News and notes on guns in America

Accused Russian Spy Says NRA Involvement Helped Her Secure Visa to U.S.

Maria Butina, the alleged Russian spy accused of using the National Rifle Association as a conduit to infiltrate American politics, said in online postings that she was twice denied permission to come to the United States as she developed a following for her unlikely gun rights advocacy. In 2014, Butina finally got the green light, and made the trip to America that launched her purported caper.

Butina credits the NRA for the breakthrough.

“I was only issued a visa to enter the U.S. for the annual NRA convention on my third attempt,” reads one post on Butina’s LiveJournal blog, which was translated by The Trace. “Prior to this, I missed these conventions for two years as a consequence of the opposition on the part of the American governmental bureaucracy.”

“Finally, the leadership of the NRA itself came to visit us, at which point it became possible to prove that I would not remain to live in the US, but am traveling there on business,” she wrote.

The visit she referred to is a fall 2013 junket by the former NRA president David Keene and a host of gun-rights bigwigs to attend the Right to Bear Arms’ annual meeting in Moscow.

Butina penned the blog post as she was attending the NRA convention in Indianapolis as the leader of her group, the Right to Bear Arms, and a VIP guest of the American gun organization. She was joined by Alexander Torshin, a Kremlin-connected oligarch tangled in the unfolding investigation into Russia’s meddling into the 2016 presidential election.

The post includes images of Butina presenting a plaque to Jim Porter, then the president of the NRA, and posing with Sandra Froman, a past president of the gun-rights organization. An image taken during the same trip and posted on Butina’s VK profile, a Russian social media website, shows her standing with Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s executive vice president.

It is not uncommon for Russians to be denied visas to the United States because of current political tensions, and especially if American authorities fear the visitor will try to stay in the country, experts familiar with the visa process told The Trace.

The NRA could have helped assure consular officials by writing a letter on Butina’s behalf, which would increase the odds that her visa request would go through.

The experts said Butina was likely granted a B-1/B-2 visa, which allows foreigners to travel to the United States temporarily for events like business conferences or trainings.

Butina’s blog post adds further intrigue to a case that has roiled Washington as authorities investigate Russian attempts to tilt the 2016 presidential election in favor of Donald Trump. Among the questions that investigators are exploring is whether Russian money was channeled through the NRA to help install Trump in the White House. The NRA has said it has accepted dues from Russian members but has denied using Russian money in its campaign efforts.

Butina was arrested this month on charges of conspiracy and acting as a foreign agent. Prosecutors have alleged that Butina spent years using contacts established through her NRA outreach to hobnob in conservative circles and attempt to sway the Republican Party in a direction more favorable to the Kremlin. She is reported to have dated Paul Erickson, an influential Republican political operative who formed a limited liability corporation with her in South Dakota called Bridges LLC. While the purpose of the LLC is unclear, such corporations can be used to funnel cash through dark money groups into campaign coffers while masking the source of the funding.

In other posts on her blog, translated from Russian by The Trace, Butina gushes over the NRA and the gun culture it has nurtured. She dissects how the group elects its leaders and reaches out to women. She calls an NRA gun auction a “spectacle that, (at) a minimum, one must witness at least once in one’s life,” and says she wants the Right to Bear Arms to draw on lessons from the NRA and start holding conventions of its own in Russia.

In one post on April 24, 2015, titled, “6 interesting impressions following my trip to the convention of American gun owners rights organization,” Butina praises how the NRA convention that year in Nashville boosted the local economy by bringing in “gun aficionados.”

“Each time, the NRA develops an individual design for the convention, a theme based on the location of the event,” Butina wrote. “Nashville, for example, is renowned as the capital of country music, so that the guitar was selected as this convention’s symbol, country music played for the duration of all the days, and a music festival was held.”

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Parkland student Emma Gonzalez speaks at a rally in February. [Rhona Wise/AFP/Getty Images]

Daily Bulletin: The ‘Parkland Effect’ on Anxiety and Advocacy

Hello, readers. In two new Trace originals today, we examine a couple of post-Parkland trends. First, Daniel Nass compares public comments submitted to the ATF on bump stocks before and after the February attack, and finds tangible evidence that young activists are overcoming gun advocates’ former advantage on direct action. Meanwhile, parents are more fearful for their childrens’ safety now than during the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. Alex Yablon has that story, after today’s news.

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House Democrats wanted to question Maria Butina, but were blocked by Republicans, California Representative Adam Schiff said on CNN. It’s a beef the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee has raised before, but this time he elaborated: He said GOP members worried that bringing the accused Russian spy in for questioning would “tarnish” the National Rifle Association’s image. “We heard credible allegations that the Russians may have been funneling money through the NRA,” Schiff said. “But like many other things, when it got too hot, the Republican reaction was, we don’t want to know, we’d rather not know.”

Republican operative Paul Erickson was in financial trouble during his relationship with Butina, court documents show. A federal arrest affidavit of Maria Butina shows that “U.S. Person 1,” widely believed to be Paul Erickson, was in debt at the time he was working with Butina. Erickson is an NRA member who has raised funds for the group.

Russian officials hoped to meet with Butina on Thursday. In a Facebook post, the Russian embassy wrote that they would provide the Russian national, who is facing espionage charges, “all necessary help” and said the arrest was the result of “anti-Russian hysteria.”

New from The Trace: Gun reformers are gaining tangible grassroots muscle. One measure: a shift in sentiment in the public feedback to the DOJ on its proposed regulation of bump stocks. Daniel Nass analyzed more than 94,000 comments submitted to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Before the Parkland massacre, only 13 percent of comments indicated support for regulating bump stocks. After Parkland, supporters outnumbered opponents nearly three to one. It’s “more evidence that gun regulation advocates are closing the participation gap,” one expert told us.

The Department of Justice is facing a multi-state lawsuit over crime-fighting grants. Six states and New York City are suing the Trump administration for putting immigration-related conditions on federal public safety grants. The lawsuit argues that by imposing conditions that require cities to crack down on immigration, the DOJ is interfering with cities’ abilities to set their own law enforcement policies. Related: The top Trump official at the DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs, which administers the grants, is being transferred to the Transportation Department.

