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Il gun makers

Thu, 02 May 2013 04:21:18 CDT
By: IPR's TonyArnold

Il gun makers There's one interest group that's keeping a particularly close eye on the debate over guns: firearm manufacturers. Gun producers would need to adjust ammunition magazines if there are restrictions on capacity.
As more of these laws come down the pipeline, manufacturers are leveraging their power.   IPR's Tony Arnold reports on how they're influencing politics and policy.


You're not going to hear directly from a guns manufacturer in this story. Many are wary of talking to reporters these days. But you are going to hear someone who speaks for them, at least in Illinois' state capitol.

"Here we are today discussing assault weapons legislation that will, by realistic terms, accomplish nothing."

That's lobbyist Jay Keller - testifying before an Illinois state committee. At this hearing, he sits next to the lobbyist for the National Rifle Association. Both were testifying against the assault weapons ban, but Keller says they have different interests.

"Mainly they focus on the Second Amendment. I never once talk about the Second Amendment rights."

These days Keller is busy trying to block laws that would ban certain guns or ammunition magazines.
It's a debate he's seen before. In the 10 years he's represented the industry, Keller has defeated attempts to ban assault weapons year after year.

He talks about one of his most recent victories with a hint of pride.
"We stopped the first assault weapons ban in the country a week after Sandy Hook."

It was actually two weeks after Sandy Hook, and one of the first responses to the shooting. Keller says there's a reason gun manufacturers have such influence.

"There are 8,500 jobs in the Illinois firearm manufacturing industry. The manufacturers range from organizations that have two employees up to 1,000 employees."

Keller's elevator pitch to elected officials is that his clients, 10 of the 65 firearm manufacturers in Illinois, provide good jobs. And he says bans and regulations distract from other issues, like funding mental health programs.

But that hasn't stopped people like Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who's called on the city to divest pension funds from any account that involves gun makers. Emanuel's plan was heard in Springfield, and now Democratic State Representative Christian Mitchell is calling for similar measures.

"When a large majority say they want an assault weapons ban, when people say it doesn't make sense to have guns in schools and parks and on public transportation for God's sake and you are lobbying against those efforts for purely financial gain, you've crossed a line."

Mitchell says gun violence is the single largest domestic issue facing the country right now, and he says divestment isn't a new concept. The state took similar actions against companies that do business with Iran and Sudan.

"I donít want to make a direct comparison, but I do want to say that I think the principle of what we want to be invested in and what we believe is doing damage to our communities and to our state and our country is the same in that way."

Except there are a few hitches in this plan. One is actual impact. For example, university employees sent out a memo saying its 113-thousand dollars of shares in gun manufacturers make up zero point zero zero percent of the total fund's investments. Another issue is the gun industry is making bank.
If you go to manufacturers' websites right now, most say they have a backlog of orders.

"It's hard to see what positive outcome might come from divesting other than it just protects the credibility of the city itself."

Brayden King teaches at Northwestern University. He says divesting hasn't gotten companies to change the way they do business, partly because someone else usually picks up the stock that's dropped. Also, he says it's not like gun makers do well on the stock market after mass shootings.

"Investors have already taken into account a lot of this risk. But if a lot of activists, if a lot of cities are willing to divest, it may send additional signals which may increase the perceptions that this asset is actually quite risky."

King says the way to make a difference can come through stockholder activism. That's when someone buys stock to address the issues from the inside or at shareholder meetings.

But Jay Keller, the gun manufacturer lobbyist, says there's a danger if state government approves regulations against gunmakers: They'd be running providers to local police departments out of Illinois. Keller wonders then, where would they go for their guns?

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