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Gun industry group in Connecticut outpaces NRA in lobbying, hopes to protect access to semi-automatic weapons

A photo of a Colt AR-15 taken in 2004, the year the 1994 assault weapons ban expired and it became legal for civilians to purchase.
Thomas Cooper/Getty Images
Getty Images North America
A photo of a Colt AR-15 taken in 2004, the year the 1994 assault weapons ban expired and it became legal for civilians to purchase.

The National Rifle Association might be the best known opponent of gun control, but a Connecticut group that represents the firearms industry has quietly surpassed the NRA in lobbying U.S. lawmakers.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, based in Newtown, Conn., has spent $15.5 million lobbying Congress since 2019 — 40% more than the NRA, according to records tracked by the nonprofit Open Secrets.

That makes the foundation a force on Capitol Hill as Democratic lawmakers scramble to craft compromise bills on guns that Republicans might accept, in the wake of the Uvalde mass school shooting.

“For years, Republicans have safeguarded their campaign coffers at the expense of keeping our schools safe,” U.S. Sen. Edward Markey said in a statement when asked about the group’s lobbying. “They’re beholden to pro-gun lobbyists who buoy industry profits by peddling dangerous lies about common-sense gun reform efforts that the American people widely support.”

National Shooting Sports represents the firearms industry, including more than 9,500 gun manufacturers, retailers and shooting ranges. And the group has remained a strong supporter for access to semi-automatic weapons, including the kind used in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, just a few miles from its headquarters, a decade ago, as well as the one in Uvalde, Texas, last week.

“We're talking about a lawful, constitutionally protected piece of equipment,” said Mark Oliva, the group's spokesman. “This is protected by the Constitution. You have a right to own these guns.”

Instead of banning AR-15-style weapons, National Shooting Sports says it supports making firearms safer. The group has distributed free gun locks — to keep guns out of the hands of children — and has pushed states to turn over records of people suffering from mental illness to the FBI, so they can't buy guns.

The U.S. House Judiciary Committee is slated to meet Thursday on a package of gun bills dubbed the "Protecting our Kids Act." While the Democratic-controlled House is expected to pass the measures, their chance of making it through the Senate is considered slim.

National Shooting Sports is preparing to respond to the new measures. “We are engaged with lawmakers on Capitol Hill,” Oliva said.

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