Joe Camel with Feathers
How the NRA with Gun and Tobacco Industry Dollars Uses its Eddie Eagle Program to Market Guns to Kids
Section Two: "New Blood Really Helps"The NRA denies charges that the Eddie Eagle program is a thinly-disguised marketing tool for itself and the gun industry. The brochure "The Eddie Eagle Gun Safety Program" attempts to assuage any fears that the program's mascot is merely Joe Camel with feathers by reassuring parents:
Eddie Eagle is the educational gun safety mascot for young children—not an NRA spokesman. So that young children do not confuse Eddie's message, he does not appear where firearms are being used, displayed or sold.Yet the program fails to meet even this limited, self-imposed standard as illustrated in a September 1992 American Rifleman article, "The Eagle Has Landed." The sub-title of the article read: "Eddie Eagle flew into Georgia to provide a helping hand as retailing giant Wal-Mart joined with NRA-certified firearms instructors to promote gun safety." The article detailed the live appearance of a mascot Eddie Eagle at a Wal-Mart "Father's Day Sale." A photo accompanying the article shows an NRA display in the store's sporting goods department. A second photo shows promotional literature for a .44 magnum handgun on the table in front of Eddie Eagle as he talks to children. Eddie Eagle was accompanied at the event by NRA-certified firearms instructors and NRA board members. At the time of the article, the sporting goods departments of Wal-Mart stores sold handguns, rifles, and shotguns. According to the article, that day the Wal-Mart store also participated in the NRA Retail Membership Program, which at the time was in place at more than 1,000 retail outlets across America. The program awards retailers a commission for each new NRA membership sold by the store. In 1994 Wal-Mart stopped selling handguns as the result of several lawsuits holding Wal-Mart and other retailers liable for crimes committed with guns sold in their stores. Today, Wal-Mart sells only long guns.19
In arguing why it should be trusted to teach children "gun safety," the Eddie Eagle page of the NRA's web sitem offers a "message to parents." In it, the NRA promises that it is not "a trade organization. It is not affiliated with any gun or ammunition manufacturers or with any businesses that deal in guns or ammunition."
Contrary to this promise, today's NRA is the unofficial trade association for the gun industry. It is an active partner with the firearms industry and, as new VPC research shows, receives substantial financial support from it. As noted in a January 1996 article by Bob Lesmeister titled "Your Best Ally...Your Best Deal" published in the industry trade magazine American Firearms Business:
When you, as a dealer, wholesaler, manufacturer, or importer think of the National Rifle Association, you naturally think of the country's largest and oldest major pro-firearms group. And, no doubt you think of the NRA as strictly a consumer organization. You handle the business end of firearms and the NRA takes care of the legislative and training programs, right? Well, not anymore. The NRA feels that the `barbed wire fence' separating the firearms industry territory from the end-user Second Amendment advocate domain should come down and both sides of the firearms equation should support each other. They [NRA] are making it easy and they are offering you incentives to help integrate the business end of firearms with the information/training/legislative area.In addition, each year the NRA receives millions of dollars in advertising revenue from the firearms industry for ads taken out in its American Rifleman and American Hunter magazines. Reported advertising revenue for the organization for 1995 was more than $11 million. The 1996 NRA annual report does not offer a dollar figure for its advertising revenue. Yet, in 1996 alone, NRA board member Steve Hornady's company, Hornady Manufacturing Company (a manufacturer of reloading equipment and supplies) paid the NRA $163,965 for advertising in its magazines.20 For a brief period in 1996 the NRA had commercial links to firearm manufacturers on the "news" section of its web site.
Yet the clearest evidence that the NRA is misleading children, parents, and legislators about the Eddie Eagle program and its links to the firearms industry is revealed by the activities of its affiliate, The NRA Foundation. The Foundation is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt foundation started by the organization in 1990. It shares office space with the NRA at its headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia. The Foundation is the funding source for Eddie Eagle.
The missions of The NRA Foundation and the NRA itself are virtually indistinguishable, except that money contributed to The NRA Foundation is tax-deductible—despite the fact that most of the Foundation's tax-exempt dollars are funneled directly back to the NRA itself.
