John Perilli: Smith Hill’s Strongest Lobby, Unmasked

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


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The NRA and their various affiliates do a lousy job representing gun owners, believes John Perilli.

Quick. What is one of the most influential interest groups among Rhode Island's Democratic leadership?

It has given hundreds of dollars to the likes to Speaker Gordon Fox, House Majority Leader Nick Mattiello, Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed and Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio. In one of the bluest states in the country, it calls its legislative shots with incredible accuracy, and rarely allows a law it opposes to be passed.

Would you believe that it's the National Rifle Association?

The Ocean State is an unlikely stronghold for America's most powerful gun lobby. The NRA's Political Victory Fund has given more than $146,000 to Rhode Island state-level candidates since 2002, including all three Speakers of the House who have served in those years. In fact, former speaker William J. Murphy is one of the gun lobby's loudest voices on Smith Hill. Gun rallies at the State House are some of the largest you will ever see. This past Sunday, hundreds of gun owners gathered on the steps of the State House in spite of bitterly cold conditions.

There aren't many interest groups in Rhode Island who boast this kind of influence.

However, with power comes complacency. During the NRA's reign as one of America's most powerful interest groups, they have also been one of the worst. They have done an awful job representing the interests of their members, and are wracked with corruption besides.

And this week, as if to cap off the corrupt trend, they agreed to pay a $63,000 fine to the RI Board of Elections for violating campaign finance laws. They have not only failed their members, but just about everyone else as well.

A Lesson in Bad Leadership

Gun ownership and gun rights are deeply emotional issues. For this reason, I will first lay down some ground rules:

No, I will not argue that gun control either does or does not ultimately work.

No, I will not pass judgment on anyone who is a rank-and-file member of the NRA, or has taken NRA money.

But I will take the NRA's political leadership to task. I cannot think of a group of industry insiders who do a worse job of representing gun owners as a group.

Consider the tragic event that brought the issue of gun rights back into the public debate in 2012: the massacre at Sandy Hook. In the dark days afterward, the NRA seemed to go into a contemplative silence, and the world wondered how they would respond. Polls showed that 74 percent of NRA members (!) supported requiring criminal background checks to anyone buying a gun, so this seemed a feasible middle ground proposal for the group to support. Would the NRA take this path?

Not a chance.

The NRA instead came out in support of placing armed guards in schools. It was almost as if they had a vested interest in selling guns. Hang on…

Pete Brownell, CEO of Brownells, one of America's largest supplier of firearms parts? NRA Board Member. Ronnie Barrett, CEO of Barrett Firearms? NRA Board Member. George Kollitides, CEO of the company that manufactures the AR-15? NRA Trustee.

The turnout of eligible voting members for the latest NRA board elections? 7.2 percent.

The moral issues of this aside, your average gun owner is not the president of a multimillion dollar firearms company. How then does the NRA accurately represent its members?

Political Science has a concept called the Iron Law of Oligarchy, which says that an interest group will inherently fight for its own survival rather than the interests of its members. The NRA is such an absurdly perfect example of this rule that it is scary.

And it's not just at the national level.

Guns and the Ocean State

Pro-gun rallies at the State House are a sight to behold. They regularly draw hundreds of dedicated, well-meaning, law-abiding gun owners, all chanting in support of the Second Amendment. As I mentioned, there was a massive one this past Sunday, and there are sure to be more as the year goes on.

The NRA does all it can to use this popular support to their advantage on Smith Hill. This past state legislative session, even after noted NRA donation recipients Speaker Gordon Fox and Attorney General Peter Kilmartin proposed gun reforms, almost no serious firearm laws were passed. The bills defeated included everything from a ban on semiautomatic weapons to a relief board for people who feel they have been wronged by the background check system. Given Rhode Island's political makeup, this is a disproportionate amount of success for the NRA.

However, cracks in the NRA's Ocean State presence are starting to show.

Last September, Sam Bell, the Rhode Island state coordinator of the Progressive Democrats of America, smelled a rat in the NRA's campaign finance disclosures. He lodged an official complaint with the Board of Elections, claiming that the NRA's national fund was violating campaign finance law by donating to the organization's Rhode Island PAC. The NRA Rhode Island PAC promptly dissolved, and this week the organization finally agreed to a $63,000 fine from the BOE.

