In 1995, Tom Mason was at a United Nations conference in Cairo, Egypt, where one of the issues being discussed was what Mason calls “a very stringent anti-gun resolution.”
So Mason got in touch with the National Rifle Association.
“I talked to the NRA, and they said, ‘Oh, will you watch it for us?'” Mason recalled. “And I did.”Around the same time, the NRA and several other like-minded groups got together and started the World Forum on the Future of Sport Shooting Activities. Mason got involved in that, too. “Right place at the right time,” Mason said, explaining how he ended up becoming both the NRA’s representative at the United Nations and the American executive secretary of the lesser-known group, now known simply as the World Forum on Shooting Activities.
Since its founding in 1996, the World Forum, an association of hunting, shooting, and industry organizations, has grown to over 40 member organizations and associations. The group has held workshops around the world, and issued reports on a number of topics. It recently commissioned an academic study on firearms. It has had a sitting U.S. Supreme Court justice as the keynote speaker at one of its annual gatherings. And it claims to have attended every major U.N. conference affecting hunting or sport shooting over the past decade and a half.
On Monday, Mason, who by day is a semi-retired attorney and former Oregon state legislator who currently lives in California, was in New York City, as representatives from dozens of nations gathered at the United Nations to renew negotiations over the Arms Trade Treaty, which would set common standards for international trade in conventional arms, from battleships to firearms. The NRA — which in the 1990s, according to Mason, became the first firearms group accredited as a United Nations non-governmental organization — has voiced serious concerns about the treaty. At the last round of negotiations, in July, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre made a statement warning that “any treaty that includes civilian firearms ownership in its scope will be met with the NRA’s greatest force of opposition.” The World Forum shares those concerns.
Mason said that the World Forum thinks civilian firearms — defined by a nation’s domestic laws or constitutional protections — should be exempted from the treaty.
“We would allow the countries to define what their civilian firearms are,” Mason said.
(Michelle Ringuette, chief of campaigns and programs at Amnesty International USA, told The Washington Post recently that she rejects this argument, saying “[t]he NRA claim that there is such a thing as ‘civilian weapons’ and that these can and need to be treated differently from military weapons under the Arms Trade Treaty is — to put it politely — the gun lobby’s creativity on full display.”)
So what is the World Forum? Headquartered in Rome, where it shares office space with the National Association of Manufacturers of Arms and Ammunition, an Italian trade group, the World Forum now claims to represent “over one hundred million sport shooters around the world.” In addition to the NRA, member organizations include the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute, the Association of European Manufacturers of Sporting Ammunition, the International Practical Shooting Confederation, the South African Gunowners’ Association, the Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia, and the German Bund der MilitÃ¤r- und PolizeischÃ¼tzen e.V.
“[T]he World Forum has a noble purpose: to further the study, preservation, promotion and protection of sport shooting activities on every continent,” the organization says on its website.
Despite the membership of the NRA and other American organizations, Mason considers the organization “more European than it is American.”
“Sixty-nine percent of [the World Forum’s] members are in Europe,” Mason said. “These are not pushovers, let me tell you. The Germans and the Italians don’t take orders well. You know, the poor American boy working with the Italians. It’s like a scene out of ‘The Godfather.’ They come up to you and they kiss you, you go, ‘Oh God, what did I do wrong?'”
In addition to its U.N. work, the World Forum also has subcommittees focused on environmental issues, the promotion of “the value of the shooting sports,” and firearms-related research. Two years ago, according to Mason, the group held a workshop in Namibia on “the economic and environmental benefits of hunting.” Last year, a workshop was held on the image of hunting in the media.
“We just commissioned the University of Liege in Belgium to do a study on the relationship of firearms possession and criminality,” Mason said.
There are two kinds of World Forum members: voting members and regular members. According to Mason, voting members pay dues of 3,000 euros a year. Regular members pay 500 euros. Each year, the group holds its general assembly in conjunction with an annual firearms trade show held in Germany. Several years ago, Mason said, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was the assembly’s keynote speaker, and was presented with an award from the World Forum.
The NRA did not respond to a call asking about its relationship with the World Forum. But representatives of two members organizations based in the U.S. agreed to respond to TPM’s questions over email. Richard Patterson, the managing director of the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute (SAAMI), is on the World Forum’s executive committee and chairs its Image Committee.
“[The World Forum] is a way to share and promote the most up-to-date fact-and science-based information on the important issues related to the shooting sports and firearm ownership — both among shooting sports organizations and to decision-makers around the world,” Patterson said.
Michael Bazinet, director of public affairs at the Connecticut-based National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), said that NSSF President Steve Sanetti attends World Forum events, and that, in addition to paying dues, the NSSF has helped sponsor World Forum events, like the one in Namibia.
“Hunting and recreational shooting are legitimate and beneficial activities, practiced by over 100 million persons worldwide,” Bazinet said. “Their voices need to be heard, and as the world shrinks, there is a need for a global ‘association of associations’ to represent their interests and concerns on a variety of issues.”