All of the NRA's political leaders and many of its top officials serve on The NRA Foundation's board of trustees. According to the Foundation's 1995 annual report, its 11 trustees include: Wayne LaPierre, NRA executive vice president; Tanya Metaksa, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action and the organization's chief lobbyist; Neal Knox, NRA board member and leader of the organization's hard-line, no-compromise faction; Wilson H. Philips, Jr., who serves as both the NRA's and The NRA Foundation's treasurer; Wayne Sheets, who serves as the Foundation's executive director and is the former head of the NRA's education and training division; Richard Carone, NRA board member;n and, Robert Hodgdon, NRA board member and CEO of Hodgdon Powder, a manufacturer of black powder and other handloading materials.
In addition, the Foundation's 1994 annual report reveals that of the $2,824,456 in grants made by The NRA Foundation in 1994, $2,382,884—or nearly 85 percent—were made to the National Rifle Association. Of this, the largest portion—$675,000 or 28 percent—was paid to NRA headquarters for "printing and distribution of program materials" and "support, research, and development" for the Eddie Eagle program. Other NRA programs funded that year by "grants" from The NRA Foundation include: $350,000 to the Women's Issues and Programs of the NRA for its Refuse to be a Victim program; $340,000 for Youth Programs of the NRA; $175,000 for Youth Hunting Skills Education Programs of the NRA; $150,000 for shooting range development; and, $125,000 for Promotion and Support of the Becoming an Outdoors Woman Program. In 1995, of the $3,724,621 in grants made by the Foundation, $2,546,921 or 68 percent were paid to NRA headquarters. Of this, $525,000 or 21 percent were earmarked for the Eddie Eagle program. An additional $64,777 in grants were made to 19 states for support of the Eddie Eagle program. [Please see Appendix Four for a listing of 1994 and 1995 Eddie Eagle grants made by The NRA Foundation.]
The NRA Foundation actively solicits gun industry dollars. At the NRA's 1997 Annual Meeting in Seattle, Washington, Foundation staff handed out reprints of an article from Fishing & Hunting News titled "Industry's NRA Endowments=`Foundation for the Future.'"o The article, by Dave Workman, detailed how the programs supported by The NRA Foundation, including Eddie Eagle, benefit the firearms industry and urged industry members to help support the Foundation. According to the article, The NRA Foundation is "getting some major league support from several giants in the industry" and one industry member estimated that as many as 20 firearm industry companies or their CEOs were involved in the Foundation's fundraising efforts.
According to The NRA Foundation's Wayne Sheets, "The industry is an indirect beneficiary of this program [The NRA Foundation]." Later in the article Workman notes, "Perhaps NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre summed it [sic] best about the NRA Foundation, and what it means to the industry"—
It means gun safety, Eddie Eagle, hunter safety; those day-to-day educational programs that all of us as gun owners want in our cities and towns....It protects the future of the shooting sports by insuring that young people, and women, and men, who may not be in the sports today will be in tomorrow.In the piece, Workman renders the Foundation's mission down to its essence: "The Foundation is a mechanism by which the firearms industry can promote shooting sports education, cultivating the next generation of shooters. Translate that to future customers."
In addition to Hodgdon, some of the key gun industry backers of The NRA Foundation cited by Workman include: Frank Brownell of Brownell's Incorporated, another reloader manufacturer; NRA Life Member Larry Potterfield, head of Midway Arms, a catalog center for reloading components and other firearm accessories; Bill Ruger, head of firearms manufacturer Sturm, Ruger & Co.; and, Frank Kenna, CEO of Marlin Firearms. In the article, these industry members are enthusiastic about the benefits The NRA Foundation and its programs can offer the firearms industry.
NRA board member and NRA Foundation trustee Robert Hodgdon's advice to "everyone in the industry" is to:
look at their business the way I do mine. Our company has always looked to the future and we have made today's decisions on the fact that we intend to be in business for a long time. The businesses in our industry owe it to themselves to endow the NRA foundation, which is the only viable nationwide firearms organization that both serves the shooter and hunter, and maintains our freedoms.Adds Brownell, "The NRA is...plowing new ground for this industry." Brownell's "philosophy," according to Workman is simple, "You always have to bring young people into anything. New blood really helps. For that reason, I think the (Foundation's) endowment program is going to be very important to the future of the industry." And while the NRA has attempted to portray itself as being somehow apart from the firearms industry, this false distinction is lost on the industry members themselves. Says Brownell, "I consider it a privilege to be able to help support the people in our industry who are helping to make it possible for me to feed my kids, and I feel an obligation to support the industry because it has been good to us."
