Rounds

News and notes on guns in America

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President Donald Trump stands with the NRA's Wayne LaPierre and Chris Cox at the gun group's annual convention in 2018. [AP/Evan Vucc]

Daily Bulletin: A Congressman Called on the IRS to Investigate the NRA’s Tax-Exempt Status

Good morning, Bulletin readers. Police officers have a hard time discerning real guns from replicas, an error that can have fatal consequences. Meanwhile, gun companies pad their revenues by licensing copies of their products to toy gun companies. That story — The Trace debut for investigative journalist Alain Stephens — leads your end-of-week briefing.

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NEW FROM THE TRACE

Gunmakers profit from toy replicas that can get kids killed. Gun companies have long cut lucrative licensing deals with toy manufacturers, allowing their products to be reproduced, contributor Alain Stephens discovered in this report, co-published with Vice. And in the half-decade since the fatal police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who wielded an airsoft gun at a park in Cleveland, little has been done to rein in the spread of these ultra-realistic replicas. Alain identified 33 gun manufacturers that continue to allow airsoft companies to use their brands and likenesses to produce replicas targeted at kids.

Can you tell the difference between a real gun and a toy? Some replica airsoft guns share the same branding, materials, and even weight as their real-life counterparts; the only difference is that they shoot plastic BBs. Take this quiz compiled by data and graphics editor Daniel Nass to see if you can discern deadly guns from their doppelgängers.

WHAT TO KNOW TODAY

A Congressman called on the IRS to investigate the NRA’s tax-exempt status. The letter from Democratic Representative Bradley Schneider of the House Ways and Means Committee is the latest inquiry sparked by our investigation of the National Rifle Association’s spending and business practices, pursued in partnership with The New Yorker. At a hearing on Wednesday, Schneider pressed J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, about self-dealing in a tax-exempt organization that Schneider then revealed to be the NRA. George testified that the behaviors Schneider described were “definitely” worthy of an official inquiry.

Related: Two states are suing the IRS and Treasury Department over a rule that veils the identities of “dark money” contributors to certain tax-exempt groups. New York and New Jersey filed suit in U.S. District Court on Monday to overturn a policy that allows groups like the NRA to avoid a donor disclosure requirement. According to the suit, the agencies have ignored repeated requests for information about the new rule.

Florida’s governor signed a bill that allows more guns in schools. The law, which Republican Governor Ron DeSantis signed Wednesday, expands the school guardian program created after the Parkland shooting by allowing classroom teachers to carry guns after undergoing training from a sheriff’s office. 

Activist shareholders demanded smart gun development at Ruger’s annual shareholder meeting. The company’s CEO deflected the questions by claiming guns that only activate for their owners would be a financial loser. “While people think there is often a great market for ‘smart guns,’ or user-authorized technology, we are not seeing it,” Christopher Killoy said. Last year, religious shareholder activists voted to compel the gunmaker to produce a report on reputational risks associated with gun violence.

A New York appeals court tossed a negligence lawsuit against a gun dealer. Daniel Williams, a college basketball prospect when he was shot on a Buffalo playground, had sued the Ohio firearms dealer who had sold 182 firearms, including the crime weapon, to a trafficker at an Ohio gun show. The buyers told the dealer they were thinking of opening their own gun store; instead, they sold them illegally  on the streets of the city. The Court of Appeals ruled in a 4-3 decision that there wasn’t enough evidence that the dealer knowingly abetted gun trafficking.

Colorado teens walked out of a vigil for victims because it was “politicized.” Hundreds of STEM School Highlands Ranch students left the event on Wednesday night because the speakers were advocating for gun reform. The event, held in the school’s gym, was hosted by the Brady Campaign and billed as a vigil to honor Kendrick Castillo, a student who died tackling one of the gunmen. Some teens chanted “mental health, mental health” in response to the calls for stricter gun laws. The area has a sizable pro-gun rights constituency: Officials in Douglas County, where the school is located, voted not to enforce the state’s recently passed red flag law. But the sheriff, a Republican, advocated for it because five of his officers were shot, one fatally, in 2017 by a person whose mother had tried to disarm him but legally couldn’t. The sheriff now faces a recall.

ONE LAST THING

What a school shooting lockdown sounds like. Cami Brainard, whose son, Owen, is an eighth-grader at STEM School Highlands Ranch in Colorado, shared a minute-long audio clip he recorded while hunkered down in the dark during Tuesday’s shooting, which left one student dead and seven others wounded. In the clip, an automated recording — “Attention, please. Lockdown. Locks. Lights. Out of sight” — plays over and over as police can be heard yelling in the background. “They found him,” a child whispers. Then, two gunshots. The children do not react. “I don’t want to be responsible for added trauma,” Brainard wrote on Facebook, explaining her apprehension about posting the footage. But she told CNN, “I think the more people are forced to see these things, the more people realize that it can happen to them.”