The American Civil Liberties Union makes a case for gun restrictions. The civil rights organization, which does not typically engage in gun debates, published a commentary piece on Tuesday in which one of its senior policy analysts makes a “pro-liberty” case for gun reform. He argues that the intensity of gun ownership has led to greater restrictions on American freedoms, which take the form of increased physical searches, government surveillance, and an increase in police presence and police shootings.

A school district scarred by a shooting is “not interested” in arming teachers. The Indiana district is home to Noblesville West Middle School, where a 13-year-old student injured a classmate and a teacher with a gun this May. At a Wednesday night meeting with parents and community members, school district officials said that they would ban backpacks from classrooms and apply for free handheld metal detectors, but would not arm teachers. “All week long we’ve been training teachers, but we’ve been training them about teaching,” the superintendent said. “I just think that it would be impossible to train teachers to the level (law enforcement) are trained.”

A Maine police chief says the state’s permitless carry law led to an increase in crime in his city. Gun-related crimes are on the rise in Lewiston, Maine, and the police chief blames a 2015 state law that eliminated the need for concealed gun permits: “What used to be a fistfight, now a gun is brought into play,” he said. Context: Read The Trace’s 2017 explainer on the laws, a why they represent a frontier for Second Amendment advocates.

A Michigan school district is stocking classrooms with safety supplies in case of a shooting. The 100-plus “emergency supply buckets,” donated by Walmart, are currently empty, but the district will be crowdsourcing materials like gauze, bandages, and water bottles to fill them.

A 5-year-old girl in New Hampshire was found sleeping with a loaded gun on her chest. Police responding to a report of shots fired found the child sleeping in a bed filled with trash and rotting food, and a loaded handgun sitting on her chest. The girl was taken into foster care. A 13-year-old boy was fatally shot when a gun in his brother’s bed discharged. The Ohio boy’s 17-year-old brother told police that he was in his bed with a gun he had found earlier. When he rolled over, the gun discharged and hit his brother, who was sleeping in the bed next to him. His brother died.

A 7-year-old girl died two weeks after she was shot in the backseat of a car. Taylor Harris of Baltimore, Maryland, succumbed to injuries suffered July 5 and died in a hospital on Thursday morning.


American parents are more worried about school safety now than after Sandy Hook. That’s the big takeaway from a new poll, released this week by Phi Delta Kappa International, a professional organization for teachers, Alex Yablon reports. The poll found that 34 percent of American parents of school-age children fear for their kids’ safety at school, up from 12 percent in 2013 when the last survey on the topic was conducted.

Anxious parents said they would support installing armed security guards in schools, but drew the line at arming teachers. Thirty-six percent said they believed armed teachers would make students less safe, compared to the 26 percent who believed that would make students safer.

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Evacuated middle schoolers wait on a bus outside Noblesville High School after a shooting on May 25 in Noblesville, Indiana. [Getty Images]

American Parents Are More Worried About School Safety Now Than After Sandy Hook

Nearly three times as many American parents fear for their child’s safety at school today than during the immediate aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, according to a poll released this week.

A survey of public attitudes toward school safety commissioned by Phi Delta Kappa International, a professional organization for teachers, found that 34 percent of American parents of school-age children fear for their kids’ safety at school. In 2013, the last time the organization asked parents about the issue, 12 percent of parents said they were worried their kids were unsafe at school.

A majority of parents, 63 percent, opposed arming teachers and school staff, the poll also found. Thirty-six percent said they believed armed teachers would make students less safe, compared to 26 percent who believed that would make students more safe.

The cause for the surge in concern is obvious to Joshua Starr, the CEO of the teachers group. “The Parkland tragedy captured the public attention and stayed in the public domain more than any similar event has, and that’s because of the student-led protests,” Starr said in an interview.

Parents’ fear about school safety has not been as high in a PDK poll since 1998. In the wake of several school shootings that year, PDK found that 38 percent of parents were concerned about physical harm befalling children at school.

The results suggest the public will be receptive to politicians who support stronger gun laws, according to Alexandra Filindra, a political scientist at the University of Illinois, Chicago. She points to a body of political science research, covered in the book Anxious Politics, that shows that worries like those documented by the PDK survey can incline the public towards government action.

“Anxiety is a key factor of support for gun control,” Filindra said. “When people are anxious about things they can’t control, they tend to look to government for solutions. They become more in favor of regulation and ways to handle the problem collectively. “

Not all the demographic groups that responded to the survey were equally worried. Parents who were nonwhite, lived in cities, identified as Democrats or lacked a college degree were all more worried about harm coming to their children than white, rural, Republican, or college-educated parents. Forty-eight percent of parents from households that made $50,000 or less per year said they worried about their children’s safety, compared to just 24 percent of those with six-figure incomes. There was also a gender split among the parents: 40 percent of women were fearful compared to 27 percent of men.

There was broad consensus on how schools can best prevent danger. Clear majorities of parents — 92 percent of Republicans and 75 percent of Democrats — approved of installing more armed police officers in schools. Three quarters of parents endorsed mental health screenings for students.

One educator cautioned that implementing some of these responses could be difficult, however. On a conference call discussing the poll results, Brian Osborne, the superintendent of schools for New Rochelle, New York, said that, this spring, his district proposed hiring new mental health professionals to perform exactly the kind of screening discussed in the PDK poll. Voters overwhelmingly rejected the budget, unwilling to pay the cost.

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Daily Bulletin: Feds Disclose More Evidence on NRA Infiltrator Maria Butina

Hello, readers. Yesterday’s list of revelations about Maria Butina, the accused Russian agent who used the National Rifle Association as a conduit to political influence, was enough to fill its own newsletter. But would the Bulletin stop there? It would not. Let’s dive in.