The NRA Foundation's status as the gun industry's favorite charity is confirmed by its 1994 and 1995 annual reports. The NRA Foundation counts a wide range of gun industry members among its financial supporters, including: manufacturers of long guns and handguns (including Saturday Night Special or "junk gun" manufacturers); ammunition manufacturers; reloading equipment companies; publishers of gun magazines; and, manufacturers of other gun-related products, such as holsters. It is not known what other gun industry donors may contribute to the Foundation without disclosure.
Firearm manufacturers who are known to provide financial support to The NRA Foundation include:
Browning. In 1995 Browning gave from $5,000 to $9,999 to The NRA Foundation (virtually all reported grants are acknowledged in the Foundation's annual report as being within a range of giving). NRA board member and 1970s rock star Ted Nugent recently signed on as a spokesperson for Browning firearms and bows. In a May 1997 "Snap Shot" piece in the NRA's new American Guardian magazine, Browning President Don Gobel said of his company's new partnership with Nugent, "We hope our affiliation with Ted will be a catalyst for our promotion of the hunting and shooting lifestyle to a younger audience....The youth of America must be educated to the wholesome and valued world of hunting and conservation." The 1997 Browning catalog features a child on the cover wearing a Browning cap carrying a net bag of duck decoys. Inside the catalog a toddler is shown wearing a Browning shirt as well as ear and eye protection. Another photograph in the catalog shows another toddler wearing a Browning cap while placing expended shotgun shells on his fingers.A Blossoming Romance?—The Tobacco Industry and the NRA
The NRA Foundation has also received funding from the tobacco industry.p In 1994 Philip Morris Companies, Inc. contributed from $10,000 to $24,999 to The NRA Foundation. Philip Morris is the largest cigarette company in the United States. Its brands include Marlboro (the most popular cigarette brand among teens), Benson & Hedges, Merit, Virginia Slims (the first cigarette marketed directly to women), and Parliament. The company also owns the Miller Brewing Company, the second largest brewing company in America. That same year, the Smokeless Tobacco Council Inc., which "represents the smokeless tobacco industry through its educational, research, public relations, and governmental relations programs,"22 contributed from $1,000 to $4,999 to the Foundation. While the exact reason for tobacco industry support of The NRA Foundation is not clear, possible explanations for this blossoming romance between the tobacco industry and the NRA could include:
The tobacco industry has identified an overlap between gun owners and smokers. Therefore, showing support for gun owners could engender good will among smokers.While the annual reports of The NRA Foundation confirm that the NRA is receiving significant funding from the gun industry for Eddie Eagle and other "educational" programs, it is not unlikely that the annual report offers only a brief glimpse of the full extent of the industry's support. It is not known whether industry members support the Foundation anonymously (for example, while Fair$hare "partners" were listed in the 1994 report, they were not listed in the 1995 report). In addition, some industry supporters cited by Dave Workman in his Fishing & Hunting News article—such as ammunition manufacturers Sierra and Nosler and Marlin Firearms CEO Frank Kenna—do not appear to be cited in the annual reports. Many industry members may also make contributions under an individual's—as opposed to corporate—name. Additional information about the full extent of the gun and tobacco industries' support of The NRA Foundation and its programs will require further investigation.
When out of the public eye and speaking at gun industry events, NRA staffers are much more candid about the true agenda of the Eddie Eagle program. The S.H.O.T. Show is the annual trade show for the firearms industry and is sponsored by the National Shooting Sports Foundation. The show is closed to the general public and is open only to members of the firearms and shooting sports industries. Each year the National Rifle Association maintains a display area—replete with large pictures of Eddie Eagle and the program's promotional materials—at the show to mingle with industry members.
At the 1996 show in Dallas, Texas Jeffrey Poole—NRA manager of shows and exhibits in the membership division—talked with an investigator from the Global Survival Network about the "delicate situation" that "gun safety" and children creates:
It's hard to tell them that guns can be dangerous, without giving them that message that guns are bad, and that's a delicate situation that we try to work around with...Eddie Eagle....We don't want to send the message that guns are bad, and scare them to death with guns when they are kids, so it's...really a fine line.When asked if the Eddie Eagle program increases the acceptability of guns by children and youth, Poole acknowledged:
Yes, that's the theory, and when you compare that to the only other gun safety program that's out there, which happens to be produced by [the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence of] Handgun Control...their message is simply `guns are bad... never be around a gun...stay away from guns, they're evil, and they could kill you,' and that's their message to little kids. We need to counter that with...`guns are not bad, you need to learn how to use them before you touch them.'When the investigator reaffirmed, "With Eddie Eagle?" Poole replied, "Yes." Poole also stressed the need for the NRA to build on the Eddie Eagle program and develop a school program for older children that would continue the normalization process:
And, there's a gap...between let's say, an eight- or 10-year-old, and then a 15-, 16-year-old, where they're actually getting out and using a gun....Or, maybe getting a gun of their own. And...we need to cover that gap...because...when you say, `guns are dangerous, be careful with them,' which is basically what we're saying here...a lot of people tend to take that as `guns are bad.' So we need to follow up to a program and say...`People can be bad, but guns are not bad, but we need to learn how to use them....And here's how.' And, maybe that program needs to be a little bit more hands on, maybe we need to get something going with airguns and things like that....[W]e feel like if we don't follow up with something, then we stand a much greater risk of alienating them [kids]. If we tell them when they're really young...that `guns are dangerous, be careful with them,' and we never come back and tell them anything else...we could be shooting ourselves in the foot.
