The National Rifle Association — America’s oldest civil rights organization — is in an existential crisis today brought on by mismanagement, cronyism, and self-dealing by its leadership. Every week brings forth a new allegation, a new bit of evidence that the the NRA’s leaders are more interested in lining their own pockets and enjoying the perquisites of power than promoting marksmanship, gun safety, and defending the right to keep and bear arms.
Every day this circus continues is a day that the NRA’s credibility as an organization takes another hit. This is a dangerous situation for the organization and for American gun owners because — whatever the reality — the identity of gun owners in this country is tightly linked to that of the NRA.
We’d like to say that the NRA’s leadership has stepped up to the plate in response. We’d like to say they’ve at least mouthed the correct words, made promises of transparency going forward, committed to an independent audit of the books, expressed interest in correcting what were inarguably missteps (even if you believe the leadership is innocent of any actual wrongdoing, missteps in communications and public relations have certainly been made,) and of welcoming fresh blood and new voices to its ranks.
We can’t say any of that, though, because they haven’t.
One man sits at the center of this swirling maelstrom. One has led the organization to this precarious position. And one man can start the process of leading it out: Wayne LaPierre.
Wayne LaPierre was the one who commissioned Ackerman McQueen to put forth NRA-TV as the voice of the organization.
Wayne LaPierre was the one who allowed Ackerman to embed itself in the organization’s leadership.
Wayne LaPierre was the one who – by his own tacit admission – flushed away at least $40,000,000.00 on an ineffective online media service.
Wayne LaPierre was the one who, after beating back a coup attempt led by Ackerman and its employee, Oliver North, began a purge of NRA leadership and installed a cadre of those loyal to him.
And following the failed coup attempt in Indianapolis, Wayne LaPierre was the one who engineered a re-shuffling of the NRA’s officer positions ensuring that he’d face no further challenges to the cult of personality around him.
The purge cleared out anyone involved in the attempted putsch, anyone suspected of involvement, anyone who looked like they might have said they’d continue to defend civil rights alongside whoever ended up running the NRA, and anyone who wasn’t actually involved, but voiced opinions later expressing frustration with allegations of corruption in the NRA leadership.
The NRA today
The fallout from all of this infighting and alleged impropriety has been deep and wide-ranging. Ackerman, after almost four decades of increasingly incestuous corporate relations with the NRA, has now parted company with Fairfax. NRATV is a thing of the past (not that many will notice). And the NRA’s number two man, Chris Cox, is gone along with his chief of staff. The former head of the NRA-ILA was suspended after being accused of participating in the coup attempt. He later resigned.
Meanwhile the organization is still dealing with the expensive results of strategic mis-steps like its disastrous foray into the insurance business and attacks against it by dedicated opponents of gun rights. It’s also facing an investigation by the Attorney General for the State of New York, someone who’d expressed her desire to destroy the NRA.
But there’s apparently nothing to worry about. Senior management has assured the membership that all is well. The organization is “on budget” and its “financial house is in order.” Besides, Ackerman said LaPierre really needed those suits. And all of that expensive travel was just “donor outreach.”
Meanwhile, key board committees are being purged, eliminating anyone who has dared to express so much as a word dissent from the party line.
Heading into an election year and with a number of critical legal actions currently simmering in the courts, the NRA’s palace intrigue has been and continues to be a huge distraction and, no doubt, an even bigger drain on its cash.
Board members’ responsibility
The current situation didn’t develop in a vacuum, of course. Like any large non-profit, the NRA’s board of directors is ultimately responsible. There are finance, audit and executive committees with oversight duties. Given the opaque nature of the organization, it’s difficult to know what if anything the members of those committees did or didn’t do to enable the current situation.
These directors had a fiduciary responsibility know what was happening at the NRA and to exert some basic level of institutional control. If even a fraction of the allegations about wild over-spending, self-dealing and mismanagement of the organization’s assets are true, there seems to have been a serious lack of oversight by directors who were obligated to exert their authority.
That neglect (or tacit approval in some cases) could have disastrous results for the directors individually and the NRA as a whole. As the New Yorker put it . . .
James Fishman, a co-author of “New York Nonprofit Law and Practice: With Tax Analysis,” a leading text on nonprofit law, told me, “There is no such thing as a director who doesn’t direct. You’re responsible to make yourself aware of what’s going on. If the board oesn’t know, they’ve breached their duty of care, which is against the law in New York,” where the N.R.A. is chartered. According to Owens, the former I.R.S. official, New York State “could sanction board members, remove board members, disband the board, or close down the organization entirely.”
The latest news is that the snowballing controversies and doubt surrounding the National Rifle Association have begun to affect its finances. While articles are being written about large donors who are withholding their funds, the stories of corruption and mismanagement are undoubtedly having the same effect all the way down the line.
We don’t wish to trash the contributions Mr. LaPierre’s has made to defending the right to keep and bear arms in this country. Since his tenure as Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer began in 1991, the NRA has seen membership growth and achieved some significant political and legislative victories.