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NRA infiltrator Maria Butina had ties to Russian intelligence. In a court filing  entered by the Justice Department to support Butina’s pre-trial detention, the government shared more findings from its investigation, alleging that she had ties to Russian operatives while living in the United States and was likely in contact with employees of the Russian FSB intelligence service, the successor to the KGB. The FBI also discovered messages between Butina and her handler, Alexander Torshin, in which Torshin compares Butina to a female Russian spy whose 2010 arrest became a sensation. “You have upstaged Anna Chapman,” the message reads. “She poses with toy pistols, while you are being published with real ones.” The 29-year-old Butina is facing a maximum of 15 years in prison on two charges of conspiracy and acting as a foreign agent. Her lawyer maintains that she is innocent.

The FBI had been watching Butina since 2016. That year, she moved to the United States on a student visa under the guise of studying cybersecurity in a graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C. In 2017, she sought details on a civil rights group’s cyber vulnerabilities for what she said was a school project. The group contacted the FBI after she reached out.

Butina was reputedly romantically involved with the American  conservative operative who assisted her influence campaign. When she was arrested, Butina may have been headed to South Dakota, the home state of her fixer-slash-paramour Paul Erickson, the Washington Post reports. But the government says her relationship with Erickson wasn’t true love: Rather, “she appears to treat [it] as simply a necessary aspect of her activities.” The government also alleges that Butina offered someone from an unnamed “special interest group” sex in exchange for a job that could have secured her a work visa and extended her stay in the United States. Erickson helped pay for Butina’s grad school and did some of her homework for her. Erickson set up an LLC for Butina in South Dakota in 2016, which he has said was to help pay for her studies. But, as the New York Times’ Michelle Goldberg has pointed out, LLCs can also be used as an under-the-radar way for dark money groups to make donations to tax-exempt organizations.

The Federal Election Commission has questioned Butina about “whether certain donations had been made to a political campaign.” That tantalizing disclosure was one of several made during yesterday’s hearing by prosecutors, who hinted that the inquiry into Butina and her associates is wider than the charges brought against her over the weekend. Previous reports have alleged that the FBI is looking into whether Russia funneled money to the NRA to help Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016. The NRA has insisted it has received dues from some Russian nationals, but has taken no political donations from them.


A judge upheld a challenge to California’s ban on high-capacity magazines. In April, gun rights groups successfully sought a preliminary injunction against a California law, which prohibited magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition. The state appealed the decision but was denied on Tuesday, when a panel of judges upheld the temporary block until this fall, when the case will go to trial. Gun rights advocates say they expect the case to be appealed to a higher court regardless of the outcome, but that “by that time, the Supreme Court will likely have a new justice who respects the right to keep and bear arms as protected by the Second Amendment.”

The Navajo Nation tried to buy Remington, but was turned down. In May, the tribe submitted a cash bid of $475 million to $525 million to buy the gunmaker as it emerged from bankruptcy. The tribe planned to shift the company’s focus from consumer guns to defense and police contracts, and to invest in “smart gun” technology. Last week, officials at Remington rejected the bid, saying the company was “not prepared to engage with third parties” and needed more time to reorganize their business.

The Episcopal Church reversed its ban on investing in gun companies. The church is now pushing for “ethical investing” in the firearms industry in order to push for changes that could save lives. “We really feel this is the only way at this point that we have of engaging in this very important issue,” a Massachusetts bishop said. 

The Department of Homeland Security put out a guide for K-12 school security. The guide includes a “school security survey for gun violence” meant to help schools assess their level of security and identify any points of vulnerability. It also presents a list of “evolving products and technologies for consideration,” which includes security cameras, gunshot detection systems, motion detectors, turnstiles, and smoke cannons. The document notes that schools must address the needs of students with disabilities when planning for gun violence. ICYMI: The Secret Service put out its own guidelines last week, which focused more on identifying students’ threatening behavior than on beefing up school security.

A 9-year-old was killed by a stray bullet. Police say the New Jersey girl was in bed when the bullet flew in from the street early Tuesday. She was rushed to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead. “It could have been anybody’s kid who was in their bedroom or anyone in their house,” the police chief said.


NRA report cards are out in Florida. The gun group handed out its letter grades for candidates in Florida’s late August primaries, awarding straight As to 60 Republicans, and doling out an F to 30 Democrats. Among the NRA’s A-rated politicians is Adam Putnam, whose gubernatorial campaign has been plagued by reports that his Department of Agriculture mishandled background checks for concealed carry permits for years, allowing hundreds of prohibited persons to obtain licenses. (Earlier this week, the Tampa Bay Times reported on a 2013 lawsuit in which a former employee raised concerns about the process. In the lawsuit, she says she was threatened with retaliation and that her bosses told her she “worked for the NRA.”) Notably, the NRA has not yet released grades for Florida’s U.S. Senate race. Republican Governor Rick Scott, who is seeking the seat held by Democratic incumbent Senator Bill Nelson, has been a close NRA ally, but enraged the group’s famously vindictive lobbyist, Marion Hammer, by pushing for and signing gun restrictions after Parkland.

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[Ethan Miller/Getty Images]

Daily Bulletin: MGM Resorts International Sues Las Vegas Massacre Survivors

Hello, readers.  In today’s briefing: More than 1,000 victims of the Las Vegas massacre are facing another hurdle: a lawsuit from the company that owns the Mandalay Bay Hotel. Plus, a change by the Treasury Department will keep the NRA’s biggest donors in the shadows. Those stories and more, below.

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Accused Russian agent Maria Butina appeared in court. At the hearing on Tuesday, Butina’s lawyer asked a judge to release her and argued that the Russian national is not a flight risk, noting that she remained in Washington after federal agents searched her home in April. Within minutes, the judge ruled that Butina should be held for at least three more days, until her next court date. Get up to speed on Maria Butina: For profiles of the 29-year-old gun rights activist, read this from the Daily Beast, this from Rolling Stone, and this from the TimesHere’s our updated photo timeline of Butina’s meetings with National Rifle Association leaders and prominent Republican politicians.

The NRA is among the nonprofits no longer required to disclose financial donors to the Internal Revenue Service, due to a change the Treasury Department announced Monday. The change allows donors who contribute “dark money” to political groups like the NRA to remain anonymous. Traditional charities that take tax-exempt funding still have to disclose their financial supporters. Earlier this month, McClatchy DC reported that investigators examining the NRA’s ties to Russia may have accessed the gun group’s tax returns without notifying the group of an investigation.

