Three days after a gunman calling himself the Joker from the Batman series shot dead 12 people in a suburban Denver movie theater, the National...

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Three days after a gunman calling himself the Joker from the Batman series shot dead 12 people in a suburban Denver movie theater, the National Rifle Association (NRA) sent out a letter asking for money.

“The future of your Second Amendment rights will be at stake,” the letter said. “And nothing less than the future of our country and our freedom will be at stake.”

The letter dated July 23, sent to NRA supporters including people in Colorado, doesn’t mention the gunfire during the July 20 showing of the new Batman movie in Aurora, Colo.

The four-page solicitation from NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre was sent to drum up funds to underwrite an advertising and grass-roots campaign to defeat President Obama and elect gun-rights supporters in Congress.

The letter was “very insensitive,” said Eileen McCarron, president of the Colorado Ceasefire Capitol Fund, a gun-control advocacy group.

A copy of the NRA solicitation was provided by a former Republican U.S. lawmaker who asked not to be identified as a condition for releasing the letter. The NRA public-affairs office didn’t return phone calls seeking comment on the fundraising letter.

The group has publicly been silent on gun-control proposals since the Colorado shooting. Fundraising is increasingly important to the NRA, based in the Washington suburb of Fairfax, Va. The gun-rights organization’s membership dues were 44 percent of its income in 2010, down from 58 percent in 2008. In that period, gifts, grants and other contributions rose to 26 percent from 16 percent of revenue, according to the group’s tax returns. Total income was $228 million in 2010, compared with $248 million in 2008.

The NRA’s political-action committee raised almost $10 million from January 2011 through June 30, 2012, to spend on election campaigns, about two-thirds of what it collected in 2007 and 2008, according to Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics. It has spent $18.9 million on federal campaigns since 1989, which ranks it as the 46th biggest donor in that period, according to the center.

The solicitation letter says that Obama’s re-election would result in the “confiscation of our firearms” and potentially a “ban on semi-automatic weapons.” James Holmes, 24, the suspect in the Aurora killings, had four semi-automatic weapons at the theater, police said.

The letter says the money will be used for “hundreds of thousands” of TV and radio ads, “especially in a handful of key swing states.” The group also plans to buy ads in newspapers and on the Internet and send mail to “millions” of gun owners, LaPierre wrote in the letter.

Colorado State Shooting Association President Tony Fabian said that criticism of the fundraising letter was misplaced and that the letter was probably in the works well before the shooting.

The NRA’s fundraising has benefited from a provision in a 1986 law that lifted the ban on interstate sales of ammunition to consumers, allowing for mail-order purchases and then Internet sales.

Through donations attached to mail-order and Internet sales, the NRA has collected $9.3 million since 1992, according to the website of MidwayUSA, a Columbia, Mo., ammunition dealer. Company owner Larry Potterfield is the founder of a 20-year-old program that asks customers to “round up” their orders to the nearest dollar with the proceeds going to the NRA.

This year, Potterfield has pledged to match any NRA contribution of as much as $100 made through his company’s website.

The Colorado mass shooting, in which police say Holmes purchased 6,000 rounds of ammunition on the Internet, has prompted calls for legislation to limit mail-order sales of guns and ammunition. The donations coming from mail-order and online purchases demonstrate why the NRA is reluctant to join the debate on new gun regulations, said Josh Sugarmann, head of the Violence Policy Center, a Washington-based gun-control advocacy group.

“Recognizing the NRA’s financial stake and its main benefactor have on online sales, it’s guaranteed they will oppose any changes,” Sugarmann said.

Since the Colorado shootings, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., have introduced legislation to curtail Internet sales by requiring potential buyers of guns and ammunition to present photo identification.

Other Democrats including Charles Schumer of New York, the third-ranking Senate Democrat who helped pass a 10-year ban on military-style assault weapons in 1994, have said there isn’t much point in pushing for new gun restrictions given the NRA’s influence.

Obama continues to support reinstatement of the assault-weapons ban, though there are no plans to press for congressional action.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, in the aftermath of the Colorado shooting, said new laws wouldn’t “make a difference in this type of tragedy.”