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Fear, Paranoia and Loathing: Inside the NRA's 2013 Convention

To swing the door on a National Rifle Association annual meeting is to enter a world where Freedom comes from a gun.

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Coplen says they've raised a good amount of money through coverage on AM talk radio, the Breitbart sites, and Fox News, but the ACP can't yet afford American-made guns. "Right now we're using a cheap, commie Chi-Com 12-gauge pump [shotgun], which is a good gun, but we want to buy American," he said.

The Project may not have trouble raising money for long. Coplen told me its founders are in the process of formalizing a relationship with the NRA, which would link them with plenty of potential funders eager to fulfill the group's real agenda of statistically "measuring the effect that a heavily armed society has on crime rates."

"Providing policy analysis on guns and cities," Coplen surmised, would be useful "in aiding the efforts of decision makers [to] get rid of bad regulations." 

Late on the second day of the conference, Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee dropped by the protest across from the convention center. The NRA was in her home district, and she had requested a meeting with Wayne LaPierre, a request the NRA did not acknowledge. Instead, Lee told a sprinkling of reporters why she supported universal background checks and a national registry. "People think gun registration is something sinister, but it helps you protect your guns the way car registration does when your car is stolen," she said. "It would make an enormous difference to the children and teenagers who lose their lives to guns every three hours and 15 minutes in this country."

Lee's strong defense of new regulations was followed by an anachronistic call for dialogue and compromise with the NRA. "I hope to work with them when I get back to Washington," she said.

With all due respect to the Congresswoman, she has a better chance of finding a unicorn grazing on the National Mall. Had Lee turned around and looked at the side of the George Brown Convention Center, she would not have found the slogan, "NRA: Let's Work Together," but rather the Alamo-like battle cry, "Stand and Fight." Earlier that morning, the organization adopted a hardline resolution written by columnist and NRA Endowment member Jeff Knox, resolving to reject "any and all" bills containing new gun regulations. The official gesture may have merely enshrined the obvious, but it spoke to a confidence reflecting not just the recent Senate victory, but also the million new members the NRA claims have joined since the election, each paying dues into a war chest already bursting with industry cash and estate gifts.

 "If you look at the budget for last year, there's $80 million from endowments alone, and this year is going to be bigger," said a member from Ohio. "My kids aren't going to hate it, but I'm leaving a large gift [to the NRA]. They have great people working on legal support and trust services. This is a money war. If you're not well capitalized, you don't impact Congress. The NRA may be a small group of four or five million, but they've got a hell of a kit. If they come at ya', there gonna take you out."

The evidence on this point is decidedly mixed, and there are signs voters have already turned against senators who voted against Manchin-Toomey. But there's no denying that the power of all that cash to buy enormous amounts of mischief to thwart the public will. The $500,000 check hanging over the booth would be a major get for most self-described "civil rights organizations." At the NRA, it's chump change. In Fairfax, gifts are weighed against the seven-figure checks signed every year by Midway's Larry Potterfield, the ammo and sporting goods mogul whose "round-up" campaigns have bolstered NRA-ILA coffers for 20 years. At this year's Leadership Forum on Friday afternoon, Potterfield's public donation was accompanied by the seemingly absurd claim that his company, which sells everything from camping equipment to ATV parts, "wouldn't be in business if not for the NRA." 

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