MGM Resorts International is suing the survivors of the Las Vegas massacre. On Monday, MGM filed federal lawsuits against more than 1,000 mass shooting victims in an effort to shield itself from liability. The company owns the Mandalay Bay Hotel, the site of the deadliest mass shootings in modern American history. “I’ve never seen a more outrageous thing,” a lawyer representing several of the victims told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

At least two children died in two separate quadruple shootings Monday night. Several men opened fire on a Washington, D.C., crowd, killing a young girl and injuring three adults. The girl had just celebrated her 10th birthday. “All of the hopes and dreams that her family had for her are gone,” a police official said. The same night, in Philadelphia, a 14-year-old boy was killed and three other youths wounded when two shooters opened fire on the boys, one of whom was only 11 years old. “It’s probably related to some neighborhood dispute, as it often is with kids this young,” a police captain said.

More Texas students have been charged with making terroristic threats than in any year since Sandy Hook, an analysis from the Marshall Project found. According to Texas Juvenile Justice Department data, police departments saw a spike in referrals from schools after Parkland. The surge raises concerns for people who believe that schools with a zero-tolerance approach could have unintended consequences for the very students they are trying to protect.

A manhunt in Houston ended with the arrest of a “possible serial killer.” Police said that there were “strong indications” that the 46-year-old suspect was involved in three deadly shootings that left three people dead in four days. Two of those shootings took place in local mattress stores. The man is also a suspect in the nonfatal shooting of a bus driver on Monday and a home invasion robbery earlier this month.

At a candidate forum last week, an Arizona Senate candidate described shooting his mother in self-defense. Bobby Wilson told a group of gun reform advocates that he supported “a good guy there with a gun” over gun restrictions. To bolster his point, he told the story of how he shot and killed his mother in self-defense as a teenager. “You can pass all the laws you want to in this world, and when you’ve got somebody out there that wants to harm somebody, they’re going to do it if you don’t stop them,” Wilson told the audience. Wilson was seated beside his opponent, Representative Daniel Hernandez, who is credited with saving the life of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords when she was shot outside a supermarket in 2011. Hernandez described the forum as “bizarre.”

A pregnant woman was killed and two children injured in a Florida shooting. A 10-month-old and a 13-year-old were transported to the hospital with gunshot wounds after a drive-by shooting in Orange County on Sunday killed a 21-year-old expectant mother.


How Maria Butina talked about guns. The accused Russian spy Maria Butina had an easy ice breaker with America’s conservative establishment: her fervent belief in armed self-defense. In a handful of media appearances, she said her mission was to change both Russian gun laws and her countrymen’s attitudes toward firearms. In a new post, Alex Yablon pulls some key quotes from those media appearances. The language about citizens arming themselves may sound familiar — the National Rifle Association has used similar rhetoric for decades.

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Maria Butina in Moscow in 2013. [AP Photo]

Accused Russian Spy Maria Butina Used NRA-Style Rhetoric to Connect With American Conservatives

The federal indictment of the accused Kremlin spy Maria Butina lays out how the 29-year-old operative infiltrated groups like the National Rifle Association in an attempt to push U.S. politics in a more Russia-friendly direction. American conservatives and Republicans, she told an American associate in an exchange recounted in an FBI affidavit, have been “traditionally associated with negative and aggressive foreign policy, especially with regards to Russia.” Her mission was to change that attitude.

We don’t yet know exactly what Butina said to the many prominent Republican politicians and NRA leaders she is known to have met. But there are some clues that gun politics were central to her approach. The Washington Post reported that she brought up gun rights before asking to exchange business cards and contact information.

In a handful of appearances in conservative media, Butina spun a common cause between American and Russian right-wingers, one based on shared ideas of gun rights. At the core of her influence campaign was the ideology of armed self-defense.

Butina touted her work as the founder of Right to Bear Arms, a Russian gun rights group, which she launched in 2011. Speaking with the conservative writer Eric Metaxas in 2015, Butina traced her embrace of gun rights to her rural upbringing:

I was born in Siberia, and my father was a hunter. In Siberia, lots of people own guns. It’s a question of survival. It’s not just hunting — there are wild animals … wolves.

With Right to Bear Arms, as she shared with longtime right-wing activist Grover Norquist in a 2016 podcast interview, when Norquist was still on the NRA’s board of directors, her goal was to ultimately create a Russian legal right to lethal self-defense. That right does not exist in that country’s legal code:

In Russia, very few people have guns and it’s a very hard procedure [to get one]. Mostly it’s shotguns for hunting, a few rifles, and so it’s very hard to get. You have to go to the police to get special permission. … We don’t have pistols, we don’t have revolvers. This is one of the points of our organization to fight. We do have special guns for concealed carry, believe it or not, with rubber bullets. This cannot kill the criminal … It’s ineffective. Our police use real pistols. Why do you give to the citizens different guns? Do they meet different criminals?

But as Butina explained, many of her fellow Russians weren’t yet ready to be “good guys with guns.”

Russians, especially those over 55 years, don’t want to defend themselves at all. They believe that if they become a pure victim and do nothing the criminal will feel sorry about this. No! Please watch all movies, thrillers and so on. It never works. If you give up and tell all the truth, you will be killed.

Butina added that in her homeland she had some early success working with her longtime boss and associate, Alexander Torshin, who had served in the Russian legislature and became a life member of the NRA. With their encouragement, she said, the legislature had passed a law that would create a Russian version of “castle doctrine,” codifying the idea that people can respond to threats with deadly force in their own home. President Vladimir Putin did not ultimately sign the measure into law, yet she declared the effort a victory:

For our group it was a huge success. A couple of years before, it was thought only crazy people wanted guns. [After the proposal was introduced] It became one of the most discussed questions in Russia.

Finally, borrowing another theme from American gun proponents, she also connected armed self-defense to a deeper national heritage.

