Richard Feldman worked with the National Rifle Association for almost 20 years.
He now calls the organization nothing more than a “mercenary political cult.”
Upholding the Second Amendment, he says, isn’t the group’s main objective. Instead, the NRA exists to propagate its leaders’ egos, careers and bank accounts.
“It is obsessed with wielding power while relentlessly squeezing contributions from its members, objectives that overshadow protecting Constitutional liberties,” he writes in his compelling new book “Ricochet: Confessions of a Gun Lobbyist,” published this year.
Feldman’s evidence for such deceit by one of America’s biggest lobbies is troubling. But while his intimate
knowledge of the NRA makes “Ricochet” a gold mine of insider trade secrets — Feldman’s contentious relationship, and on-again, off-again employment with the group, might lead some readers to question whether exposing the NRA is his sole motive.
That’s because the book also provides a platform for an author who is beginning a fledgling motivational-speaking business — a seemingly perfect fit for a fast-talking political guru.
Feldman joined the NRA in 1984 as a state political liaison and spent his time lobbying the traditionally anti-gun Northeast. The first section of his book describes his directionless wanderings in college and law school and even more directionless wanderings in the working world. The NRA gave him a new sense of purpose.
Once there, Feldman chronicles his success in electing pro-gun candidates and working on legislation such as the McClure-Volkmer Act of 1986, also known as the Firearms Owners Protection Act.
He also began to notice a symbiotic relationship between the NRA and anti-gun groups — the provocative wording that each group used in direct-mail solicitations only inspired their opposition to work harder and get more donations.
The anti-gun groups “needed us as much as we needed them,” Feldman writes.
That, of course, is open to debate.
“[Feldman’s] basic view of the NRA has a great deal of truth,” said Dennis Henigan, vice president of law and policy at the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, an organization that almost always is at odds with the NRA. Of course, the Brady Campaign doesn’t rely on enemies to mobilize its base, Henigan said. But, he added, the NRA is a different story. “They need enemies,” he said.
Henigan’s view is supported in Feldman’s book during one instance in particular: the controversy surrounding the introduction of the Glock 17. Because the gun partly was made of plastic, the media wrongly concluded that metal detectors would not discover the gun. Gun-control advocates spread a campaign based on the threat of this new “terrorist” weapon.
Rather than embark on an educational campaign to explain the realities of the Glock 17, the NRA exploited the hysteria to insist that law-abiding gun owners risked losing their Second Amendment rights. According to Henigan, this is a classic example of the NRA’s strategy.
“They need to be able to point to organizations and individuals who they can label as elitist gun grabbers,” he said.
Feldman was canned from the NRA in 1987, after just three years, because, Feldman said, he disobeyed a superior by putting out an unauthorized announcement about an upcoming speaker.
He still associated with the NRA for another dozen years on a part-time basis, while taking jobs with the American Shooting Sports Council, a gun-industry overseer, and the Sporting Goods Manufacturing Association.
He was involved in the NRA’s fight against California’s Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989 and the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993, among others. He also continued to work on the political campaigns of candidates the NRA endorsed.
And he did rack up an impressive list of victories that demonstrably put the gun industry in a better light politically, even if they were still opposed by the NRA.
For example, he was one of the major players in the weapons-lock system compromise during the Clinton administration, and a key operator in the 2000 designing and marketing dispute that nearly drove the gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson to ruin.
Feldman’s head rolled for good from the gun lobby at the end of 2001, around the same time his similarly subversive colleague, Bob Ricker, one-time executive director of the ASCC, got the boot. By then Ricker already had blown the whistle, going to court to testify against the industry he used to represent and taking to the airwaves to preach against the NRA’s tactics.
During that time Feldman was busy opening MLS Communications, a Web site optimization company, which curiously features Feldman as a motivational speaker.
And if Feldman is such a Second Amendment purist, why would he accumulate so much evidence against the NRA, yet stick with them for 19 long years?
Apparently, he thought the best course of action was to soldier on, “hoping that the NRA leadership issues would be resolved before the organization was crippled.”
The slim, recently married, 50-something Feldman owns more than 100 firearms and frequently entertains his local police department by showing them off. A 1982 graduate of Vermont Law School, he is a prolific entrepreneur with a variety of campaign experience. A true political junkie, Feldman said he is happiest when in the nation’s capital.
His wish now, he said, is to widen the niche in his company that promotes him as a “specialized keynote motivational” presenter.
It is easy to see that part of the reason Feldman was so successful at the NRA was because he is a charmer, something that became even clearer in an interview.
Feldman joked that the gun issue, “is not going to be on the front page of Roll Call if the issue is already resolved.”
Neither is he.