Yesterday, both Rock River Arms and Springfield Armory severed ties with their own private lobbying group, The Illinois Firearms Manufacturers Association (IFMA). Both companies vowed to vigorously fight for gun rights moving forward. This welcome news came five long days after the world first learned of IFMA’s deal to trade opposition to a gun licensing scheme for a carve-out for existing manufacturers and big box stores.
Both companies claim they first learned of the political deals as a result of our reporting. It took them several long, difficult days to come to Jesus, but they finally found Him. Kudos to them.
I want to take them at their word, but I recall Barack Obama’s claims he read about one scandal after another in the news, too. So I still have to ask, “Where have you been, Springfield and Rock River?”
We faced this bill last session in the Illinois General Assembly. We warned Prairie State residents of its terrible provisions. In the end, we killed it off as part of an “all hands on deck” effort. In the end, everyone worked together and we got the job done.
Senator Don Harmon, being the dedicated anti-gunner he is, introduced a slightly altered version again this year, SB-1657. This time, we had lobbyists from many of the national gun control groups in Illinois working against us.
Stymied on the federal level, a full compliment of DC-based lobbyists came to deep-blue Illinois in search of a gun control victory. Carpetbaggers representing Everytown, Moms Demand, Gabby Giffords’ ARS and the Brady Campaign, to name a few, found their way to our fine state. They work out of hotel rooms here in the heart of flyover country, pounding our legislators relentlessly along with our own homegrown gun control groups.
For gun rights forces, once more, it was all hands on deck.
We all knew the vote would be close. We rallied the troops. The two big powerhouse lobbyists from NRA-ILA burned the candle at both ends. Richard Pearson, Maureen Mulhall and Jim Vinopal all lobbied on behalf of the Illinois State Rifle Association.
I donned my suit and spent time there too, representing Guns Save Life. Mike and Valinda Rowe spent countless hours working the rail on behalf of IllinoisCarry. The Illinois Federation for Outdoor Resources stood by our side. Whitney O’Daniel from the National Shooting Sports Foundation was there at key times. We even had Knox Williams from the American Suppressor Association helping out now and then.
Also there: IFMA’s paid lobbyist Jay Keller…right up until last Thursday, when Mr. Keller went missing. That’s when his witness slip showed up under “No Position,” meaning IFMA officially took no stance as to SB-1657’s passage. As a result, the amended bill cleared committee and went to the Senate floor.
The bill quickly passed the entire Senate by a single vote.
And that’s when I decided this story needed telling. We had been betrayed by the lobbyist of a firm led by Rock River Arms and Springfield Armory’s owners — and no one else. (As above, from the 2013 IFMA IRS Form 990.)
To be fair, Mr. Larson and Mr. Reese’s respective claims of not keeping up on what was happening in the Illinois General Assembly might be true. After all, neither Springfield nor Rock River – as evidenced by their Tuesday statements severing ties with IFMA – are even in tune enough to even know who’s in the capitol fighting hard for their gun rights along with those of their customers.
Yes, they mentioned the NRA and the Illinois State Rifle Association in their statements. But they failed to mention Illinois Carry, the Illinois Federation for Outdoor Resources and Guns Save Life, all of which have worked hard in Springfield, putting in hundreds of lobbying hours fighting against Second Amendment infringements like SB-1657.
Not without warning
In January, I asked Jay Keller to clarify rumors I’d heard about IFMA possibly negotiating a deal for manufacturers as part of dealer licensing. Mr. Keller’s response: “Man, there’s no way I’m going out to SHOT with a dealer licensing bill hanging over my head.”
“You’re not answering my question, Jay. You’re surely negotiating with (bill sponsor) Harmon on this, are you?” I asked him.
He repeated his statement about SHOT and dealer bills.
I warned him that if he cut a deal, the gun owning community would not look favorably upon it. He repeated his SHOT line a third time, parrot-like, before walking away.
That’s when I did more research on the political donation story. In February, I placed calls to Chuck Larson at Rock River and Dennis Reese at Springfield. After identifying myself, those answering the phone told me the men were “unavailable.” So I left a detailed message.
“I’m working on a story about some campaign contributions your lobbying outfit, the Illinois Firearms Manufacturers Association, has made to some anti-gun Democrats. Tens of thousands of dollars. Can you give me a good reason why this is going on, and/or perhaps a reason why I shouldn’t run this story?”
I figured if they learned of my discovery of their lobbying group’s donation history, that might convince them that cutting a deal on SB-1657 was a bad idea. Or perhaps they might call and give me a legitimate explanation.
All I heard were crickets.
Over the weekend at the NRA convention, I reached out to both Reese and Larson. Reese ignored my message. Larson called and spoke with me. My return trip to Illinois prevented me from meeting with Mr. Larson in person, but we did have a good conversation.
I told him about the political donations his lobbying group, IFMA, had made to anti-gun Democratic politicians. I explained how a number of those donations don’t appear to have been properly reported to the Illinois State Board of Elections. He asked for proof. I told him to compare and contrast the IFMA Form 990s with the ISBE website, just as I’d done. Or, he could read about it with everyone else at TTAG.
Welcome, Springfield Armory and Rock River Arms
Whatever has happened up to now, I welcome these two companies to the front lines of the fight for gun rights in Illinois. We can certainly use their help. The work is long, thankless and often frustrating. The cause, however, could not be more noble or honorable. Glad to have you the team, gentlemen. We value your participation.