[Designer of the AK-47 rifle] Mikhail Kalashnikov told young Russian people, if you use a gun, the number one purpose is self-defense. He was NRA life member. He visited America several times, and his dream was that we will have in Russia an organization like the NRA…he promotes gun rights inside Russian government, telling them, ‘Look guys, this is not dangerous. You can give people the right to defend themselves, they feel more happier…when they are waiting for police, they try to make the government responsible for them to defend them, but the government cannot.’

In reality, Russians had few individual rights. But Butina argued that their national heroes wanted them to own and use firearms freely.

Butina’s approach struck American conservative figures as novel and interesting. As Norquist said when he introduced the interview with her, “I’m a little bit surprised to learn people have any guns in Russia or that there’s a group that’s allowed to campaign for what we would call Second Amendment rights. I guess it’s probably not called Second Amendment rights in Russia.”

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The crowd on Pennsylvania Avenue before the "March for Our Lives" rally on Saturday, March 24, 2018, in Washington. [AP Photo/Alex Brandon]

Daily Bulletin: March for Our Lives Is Headed to the NRA’s Headquarters

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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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 Magazinereported 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.


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.

Alleged Russian Spy Maria Butina and the NRA: A Photographic History

Maria Butina, a Russian national who launched that country’s version of the National Rifle Association — and hosted American gun rights advocates in Moscow in 2013 — was charged on Monday with spying for the Russian government.

Butina has claimed she was involved in communications between Russia and the Trump campaign, a connection senators are now investigating. (Here’s what we know so far about the NRA’s reported role as a channel for Russian overtures to the Trump campaign.)

The Department of Justice has charged Butina, 29, with “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 with which she successfully cultivated ties.

The arrest of Butina is the most dramatic development yet in the government’s investigation of the NRA’s relationship with Russia. Here’s what we know about her history with the highest-ranking executives of the gun group:

In 2011, Butina was introduced to the NRA’s then-president David A. Keene, in her role as an aide to the powerful Russian politician Alexander Torshin. Butina posed with Keene when Torshin hosted him in Moscow in 2013.

The next year, Keene invited Butina to attend the 2014 NRA convention in Indianapolis, where she met with the gun lobby’s top leaders, including Wayne LaPierre.

At the convention, former NRA President Sandy Froman invited Butina to a women’s luncheon. Jim Porter, who succeeded Keene as president in 2013, presented her with a plaque.

For Butina, the now-alleged Russian spy, the NRA gathering was a veritable buffet of conservative networking. Here she is with then-Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.

The photo of Butina and Jindal appears to have been taken while she attended an event for the NRA’s Ring of Freedom, the gun group’s million-dollar donors.

Also at the 2014 NRA convention, Butina was invited to ring the NRA’s replica of the Liberty Bell. “This is a rare privilege,” she tweeted.

After the convention, Butina visited the NRA’s headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia. From the timeline of one of her Russian social media accounts:

Here’s Butina posing outside NRA headquarters with Keene:

Here she is at the NRA’s private shooting range.

Butina also attended the NRA convention in Nashville in 2015, a trip she documented in detail on her Facebook page.

At the convention, she met Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who, she writes, said hello to her in Russian. Here’s a photo of Walker flanked by Torshin and Butina, from one of Butina’s social media accounts:

In December 2015, Butina and Torshin hosted Keene in Moscow for a second time, along with future NRA president Pete Brownell; Joe Gregory, head of the NRA’s Ring of Freedom program; NRA benefactor Dr. Arnold Goldschlager and his daughter, Hilary Goldschlager, an NRA Women’s Leadership Forum executive committee member; and then-Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who’s been a spokesperson for the group. Also at the gathering: Russian journalist Pavel Gusev, a confidant of Russian president Vladimir Putin. 

In 2016, Butina told ThinkProgress that there are no financial ties between the NRA and gun rights organization she founded in Russia: “I’m sorry to disappoint you but there is no international conspiracy at work.”

But there may yet be more to this story: The FBI has reportedly been investigating whether the Kremlin funneled money through the NRA to help the Trump campaign. And CNN reported in April that the NRA has been preparing documents and bracing for further scrutiny from the feds. For the most complete profiles of Butina to date, read this from the Daily Beast, this from ThinkProgress, this from Rolling Stone, and this from Mother Jones.

One of the last photos Butina publicly posted on her Facebook page is this 2017 snap of her and Torshin at the Washington Hilton in D.C. It was likely taken while she joined conservative luminaries at the hotel for the National Prayer Breakfast, which Butina claimed Putin might attend.

The Washington Hilton is sometimes ruefully referred to as the Hinckley Hilton, after the gunman who opened fire on President Ronald Reagan in an attempted assassination in 1981. Reagan’s press secretary, James Brady, was paralyzed in the shooting, setting in motion the slow-moving reform bill that led to the creation of the modern gun background check system.

NRA Draws Formal FEC Complaint from Campaign Finance Watchdog

The Campaign Legal Center, one of Washington’s top election spending watchdogs, filed a formal complaint Monday morning with the Federal Election Commission asserting that there is “reason to believe” that the National Rifle Association violated campaign finance laws in four key Senate races in the 2014 and 2016 election cycles. The Legal Center is asking the regulator to conduct an “immediate investigation” of the NRA’s election activities, and seek “appropriate sanctions.”

“There is substantial evidence that the NRA funneled millions through a shell corporation to unlawfully coordinate with candidates it was backing,” Brendan Fischer, the director of the Legal Center, said in a press release.

The Legal Center’s complaint is based on an investigation published on July 13 by The Trace and Politico Magazine, which details the gun group’s relationship with its top election contractor, Starboard Strategic Inc. The vendor began appearing in the NRA’s campaign finance reports during the 2014 election cycle, and shares offices and leadership with the election communications and ad firm OnMessage Inc., which has worked for Senate candidates in campaigns in which the NRA has also been active.

All told, the NRA has paid Starboard more than $60 million to try to sway federal elections. Other than the NRA spending, FEC records show a small single payment — less than $20,000 — from one other client, the National Republican Senate Committee.

“This report raises troubling new questions about whether the NRA and its consultants were illegally funneling dark money through a shell company,” said Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat. “The FEC should thoroughly investigate whether Starboard was created as an end-run around federal election laws.”

