Hello, readers. It’s only Tuesday, and it’s been already been an eventful week for the National Rifle Association. Let’s get you up to speed.
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WHAT TO KNOW TODAY
A Russian woman with ties to the National Rifle Association has been arrested and charged with acting as a foreign agent. Maria Butina, a former aide to Russian politician Alexander Torshin on a putative mission to increase gun rights in her country, was taken into custody over the weekend. She is accused of working with her former boss to infiltrate American political organizations to push Moscow’s agenda. The arrest is the most dramatic development yet in the government’s investigation of the NRA’s relationship with Russia. Butina is a central figure in our timeline of Moscow’s courtship of the gun lobby. For a full analysis of the charges against Butina, head over to Lawfare. You can also read the criminal complaint here.
The NRA just drew an FEC complaint from a campaign finance watchdog. It comes days after The Trace’s Mike Spies, in partnership with Politico Magazine, reported on the mysterious firm that’s become the NRA’s top election consultant in an arrangement that potentially violates campaign finance law. The complaint from the Campaign Legal Center, announced Monday, asserts that there is “reason to believe” the NRA violated rules against unfair coordination in four key Senate races in the 2014 and 2016 election cycles. Senator Ron Wyden on Monday called on the Federal Elections Commission to investigate: “This report raises troubling new questions about whether the NRA and its consultants were illegally funneling dark money through a shell company.”
March for Our Lives is headed to the NRA’s headquarters. The student-led gun violence prevention organization announced it was joining forces with @MarchonNRA for a demonstration on August 4 at the gun group’s national offices in Fairfax, Virginia, to demand federal gun reform.
In a lawsuit, an ex-employee of Florida’s gun licensing unit said she was told she “worked for the NRA.” In the 2013 suit, a former supervisor at Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which handles concealed weapon permits, claimed “gross misconduct” in how the state processed applications and says she was threatened with retaliation for raising the complaint. In 2016, the agency agreed to pay a $30,000 settlement but refused to admit to any wrongdoing. In recent months, the department has come under scrutiny after reports that its mishandling of gun permit background checks led to hundreds of permit approvals for people who should have been denied.
Illinois became the eighth state to get a red flag law since Parkland. Republican Governor Bruce Rauner signed the bill, which allows law enforcement and family members to petition for the temporary removal of firearms from people in crisis, into law on Monday. Going into 2018, just five states had versions of red flag laws. Rauner also signed a bill extending a 72-hour waiting period to all gun sales, but said he would veto a measure to add state oversight to gun dealers in Illinois. He claims the bill would hurt small businesses. Rauner vetoed a previous version of the Gun Dealer Licensing Act back in March.
Gun rights advocates endorse arming preschoolers in Sacha Baron Cohen’s new satirical series. In the first episode of the comedian’s new show, Cohen coaxes Republican leaders into endorsing a “Kinder-Guardians” program that would give guns to children as young as 4. One of the leaders shown supporting the program in the video is Larry Pratt, the president of Gun Owners of America. Who is Larry Pratt? The 75-year-old was once a key figure in the militia movement and has headed the gun group since its founding. GOA remains influential among gun rights activists by pressuring the NRA from the right.
A man cleaning his gun unintentionally killed his 6-year-old daughter. According to police in Washington County, Indiana, the man incorrectly believed that the handgun was unloaded. In context: A recent study found that unintentional firearm injuries are the most common cause of gun-related hospitalizations among children 14 and under.
Baltimore mothers honored their children’s lives, lost to gun violence, with a balloon release. The group gathered Saturday morning at a local lake for a “freedom walk” and community cookout, where they released the balloons into the sky, one by one, accompanied with a name of a victim of violence. “That balloon is going up where we feel our loved ones are,” one mother said. “It’s as if you’re saying, ‘Fly high. You’re free,” another added.
ONE LAST THING
Alleged Russian spy Maria Butina and the NRA: a photographic history. In charging Butina for conspiring as a foreign agent, the DOJ lays out her multi-year scheme, which focused on “developing relationships with U.S. persons and infiltrating organizations having influence in American politics, for the purpose of advancing the interests of the Russian Federation.”
The NRA was one of the groups Butina successfully infiltrated. In 2011, she was introduced to then-NRA president David Keene, a relationship that brought her to the group’s 2014 convention in Indianapolis where she met with the gun lobby’s top leaders, including Wayne LaPierre. That same year, she visited the group’s headquarters in Virginia.
Here, we collect some of the visual evidence of Butina’s networking with gun lobbyists and other conservative leaders. Follow @teamtrace on Twitter as we continue to track developments in the government’s investigation of the NRA’s relationship with Russia.