly found a .223-caliber assault rifle and opened fire on his mother’s kindergarten classroom. But there's a certain tragic irony to it.