If the FEC proceeds with an inquiry and concludes that the NRA’s conduct was unlawful, the gun group could face steep fines.

The Trace and Politico’s investigation found no clear or meaningful distinction between Starboard and OnMessage Inc. The partners at OnMessage established Starboard in 2013, in advance of the coming elections. In addition to shared officers and addresses, internal emails indicate executives toggled between roles for both the firms. An ex-employee of OnMessage, who requested anonymity out of a fear of professional reprisals, could not remember Starboard having its own staff, or other distinct presence. “I don’t recall anything within our office that was called or associated with Starboard,” the former employee said, “beyond some Starboard-labeled thumb-drives.”

During the 2014 election cycle, OnMessage served as the top campaign consultant to three Republican Senatorial candidates: Thom Tillis, in North Carolina; Tom Cotton, in Arkansas; and Cory Gardner, in Colorado. Each was challenging a Democratic incumbent, and each paid the firm between $5 million and $8 million dollars.

During those same races, the NRA paid Starboard for ads in support of those candidates, all of whom ultimately won election.

A similar arrangement played out in 2016, when OnMessage worked for the campaign of Ron Johnson, who was running for Senate in Wisconsin against Russ Feingold, the Democratic incumbent. Johnson, like the others, was victorious.

“The NRA using inside information about a candidate’s strategy to create ‘independent’ ads supporting him creates an unfair advantage, and it violates the law,” said Fisher.

Outside groups like the NRA can independently spend unlimited sums of money to influence elections — but they face strict contribution limits when giving directly to a candidate.

If an outside group and a campaign use the same vendor, then employees working for either client must be prevented from sharing information. Without a firewall in place, any spending by the outside group is no longer independent, and therefore cannot exceed $5,000. The NRA paid Starboard millions for ads in the three key 2014 Senate races, and almost $200,000 for work on the 2016 contest.

After reviewing our findings, two former FEC chairs — Republican Trevor Potter, and Democrat Ann Ravel — independently came to the same conclusion: “The FEC should investigate.” The complaint by the Campaign Legal Center could lead to such an inquiry. The next step will be for the commission to ensure that the complaint meets the appropriate legal standards. If so, the agency will then give the NRA a chance to respond.

The NRA did not respond to a request for comment, and has ignored both interview requests and written questions seeking information on its use of Starboard in high-priority elections. OnMessage also did not respond to an inquiry about the watchdog’s complaint.

Daily Bulletin: Before Deadly Shooting Spree, a Gunman Tried to Buy a Silencer

Hello, readers. A Texas man has been arrested for killing one and injuring two in a shooting spree — after he tried to buy a silencer. The National Rifle Association is throwing its weight into Georgia’s divisive GOP gubernatorial runoff. And a prominent NRA lobbyist in Florida has filed suit over alleged harassment and threats. Those stories and more in your Monday morning roundup.

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A former state political staffer has been arrested for a shooting rampage in South Austin, Texas. Charles Curry, 29, attempted to buy a gun suppressor shortly before he opened fire on a highway last Wednesday, injuring two women. (An employee told officers Curry was turned away because he was acting “very strangely.”) Curry has also been charged with the shooting death of his neighbor, 32-year-old Christian Meroney, earlier in the week. Since he moved to Texas two years ago, Curry had worked in three different political posts in the Capitol, and was fired from all of them. Curry is not the first serial shooter known to have sought silencers for his arsenal: South Carolina murderer got his hands on silencers through a straw purchaser, and a Louisiana man arrested for killing black pedestrians was waiting for his silencer application to be processed at the time of his arrest.

Maryland school shooting survivors are partnering up with Capital Gazette survivors for a gun-reform rally next weekend. In March, Jaelynn Willey was fatally wounded by her ex-boyfriend when he opened fire at their southern Maryland high school. Three months later, five Capital staffers were fatally shot in their newsroom about 70 miles away. Now, Willey’s classmates and other students across the state are planning a rally for this Saturday, calling on Republican Governor Larry Hogan to pass a law requiring gun owners to keep their weapons locked up, among other measures. Capital reporter and shooting survivor Selene San Felice will speak at the rally.

After a police shooting sparked protests in Chicago, police rush to show the victim was carrying a gun. Tense demonstrations erupted across the city on Saturday night; by the next day, police Superintendent Eddie Johnson ordered the release of a portion of body cam footage appearing to show that Harith Augustus, 37, was armed during the confrontation with patrol officers that ended with him fatally shot. Police watchdogs praised the Chicago Police Department’s release of the footage, but said a full review will be necessary in order to determine whether the use of deadly force was justified.

Prominent NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer has filed a $1 million lawsuit against four individuals she claimed harassed and threatened her. The defendants include a California-based mediator named Lol Sorensen and others who allegedly emailed her profanity-laced threats and graphic images of shooting victims, according to the claim. The alleged harassment occurred after the Parkland shooting, and includes accusations from private individuals that she was responsible for the students’ death, the lawsuit states. In an email to the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper in April, Hammer said she’s long been the subject of death threats but “it is so ugly this time.”

The new president of the NRA spent the weekend campaigning for  Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle of Georgia, who’s hoping to clinch the GOP gubernatorial nomination in a runoff. Cagle secured the NRA’s endorsement back in April, after he successfully opposed a large tax break for Delta, which is based in Atlanta, because the airline decided to stop offering discounts to NRA members amid the #boycottNRA movement that took off in February. Incoming NRA president Oliver North stumped for Cagle — whom he said “stood with the NRA when we were under attack by the far left” — at three events on Saturday in advance of the July 24 runoff, when Cagle will face Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

A judge ruled that the FBI agent whose gun discharged in a Denver bar after he did a backflip can continue to carry his service weapon. Chase Bishop turned himself in after he was charged with one count of second-degree assault for the early June incident, in which another bar patron was injured by the errant bullet. A video of the accidental shooting went viral. Pending trial, Bishop’s protective order has been amended to allow him to carry his FBI-issued gun on and off the job.