"If You Want to Soften up Firearms, What Better Way to Soften it Up?"
Poole's comments are not the isolated views of a talkative staffer. In March 1996 Jane Colbert, the NRA's assistant manager for the Eddie Eagle program, presented a workshop attended by an investigator from the Global Survival Network at the first annual Firearms Trade Expo (FTE) which took place in Atlantic City. The FTE is sponsored by the National Association of Federally Licensed Firearms Dealers, a trade association representing gun dealers. Like the S.H.O.T. Show, it is closed to the general public. During her presentation and in discussions afterward, Colbert outlined marketing strategies for getting the Eddie Eagle program into schools and day care centers. She advised that to sell the program pro-gun advocates should modify their usual approach:
[W]hen you go in to talk about the program, you go in and you talk from a safety factor versus a Second Amendment [factor]....I was talking to someone recently who made the statement to me that when you go in to talk about the Eddie Eagle program or to sell it to a school system, that you have to take off, in a sense, your Second Amendment fight hat, and put on your safety hat to talk to the educators....
"The Clean-Up Committee"
But Eddie Eagle doesn't merely "soften up" firearms, according to Colbert, but the NRA itself—especially after political battles over gun control. It is during these times that the Eddie Eagle program acts as "the clean-up committee." When the Global Survival Network investigator noted, "I think with all the criticism the NRA has gotten, especially with youth, gun violence in the cities, this is a pretty smart thing PR-wise," Colbert responded:
Yes, it is....I always refer to us as the `clean-up committee.' ILA [Institute for Legislative Action, the NRA's lobbying arm] will go in and have a battle with someone over gun rights....Then they send...Eddie Eagle in to do some Eddie Eagle assemblies, or make an Eddie Eagle appearance, which softens everything....And we go in quite often. It quiets it [NRA criticism] down, because it shows that NRA is not just about guns.Like her staff, Marion Hammer—at other industry events—has expressed confidence that the NRA's youth programs will boost interest in the shooting sports and benefit "our industry." The May/June 1996 issue of Shooting Sports Retailer magazine reported that Hammer attended a March 1996 shooting sports summit convened by the National Shooting Sports Foundation to analyze and plan the future of the hunting and recreational shooting sports industry. Hammer noted that the NRA's "nonpolitical programs" are the "real strength of the NRA," stating:
We've got the programs...that can get young people interested in the shooting sports, and I think, to a great extent, all of us in the shooting sports want to accomplish the same thing. There is no single solution to the problems in our industry so we've got to have a multi-faceted approach, work together, share information, and coordinate efforts to protect gun rights. [emphasis added]
m) The NRA's web site is located at http://www.nra.org. The site can also be reached through the "links" page of the Violence Policy Center's web site located at http://www.vpc.org.
n) At the NRA annual meeting in Seattle, Washington in May 1997 the organization announced the results of the members' election of the NRA board of directors. Richard Carone was not re-elected.
o) A copy of the handout is available from the VPC.
p) Other contributors to The NRA Foundation in 1994 and 1995 included: PM Consulting Corporation, one of the NRA's consulting firms, ($5,000 to $9,999 in 1994, $1,000 to $4,999 in 1995); Safari Club International ($5,000 to $9,999 in 1994); and, Southwestern Bell Corporation ($1,000 to $4,999 in 1994).
The Violence Policy Center is a national non-profit educational foundation that conducts research on violence in America and works to develop violence-reduction policies and proposals. The Center examines the role of firearms in America, conducts research on firearms violence, and explores new ways to decrease firearm-related death and injury.