When he took the reins in 1991, most states offered concealed carry licenses only at the whim of state officials, or barred it altogether. Opponents of our civil rights spoke openly of gun control and abolishing the right entirely. There seemed little that the courts would do to stop them.
Today, some form of concealed carry is legal in all 50 states. Constitutional carry is law in 16 states and the high court has affirmed the individual right to keep and bear arms. The NRA under LaPierre played important roles in many of these victories.
More recently, the NRA under LaPierre sided early and without hesitation in backing then-candidate Trump against a woman who, by her words and deeds, had openly declared herself the enemy of America’s gun owners. Although Mr. Trump’s presidency has not been everything we had hoped it could be so far, the has lived up to his promise to promote Supreme Court justices who will give a fair hearing to cases involving the Second Amendment.
That is something which will endure far beyond this presidency, however long it lasts. We’ve come a long way under LaPierre’s tenure and he deserves to share credit for the sea-change.
Unfortunately, politics is less a game of “what have you done for me lately?” and more one of “what are you doing for me right now and what can you do in the next few hours?”
As a result of the accumulated and ongoing controversies, allegations, mismanagement and malfeasance, Wayne LaPierre has unquestionably become a liability to the National Rifle Association, its membership, and the cause of defending and extending gun rights in America.
It’s not a question of if, but when
The current situation is unsustainable. Wayne LaPierre will leave eventually, one way or another. He’ll either finally resign and make way for someone else who can begin the long process of re-building the organization, or he’ll be forced out, either as a result of a regulatory investigation or because enough NRA members finally demand it.
For now, LaPierre seems determined to cling to power for as long as humanly possible. The only question is, how much damage will be done to the NRA before he finally exits. Will he act in the best interests of the organization and resign or will he continue to hold on and pull it down around himself? And does that even matter to him any more?
If LaPierre has any regard for the NRA, its membership, and the cause of gun rights, he’ll resign. Tomorrow.
In addition, every member of the organization’s audit, finance and executive committees should resign immediately as well. They’ve failed to exert the kind of institutional control their positions demanded. There’s no shortage of members who are qualified and eager to take their places and provide the kind of oversight the membership deserves.
Every day that LaPierre remains in office further poisons the NRA’s brand. If it were just the organization itself, we could afford to take a hands-off approach, to wait it out. But America’s gun owners and the right to keep and bear arms are at stake as well, and they’re linked to the NRA’s fortunes.
We can’t afford a crisis at the NRA that drags on into and through the next election cycle. If we wait much longer, the toxicity of the NRA’s brand will affect gun owners and gun rights as a whole.
No, it isn’t fair. It isn’t just. It isn’t rational. It just happens to be true.
What can NRA members do?
We have no illusions that a few words from The Truth About Guns will cause Mr. LaPierre and his regime to suddenly see the light. And the board has been constructed in such a way as to insulate the officers and make efforts to remove the leadership extremely difficult.
What, then, can NRA members do? There are only a couple of options at this point.
First, flood the NRA’s phone lines to let them know they’re not happy with the current state of affairs. Members can call (800) 672-3888 to make their opinions known.
In addition — and more importantly — NRA members should be expressing themselves in the only way left that’s sure to get management’s attention — by starving it of cash.
Just like the increasing number of large donors who say they won’t be writing any more checks until LaPierre and his devotees are long gone, the average member should do the same. Maintain your membership at the minimum amount to retain your voting rights and your voice. But beyond that, cut off all funds bound for Fairfax.
No additional periodic contributions, no purchases of NRA-branded gear, don’t attend the Great American Outdoor Expo or the Personal Protection Expo, no contributions to the NRA-ILA, no Friends of the NRA dinners and no NRA certification courses. Don’t attend and certainly don’t pay for any event or service that will result in more cash for the National Rifle Association.
This isn’t an easy thing to advocate. Despite the mismanagement at the top, the NRA still does a great deal that’s very positive. Friends of the NRA dinners and other sponsored events support a great deal of good works like safety training, hunter education, RSO certification, political advocacy and other initiatives that benefit gun owners both locally and nationally.
And this isn’t an ideal time to withhold funds that could go to support pro-gun rights candidates. There’s a presidential election next year, after all. But there is no ‘best time’ for this sort of fight—and it certainly isn’t going to be better to have it next year instead of right now.
As we’ve said before, the expansion of responsible firearms ownership and the furtherance of gun rights in this country is served by a healthy, well-run, effective National Rifle Association. While you may not agree with everything they’ve done or advocated — and we certainly don’t — they can and should be a positive force for safeguarding the right to keep and bear arms in this country.
But LaPierre and the rest of the NRA upper echelon have left the membership with no other choice. The only way remaining to exert any meaningful influence and communicate the desire to see wholesale changes in how the NRA is run and functions is to starve it of the life blood that keeps the current leadership in place — the members’ hard-earned money.
It would be far better if such drastic measures weren’t necessary. It would be far better if LaPierre and the cult of personality that surrounds and enables him were to read the writing on the wall and have the good grace to leave.
But no one expects that to happen without a significant push from the NRA’s five million members. That push needs to start today.