Now out on iTunes, the film makes a compelling case that the National Rifle Association should lose its tax-exempt status
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Released in time for the election, Fish in a Barrel is an exposé of how the NRA’s history of alleged campaign violations have stymied popular efforts to make even modest reforms on access to firearms, despite hundreds of mass shootings in the United States over the past two decades. The NRA’s electoral enterprise ended up being gamed by Russian agents of influence in the 2016 election, as detailed in the 2019 U.S. Senate Finance Committee report: The NRA & Russia: How a Tax-Exempt Organization Became a Foreign Asset

“As mass shootings have continued, the NRA obstructs any effort at reform to prevent future massacres. It’s angering watching politicians tweet ‘Thoughts and prayers,’ then do nothing to stop it from happening again,” says director John Wellington Ennis. “But when I learned that the NRA had become a Russian asset while working to elect Trump, I knew I had to do something.”

The result is a feature-length documentary investigating allegations that the tax-exempt organization has flouted campaign finance enforcementviolated tax-exempt tax code, and broken numerous laws in order to enrich its executives. The NRA is currently facing a lawsuit of dissolution by NY Attorney General Letitia James, on top of other lawsuits.

“This is the most obvious form of coordination that I’ve ever seen,” says Ann Ravel in the documentary, the former chair of the Federal Elections Commission whose job it was to watch out for campaign coordination.  “Most people are a lot more subtle with their coordination.” Ann Ravel sounded the alarm at the FEC about the dangers of unregulated online political ads years before the 2016 election. Other interview subjects in the documentary include law professor and author Ciara Torres-Spelliscy and investigative journalist Jason Leopold. 

But it’s the fascinating dive into Maria Butina, the Russian gun rights activist who wooed the NRA and ultimately went to prison for being an unregistered foreign agent, that makes this documentary about election violations take a turn into true crime, or even the trainwreck genre. Butina’s relationship with the much-older Paul Erickson gained her access to Republican circles, though his dealings with Butina would cost him dearly. Touring these NRA conventions alongside Butina was her handler Alexander Torshin: a Russian banker, politician, and alleged mobster wanted by Spanish authorities for running a massive money-laundering ring. Torshin was so close to the NRA leadership he persuaded them to send a delegation of NRA executives and NRA board members to Moscow to discuss business interests with sanctioned individuals—a major subject of the Senate Finance Committee’s report, led by minority ranking member Sen. Ron Wyden (OR).

“It’s such a crazy story I don’t believe I get to tell it,” reflects Ennis. “I mean, the NRA, pulling dirty moves in elections, then selling out to Russia, after all their patriotic grandstanding? No one would believe it. But there’s so much documentary evidence, it took up a feature-length film.” 

Fish in a Barrel is now out on iTunes and Vimeo, arriving on Amazon Prime Video and other streaming platforms soon.