A Connecticut man was arrested for fatally shooting his ex-girlfriend’s current boyfriend in the Bronx. Juan Flores, 49, was shot in the lobby of his apartment building on Saturday morning, as he was heading out to take his dog on a walk. Police identified the suspect as Jose Quinones using the building’s surveillance camera footage. Quinones was arrested on Sunday and police are continuing to investigate the incident.


She voted for Trump. Now she’s looking for a candidate who pledges to fight for tougher gun laws. In a report about a special election in an Ohio Congressional district held by Republicans for three decades, the New York Times captured an exchange between the Democratic candidate, Danny O’Connor, and one member of a fascinating constituency worth watching as midterm races heat up: suburban women who broke for Donald Trump in 2016 but now make gun reform a litmus test. From the article, lightly condensed for brevity:

“When [Lisa] Halliday asked him his stance on gun control, things got brighter fast. Mr. O’Connor said he favored an assault weapons ban, along with preventing people with domestic violence records and mental illness issues from having guns.

‘Do you take money from the N.R.A.?’ she asked. ‘No,’ Mr. O’Connor replied. ‘I have an ‘F’ rating from the N.R.A.’

With that, Ms. Halliday said she would vote for Mr. O’Connor.”

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Daily Bulletin: No Money for CDC Gun Research, House Republicans Say

Hello, readers. We’re finishing off the week with a deep dive on the National Rifle Associations’s favorite campaign consulting firm. You’ll want to stick around for the kicker. That investigation, and more, in today’s briefing.

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A new investigation from The Trace’s Mike Spies digs into the mystery firm that came out of nowhere to become the NRA’s top election consultant. In a report published this morning in collaboration with Politico Magazine, Mike unravels the origins of Starboard Strategic, which appears in Federal Election Commission filings as the gun group’s go-to outfit for swaying key political races, yet has virtually no other clients. Public records, internal emails, and an ex-employee show that Starboard overlaps extensively with a well-established and well-connect agency known as OnMessage — whose team has made ads for Republican candidates in the same elections the NRA spends heavily to influence. Mike shared his findings with two ex-FEC chairs, one a Republican, the other a Democrat. They independently came to the same conclusion: “The FEC should investigate.” Please click through to read the full story.

The Secret Service released guidelines for preventing school shootings. The report outlines eight steps schools can take to conduct threat assessments, meant to identify students who might pose a risk of violence. Although the report acknowledges that “there is no profile of a student attacker,” it encourages school staff to look out for “inappropriate interests” and “bizarre” communications. Schools are advised to facilitate ways for the student body to surveil itself, such as anonymous tip lines and e-mail forms. The report also recommends “asking the family or law enforcement to block the student’s access to weapons.”

Meanwhile, the federal school safety commission discussed privacy laws and mental health. The panel discussed whether privacy laws like the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act prevent educators from openly sharing information about students. The commission also considered the impact of psychotropic drugs like Ritalin on students’ mental health and safety. After the Santa Fe school shooting, incoming NRA president Oliver North cited a link between Ritalin and school violence, despite lack of evidence.

… And students protested the Department of Education’s school security grant programs. Youth organizers gathered in Washington, D.C., on Thursday to call for the removal of metal detectors and police from schools and for that funding to be diverted to restorative justice and mental health programs.

A bill in Congress would ban people convicted of animal cruelty from owning firearms. The bill, introduced by Massachusetts Democrat Katherine Clark on Thursday, is modeled on legislation that bars domestic abusers from accessing guns. “There is a well-documented link between animal abuse and future violence,” the congresswoman explained. “From Columbine to Parkland to Sutherland Springs, these perpetrators of mass gun violence had a history of animal abuse, and addressing this pattern of behavior is part of the solution when it comes to preventing gun violence and saving lives.”

A Utah movie theater canceled a March for Our Lives town hall. The Larry H. Miller Megaplex Theatres said Wednesday that they will no longer host the event because of what “appears to be escalating into a potentially contentious situation where additional security will be required.” As we highlighted in yesterday’s newsletter, a Utah gun company has been trailing the Parkland activists on their tour in a very large armored vehicle.

“Unite the Right” organizers vowed not to allow armed paramilitary activity at future demonstrations. The consent decree is meant to prevent them from repeating “the organized and intimidating displays of paramilitary power that led to chaos, fear, and violent confrontations in the city streets last year” at a planned anniversary rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, said the lawyer who brought suit on behalf of the city and local businesses. Because Virginia is an open-carry state, individual white supremacists would still be able to openly carry firearms.
A leading police organization is launching a center to study mass violence. The Police Foundation will research how law enforcement can better respond to mass shootings and other terrorist attacks. “As threats constantly evolve, it is critical that we continuously evaluate protocols to ensure our communities remain as safe as possible,” the foundation’s president said.

A retired New Hampshire police officer is on a mission to get his state a red flag law. The 22-year veteran of the Keene, New Hampshire, police department is drafting an extreme-risk protection order bill that is less extensive than similar bills in other states, which allow family or household members, in addition to law enforcement, to petition a court for the removal of weapons from gun owners at risk of harm. “In this bill,” he says, “the investigation is conducted by professionals, not family members who are emotionally involved.”

Louisville, Tennessee, passed an ordinance making it illegal to discharge a gun in some parts of the city. The measure, which prohibits firing weapons within 100 yards of homes, public parks, schools, churches, or public roads, is facing opposition from gun rights advocates. The Louisville mayor says its intended to improve public safety.

California gun groups are suing over the state’s gun registration system. The lawsuit, filed Wednesday, alleges that errors with the system prevented gun owners from registering their assault weapons before the July 1 deadline. They say they are now at risk of criminalization under a 2017 law that changed the definition of an assault weapon and required Californians in possession of weapons that incorporate a so-called bullet button to register them with the state.

A man who planned a Charleston copycat attack was sentenced to 33 months in prison. The 31-year-old white supremacist from South Carolina says he idolized the gunman who killed nine people in a historically black church in 2015, and was planning a similar attack. The man, who was prohibited from purchasing a gun because of a burglary conviction, was arrested after buying a gun from an undercover FBI agent. A behavioral specialist wrote a letter to the court asking for the man to receive mental health treatment while incarcerated.