Even considering everything else the NRA has done, this crosses the line. How does this represent the interests of gun owners? It certainly isn't law-abiding.

And how can the NRA explain the results of December's recall elections in Exeter? How could it be that one of the most conservative districts in the state couldn't force a recall in what was basically a proxy battle over gun rights? The NRA took no official stand in Exeter, and the gun reformers prevailed.

Represent that!

Until the NRA makes a serious effort to become more representative of gun owners in general, it will be nothing more than an organ of the gun manufacturers whose sole interest is to sell firearms. And until this change is made, they will continue to disrupt our venerable democratic process more than any other interest group in America.


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John Perilli is a native of Cumberland, RI and a junior at Brown University. He is the Communications Director for the Brown University Democrats. The opinions presented in this article do not necessarily represent those of the organizations of which John Perilli is a member.


Related Slideshow: Cranston Police Contributions to Allan Fung

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Lt. Stephen Antonucci

12 contributions from Vito Antonucci, City of Providence, Public Properties Division, Chepachet RI. Made from 2008-13 total of $825.

  • 6/16/08 $100
  • 7/28/08 $150
  • 7/28/08 $150
  • 8/22/08 $50
  • 8/22/08 $50
  • 9/20/08 $100
  • 9/20/08 $100
  • 3/07/09 $100
  • 5/18/09 $100
  • 9/13/11 $100
  • 9/29/13 $100


8 Contributions from Michelle Antonucci, 60 Pine Ridge Drive, Cranston (PayChex Inc. of EP as employer).  Made from 2008-2013 for $1,060.

  • 6/19/08 $100
  • 8/06/08 $150
  • 8/06/08 $150
  • 9/23/08 $50
  • 9/23/08 $50
  • 4/16/09 $200
  • 10/26/10 $60
  • 10/03/13 $500


2 Contributions from Gail Antonucci, 119 Woodview Drive, Cranston (Homemaker)

  • 6/18/08 $100
  • 5/18/09 $100


contributions from Kevin Antonucci, 70 Garden Hills Drive, Cranston (City of Cranston)

  • 7/28/08 $150
  • 7/28/08 $150
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Lt. Alan Loiselle

9 Contributions in name of Alan Loiselle, 20 Eastgate Drive, Warwick (City of Cranston as employer)

  • 6/5/08 $186.83 (In-kind, listed as “Hardware and supplies for headquarters”)
  • 6/16/08 $200
  • 6/23/08 $53.37 (In-kind, see above)
  • 7/28/08 $150
  • 7/31/08 $133.36 (In-kind, “Building materials and supplies”)
  • 5/18/09 $100
  • 9/16/08 $127.12 (In-kind, “Building equipment and supplies”)
  • 8/30/10 $100
  • 10/24/10 $50


1 Contribution from Robert Loiselle, Loiselle Insurance Agency, Pawtucket.

  • 10/29/08 $100


1 Contribution from Martin Loiselle, retired, 180 Potters Ave., Cranston.

  • 6/16/08 $100
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Lt. Carl R. Ricci

7 contributions from a Carl R. Ricci, 76 Northview Ave. Cranston (Phred’s Drugs as employer)

  • 8/20/09 $300
  • 8/30/10 $100
  • 10/30/09 $125
  • 2/25/10 $150
  • 2/23/11 $150
  • 2/21/12 $150
  • 2/21/13 $150


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Captain Sean Carmody

2 contributions from Sean P. Carmody, 129 Allens Ave. Cranston (City of Cranston employer)

  • 9/21/08 $100
  • 10/08/08 $200

10 contributions from Melissa Augaitis, 10 Basil Crossing, (Employer, Perspectives Corporation)

  • 6/16/08 $200
  • 3/26/09 $100
    2/25/10 $300
    8/30/10 $250
    10/17/10 $200
    2/23/11 $200
    2/29/12 $150
    6/3/13 $250
    6/25/13 $250
    9/29/12 $500

1 contribution from Maureen Carmody, same address, no employer

  • 7/28/08 $100


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Chief Marco Palombo

4 Contributions in name of Michelle Palombo, 4 Jennifer Circle, Cranston (homemaker)

  • 9/18/08 $50
  • 9/13/11 $150
  • 6/25/13 $200
  • 7/22/13 $200

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