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World

What The NRA Is Doing As Part Of Its Effort To Go Global

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

And we're going to take a moment now to examine the NRA's efforts to go global. The American lobby group, first chartered in the state of New York in 1871, is today forging ties in Brazil, in Australia, in Russia. Polly Mosendz writes about this for Bloomberg in an article titled "NRA Goes International In Its Mission To Defend Guns." Polly Mosendz, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

POLLY MOSENDZ: Thank you for having me.

KELLY: So walk us through some of your reporting. Take Brazil, where a new president, Jair Bolsonaro, has just taken office having made gun rights a big part of his campaign platform. Did he specifically embrace the NRA?

MOSENDZ: I think Bolsonaro was a great example of the internationalization of the National Rifle Association because Bolsonaro and his son in fact, who was part of his campaign, have really made an effort to make gun rights a tangible concept in Brazil, a country that does not have a Second Amendment the way that the U.S. does. So Bolsonaro said that guns are a guarantee to freedom. And this week, President Bolsonaro actually announced that Brazil will move to make it easier to purchase a firearm there. That's going to be a really big change for that country which leads the world in the rate of firearms deaths right now.

KELLY: And then let's touch briefly on Russia, where ties between the government and the NRA have been controversial, to say the least. The case of Maria Butina, the Russian national who cozied up to NRA leaders and who now admits that she was trying to influence Americans on behalf of the Kremlin, has made huge headlines here. Has the whole Butina episode harmed NRA outreach in Russia?

MOSENDZ: I think the Butina episode has brought a lot of attention to what that outreach looks like. And for a lot of people, that can be considered harmful because it's something that was really sort of happening under the radar before. And now that there's so much focus on this, now that she has plead guilty, people are really scrutinizing what the NRA's relationship looks like with Russian every different way - what it looks like at conferences, what it looks like with business dealings, what it looks like with Butina herself as well.

KELLY: Right, a lot of questions being raised here in the States about what the NRA knew and when about Russian efforts to influence U.S. politics. It's interesting because the NRA presents itself as all-American. It is the National Rifle Association, and the National refers to the nation of the United States. But can anyone anywhere in the world join the NRA?

MOSENDZ: So within reason, anyone can attempt to join the NRA. But donations are a little bit trickier.

KELLY: Ah, so you can join, but giving money to the NRA is tricky. Go on.

MOSENDZ: Exactly, specifically typically for political purposes. So if you're trying to influence an election from abroad as an NRA member, that's not allowed. But if you just want to join and receive their reading material, that is a much easier thing to do. And what we found out earlier this year because of a Senate inquiry is that there were in fact Russian nationals with Russian addresses that did have memberships to the NRA.

KELLY: The NRA, of course, advocates for the rights of gun owners. To what extent are the interests of gun manufacturers also a factor in this trend?

MOSENDZ: I think the interests of gun manufacturers are very notable to the NRA because that is an extension of gun ownership. No one will have a gun unless these companies are producing these firearms. And one thing to really keep in mind here is that about a third of the American gun market is not actually all-American. It's imports.

KELLY: And are there any numbers that we can put out there to contextualize this when we talk about the NRA's rising global reach?

MOSENDZ: Absolutely. We can look at Beretta, which is Italian, which pledged $1 million to the NRA starting in 2008. You can also look at Glock, the Austrian company, which also donated a really sizable amount. And executives from those two companies were actually brought into the Golden Ring of Freedom program, which is part of the NRA that's really reserved for their megadonors. And if we look at a small but really notable donation, we should look at Brazil's Taurus. With every firearm that's purchased in the United States, they give that firearm purchaser an NRA membership. So in 2017, there were 760,000 Taurus guns bought in America. That's 760,000 Taurus-purchased NRA memberships.

KELLY: Have you reached out to the NRA for comment on their global ambitions?

MOSENDZ: We always do. We have not heard back.

KELLY: Polly Mosendz, she writes for Bloomberg. Thanks very much.

MOSENDZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.