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© LAURA SESANA

  • Laura Sesana

AR-15 Manufacturers and Their Money in Politics

WASHINGTON—Recent Congressional hearings regarding gun laws have brought attention back to assault weapons and the AR-15 in particular. AR-15 style weapons have been used by the shooters in Sandy Hook, Aurora, San Bernardino, Orlando, Parkland and Las Vegas for murder on a massive, terrifying scale.


Many believe that assault weapons make it easier to accomplish large-scale massacres and support a ban on this kind of guns. Others believe that the right to own weapons like the AR-15, America’s most popular assault weapon, is an inalienable right safeguarded by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.


Since the 1994 federal assault weapons ban was allowed to expire in 2004, subsequent attempts to reinstate it have been unsuccessful. In one of the latest efforts to bring back the ban in 2013, all Senate Republicans and 15 Senate Democrats voted against reinstatement. A separate 2015 bill was mostly ignored in the House of Representatives.


Besides the National Rifle Association (NRA), gun manufacturers are responsible for channeling money into politics to influence laws and keep pro-gun politicians in power. Between 1998 and 2015, gun rights interests have contributed over $36 million to federal candidates and party committees in the form of individual, PAC and soft money contributions.


One of the leading manufacturers of assault weapons is Bushmaster, owned by Freedom Group, which also owns Remington Arms and DPMS (Defense Procurement Manufacturing Services) Panther Arms. The families of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting are currently suing Bushmaster.


Freedom Group, one of the largest gun manufacturers in the U.S., was owned by Cerberus Capital Management. Cerberus Capital is a U.S. private equity firm based in New York City with broad investments including financial services, real estate, consumer and retail, energy, building products, telecommunications and weaponry.


Cerberus announced plans to sell Freedom Group and return the proceeds to its investors after the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre. However, after being unable to unload Freedom for years, Cerberus handed Freedom to creditors in 2018.


While it owned Freedom, however, Cerberus Capital was a major player in the 2014 cycle, donating $538,122 to congressional candidates (30 percent went to Democrats and 70 percent went to Republicans), $403,200 to political parties and $124,250 to Leadership PACs, for a total of $922,722. During the same election cycle, Cerberus also spent $1,097,500 in lobbying in 2014 and $962,650 in 2013.


“The total of contributions to candidates from Cerberus Capital Management PACs is two times larger than contributions from individuals,” according to OpenSecrets.org. Additionally, “15 out of 22 Cerberus Capital Management lobbyists in 2013-2014 have previously held government jobs.”

Among the top five issues lobbied by Cerberus Capital, “firearms, guns and ammunition” ranked third.


During the 2014 cycle, 36 House Democrats and 53 Republicans received contributions from Cerberus Capital. In the Senate, 20 Democrats and 17 Republicans received contributions. The top recipients were Rep. John Boehner (R-OH, $28,200), Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA, $23,150), Sen. Gabriel Gomez (R-MA, $17,900), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC, $13,600) and Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA, $13,00). See all recipients here.


Cerberus doubled down during the 2016 election, donating a total of $3,718,388.


By donating to both parties, Cerberus has made sure that it will have allies in Congress, regardless of who is in power. Thus, it is not a surprise that 15 Senate Democrats voted against the assault weapons ban in 2013. Of these, five senators accepted contributions from Cerberus in 2014: Mark Begich (D-AK) $2,000, Kay Hagan (D-NC) $5,000, Mary Landrieu (D-LA) $10,000, Mark Udall (D-CO) $4,500 and Mark Warner (D-VA) $5,000.


It is disheartening to hear our politicians—especially our Democratic politicians—talk about gun legislation reform and offer thoughts and prayers every time a tragedy strikes, while at the same time they are accepting contributions from gun makers and blocking common sense gun legislation.


Cassandra Karas, Flicr Creative Commons