A Denver woman was sentenced to nearly five years in prison for firing a gun at a Dakota Access Pipeline protest. The 39-year-old member of the Ogala Sioux tribe was sentenced on Wednesday for firing a handgun three times during a 2016 protest in North Dakota. No one was injured.

A Texas woman was fatally shot by her husband less than a week after leaving him, Houston police say. The woman’s body was found Thursday morning in the parking lot of an assisted living facility, where authorities say she was working as an attendant. Reminder: Once every 16 hours, an American woman is fatally shot by a current or former romantic partner.


House Republicans rejected a proposal to fund gun violence research. GOP members of the House Appropriations Committee said they did not want to politicize the spending bill by granting $10 million to the Centers for Disease Control for gun violence research and argued that the agency is “free to research anything they care to research.”

In March, Congress passed a federal funding bill that clarified that the CDC “has the authority to conduct research on the causes of gun violence,” but gun researchers said that clarification amounts to very little if not matched with actual funding. “It falls woefully short of what is needed,” one Harvard professor told The Trace.

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Daily Bulletin: Texas Professors Want to Revive a “Campus Carry” Challenge

Hello, readers. In today’s briefing: Trace reporter Alex Yablon gets the inside story from the Republican sponsor of a Pennsylvania gun bill facing opposition from the National Rifle Association, even though the NRA’s fingerprints are all over it. You’ll find that news and more, below.

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A legal settlement opens the door for 3D-printed, unregulated guns. The Second Amendment Foundation announced this week that they had reached a settlement in a 2015 federal lawsuit in which the gun rights group claimed that regulating digital gun blueprints violated the free speech of Cody Wilson, the founder of a 3-D printed gun company. The decision opens the door to the specs for 3-D printed “ghost guns” to be distributed online with virtually no regulation. “What’s about to happen is a Cambrian explosion of the digital content related to firearms,” Wilson told Wired.

Gun groups are pushing for Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation. In a press release, Gun Owners of America writes that they are “optimistic that Judge Brett Kavanaugh will be a huge improvement over retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy” on the Second Amendment. They also write that they’ve used his dissent in Heller II, in which he argued against a Washington, D.C., handgun ban, as a model to follow in their legal briefs. Meanwhile: The NRA released an ad depicting those who oppose Kavanaugh’s confirmation as “deranged” and “unhinged.”

Texas professors want to revive a “campus carry” challenge. The University of Texas professors behind a 2015 lawsuit alleging that laws that allow guns on campus inhibit free speech have asked a federal appeals court to put the case up for reconsideration. Last year, a federal judge dismissed the suit for insufficient evidence. In September, six professors in Georgia, another “campus carry” state, launched a similar lawsuit.

The American Medical Association wants to “restart the science of firearm injury prevention.” On Wednesday, the American Foundation for Firearm Injury Reduction in Medicine (AFFIRM) announced its partnership with the doctors’ group in a new gun research effort. Last month, AMA delegates voted to endorse a slate of gun reform policy recommendations, including expanding background checks; increasing the legal age to purchase firearms and ammunition to 21; and banning bump stocks, assault weapons, and high-capacity magazines. From The Trace archives: Meet Dr. Megan Ranney, the emergency physician and researcher heading up the new effort. 

A giant armored vehicle casts a shadow on the Parkland activists’ rallies. The co-owner of a Utah-based online gun marketplace is following the Florida shooting survivors on their voter registration bus tour and staging counter-protests. His mode of transportation: a giant military-style vehicle described by The Salt Lake Tribune as “a rolling armored billboard” for the company. “It’s not very tasteful to bring a tank to a march for peace,” one of the students told a Tribune reporter.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas students are suing Broward County. The 15 plaintiffs in  the lawsuit, filed Wednesday, include Parkland students and their families, who are seeking compensation for psychological trauma. They allege that law enforcement and school employees failed to keep them safe.

New York City invests millions in gun violence prevention. On Tuesday, the Mayor’s Office to Prevent Gun Violence announced $34 million in new initiatives to reduce gun violence, including four new crisis management centers that will offer social services like job training and conflict mediation.

Arkansas lawmakers consider arming teachers. State legislators heard from advocates on both sides of the issue during a committee meeting this week. One of those arguing in favor of arming teachers was John Lott, a controversial researcher whose work has been celebrated by the National Rifle Association. Armed teachers, he said, are preferable to school resource officers, who have “an amazingly boring job” with high turnover and uniforms that make them easy targets. Background: Lott’s work has come under scrutiny from respected academics, including conservative researchers, and his arguments have largely been debunked.

Some Arizona police are mounting AR-15s on their motorcycles. The sheriff for Tempe says the move is the result of an arms race with criminals. “There are people that may be scared to see it,” the sheriff said. “However when we explain to them the reason why we have it I think it puts them a little bit more at ease.”

A 15-year-old in Iowa was arrested on terrorism charges for a Snapchat threat. The teenager admitted to posting a photo of eight long guns with the message “Ready for school 7 can join me.” Police searched his home and recovered the weapons.

A 5-year-old in Virginia shot himself with his mother’s gun. Police say the boy pulled the weapon from his mom’s purse while she was driving him to a doctor’s appointment on Tuesday. As his mother talked on the phone, he started playing with the gun and unintentionally shot himself in the wrist. Meanwhile, in Texas, a 3-year-old unintentionally shot himself in the abdomen on Wednesday with a gun he found on his mom’s bed.


To appease the NRA, a state lawmaker watered down his red flag bill. The NRA came out against it anyway, Alex Yablon reports. After Todd Stephens, a Republican state representative from Pennsylvania, introduced an extreme risk protection order bill earlier this year, he consulted with an NRA lobbyist, who pushed him to relax some of the bill’s provisions. But despite Stephens’ efforts to placate the NRA, the group turned on him. The day after Stephens filed a bill incorporating the NRA’s suggestions, the group sent its Pennsylvania members an alert, urging them to ask their representatives not to pass the proposal.

Although Stephens says he’s “disappointed with the NRA’s final position,” he’s not giving up on his bill, which he notes could save lives by allowing law enforcement to take weapons from people in crisis. “There’s some good data supporting these laws.”