Good morning, Bulletin readers. Today we bring you a significant development in the political intrigue that has kept the NRA in the hot seat over the past few months: A pair of Democrats on Capitol Hill is demanding that the gun group and its vendors hand over internal documents in response to the apparent campaign finance violations that our reporting uncovered.
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NEW from THE TRACE: A joint congressional inquiry is demanding that the NRA explain its campaign finance practices. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Representative Jamie Raskin, both Democrats, have sent letters to the National Rifle Association’s boss, Wayne LaPierre, and five NRA vendors requesting documents showing whether the NRA made “illegal, excessive, and unreported in-kind donations” to the campaigns of Donald Trump and several GOP Senate candidates. The probe was spurred by The Trace’s investigative reporting, which unearthed evidence that the NRA and its vendors used apparent shell companies to evade rules prohibiting coordination between outside groups and the campaigns they support. Read more about this latest development.
Meanwhile, a new report reveals that while NRA leaders embraced Maria Butina, she was working to help arm anti-American militias abroad. Mother Jones uncovered a trail of online activity showing that Butina, an admitted covert agent, was advising a militia group helping President Vladimir Putin of Russia to annex Crimea in 2014 — four weeks before she was welcomed as a VIP at the NRA’s annual convention. Butina also posted on her blog warning that then-President Obama’s post-invasion sanctions, which targeted the Russian arms industry, were “a direct threat to national security.”
The Trump administration is making it easier to export semiautomatic rifles. Under new rules set to take effect next month, gun manufacturers will no longer need to procure a license from the State Department to sell AR-15s and shotguns, among other weapons, to other foreign buyers. “The changes also mean that sales of less than $1 million in arms will not require advance notification to Congress, which allows lawmakers a period of time to block a potential sale,” NBC News reports.
Study: Gun access is a stronger indicator of gun violence than mental illness. Researchers from the University of Texas looking for a link between gun violence and mental health studied 663 young adults and found that people with access to firearms are 18 times more likely to have threatened someone with a gun.
The TSA seized a record number of guns from travelers in 2018. Agents for the Transportation Security Administration confiscated 4,239 handguns from carry-on bags at airport security checkpoints last year. That’s a 7 percent increase over 2017, when 3,957 guns were intercepted, and a threefold rise since 2008. A whopping 86 percent of the guns taken from airline passengers were loaded.
A Customs and Border Protection agent in California is accused of selling dozens of firearms through a gun listings website. Federal prosecutors say Wei Xu, a CBP officer at the Los Angeles and Long Beach Seaport, bought guns — some of which were only permitted to be sold to other law enforcement agents — and resold them to people who answered ads on Calguns.net. None of the private transfers went through a federally licensed firearms dealer, a violation of the state’s universal background check law. Police seized 300 guns from Xu’s house, including semiautomatic rifles, short-barreled rifles, and fully automatic machine guns.
After the fatal shooting of an Ohio detective, state lawmakers said they plan to reintroduce a “red flag” bill. On February 2, William Brewer, a 20-year veteran of the Clermont County Sheriff’s Office, was killed while responding to a call from a suicidal man at an apartment complex. Now a Democratic state senator argues that a red flag law could have saved Brewer’s life. After Parkland, then-Governor John Kasich vocally supported a red flag law, which could separate suicidal people from guns, but the Legislature put the proposal on ice. Kasich’s successor, also a Republican, said he’d support the measure “if it was written correctly and there was due process.”
The gunman who killed the brother of a former Baltimore police spokesman was sentenced to 80 years in prison. Terrell Gibson was found guilty in September for the fatal shooting of Dionay Smith in July 2017. At the sentencing hearing, Smith’s brother, T.J. Smith, said lenient judges “breed repeat violent offenders” and urged a stiff sentence. From The Trace archives: In 2017, T.J. Smith, who was a spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department, told us what it was like to get an alert about the city’s latest shooting and realize that the victim was his brother.
ONE LAST THING
The Trace is a finalist for a National Magazine Award. The Ellies, as they’re also known, honor “print and digital publications that consistently demonstrate superior execution of editorial objectives, innovative techniques, noteworthy enterprise and imaginative design.” The Trace is one of five nominees for general excellence in our category (Literature, Science, and Politics). Our congratulations to fellow finalists Aperture, POETRY, Popular Science, and Virginia Quarterly Review. We are honored to be in your company.