NPR reports today that in 2013, former U.N. Ambassador and one-time head of the NRA’s international affairs subcommittee John Bolton filmed a video that was used by the Russian gun rights group, the Right to Bear Arms, to encourage the Russian government to loosen gun laws. The Right to Bear Arms was founded in part by Putin ally and lifetime NRA member Alexander Torshin, the individual reportedly at the center of an FBI probe into “whether Russian money went to the NRA to help Trump” get elected in 2016.
- In 2013, former U.N. Ambassador and one-time head of the NRA’s international affairs subcommittee John Bolton filmed a video that was used by the Right to Bear Arms, the Russian gun group Alexander Torshin helped found. In the video, Bolton lobbied the Russian government to loosen gun laws.
- The Bolton video was posted and promoted by the Right to Bear Arms shortly after their 2013 annual conference, which also focused on loosening Russian gun laws.
- A source close to Bolton says he was asked to record the video by former NRA president David Keene, whose close friendship with Torshin has attracted intense media scrutiny since last year.
- Keene spoke at the 2013 convention of the Right to Bear Arms, and said he had hosted Torshin at NRA conventions “the last three years.”
- NPR reports “There were signs that the Russian government had given its approval that the conference take place. Russian politicians, such as Torshin, were present, made speeches, and were presented with honorary memberships to The Right to Bear Arms.”
Former U.N. ambassador John Bolton recorded a video used by the Russian gun rights group The Right to Bear Arms in 2013 to encourage the Russian government to loosen gun laws.
The episode, which has not been previously reported, illustrates the common cause that Russian and American gun rights groups were forming in the years leading up to the 2016 election through former National Rifle Association president David Keene. Keene appointed Bolton to the NRA’s international affairs subcommittee in 2011.
Russian politician Alexander Torshin helped establish The Right to Bear Arms and cultivate ties with American gun rights groups including the NRA. As a Putin ally, Torshin served as the deputy speaker of Russia’s parliament for more than a decade, and also spent time on Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee, a state body that includes the director of Russia’s internal security service.
The Bolton video appears to be another plank in a bridge built by Russia to conservative political organizations inside the United States. It’s unclear why Russian leaders wanted to curry favor with the NRA, but Torshin and Keene appeared to have developed close ties over in the years prior to the 2016 election.
It’s a relationship that has outsized importance now that the FBI is reportedly investigating whether Torshin illegally funneled money to the NRA to assist the Trump campaign in 2016, as McClatchy reported in January. The NRA has declined wrongdoing.
A source close to Bolton told NPR that he was originally asked to record the video by David Keene, who served as NRA president from 2011 to 2013, and that he was informed the recording was for the Russian legislature.
A few days before Bolton’s video was posted online, in November 2013, Keene was in Moscow for The Right to Bear Arms annual conference, delivering a speech. More than 300 gun rights advocates across the globe gathered in an upscale hotel to hear arguments for loosening of gun rights, and even a concealed carry fashion show.
There were signs that the Russian government had given its approval that the conference take place. Russian politicians, such as Torshin, were present, made speeches, and were presented with honorary memberships to The Right to Bear Arms.
“One would have to make an assumption that in Russia, which is a fairly closed society, that if someone was doing this, the government wasn’t upset by it and knew what was going on,” said conference attendee Alan Gottlieb, the founder of the U.S.-based Second Amendment Foundation. “The feeling was that it was sanctioned by the powers that be, so to speak. Otherwise, I would have doubted if it were to have taken place.”
Gary Burris, another attendee, recalled “two or three high-ranking government officials there” who represented the Russian legislature. “They were people who had some political sway.”
Bolton was not present at this conference. But the issue the former ambassador raised in his 2013 video — changing the Russian constitution to guarantee gun rights — was a major theme.
“Amending the Russian constitution to include a right to keep and bear arms provision, like our Second Amendment, was definitely a high priority for the attendees at the conference,” Gottlieb told NPR.
At the conference, Keene said that it was a “great honor to be here today, partly because over the course of the last three years, I’ve hosted your senator Alexander Torshin at the National Rifle Association’s annual meetings.”