How much do they really help to fund the NRA and similar anti-gun control groups and how? Are there other blue chip venture firms — run perhaps by people who otherwise proudly grace the financial or even the society pages for their charitable activities — tied up in the industry?

What are their most profitable products? Do the same players sell the armor-piercing bullets and the multi-round magazines now under attack from the gun controllers? How has the recent surge in gun sales and this related equipment (apparently because gun enthusiasts are afraid their right to purchase it is going to be curtailed) boosted their profits? Is the NRA’s “slippery slope” argument that President Obama’s limited proposals are the beginning of a gun confiscation program part of an industry-inspired campaign to boost sales by encouraging a run on all guns before confiscation happens? Can someone find some sources inside the companies to tell us about that or maybe even provide strategy memos?

This Huffington Post article spotlights the National Shooting Sports Foundation (based, ironically, in Newtown) as the industry’s primary trade association. Its 2011 tax return shows no expenses for lobbying but $2.5 million in 2011 for “government relations.” What exactly are its activities in Washington and state capitols? Are there other trade associations or groups that fund the industry’s advocacy in Washington? The foundation doesn’t appear to have given any money to the NRA, but to what extent do the individual companies or perhaps some other industry-related group fund the NRA and through what channels?

This piece, also from the Huffington Post, asserts that “the NRA is primarily a front group for the nation’s gun manufacturers.” But the NRA’s tax return for 2010 (the 2011 return seems long overdue, which is itself an interesting line of inquiry) only lists $58.5 million in “contributions, gifts, grants,” whereas $100.5 million is recorded for “membership dues.” That’s still $50 million that could be from the gun makers, and there’s also $20.9 million in advertising revenue (most of which is presumably for the NRA’s monthly magazine) that probably comes mostly from the industry. But those are simply hints from a two-year-old tax return. It would be great to see a full, detailed picture of who the gun industry is, how much money they make on what, and the extent to which they use that money to hold back gun control.

If you'd like to get email from CJR writers and editors, add your email address to our newsletter roll and we'll be in touch.

Steven Brill , the author of Class Warfare: Inside the Fight To Fix America’s Schools, has written for magazines including New York, The New Yorker, Time, Harper's, and The New York Times Magazine. He founded and ran Court TV, The American Lawyer magazine, ten regional legal newspapers, and Brill's Content magazine. He also teaches journalism at Yale, where he founded the Yale Journalism Initiative.