NRA On Trial: Win or Lose, Say Goodbye to the NRA as You Have Known It

Wayne LaPierre
Courtesy NRA

NEW YORK CITY – Friday’s news that longtime National Rifle Association Executive Director Wayne LaPierre was resigning for “health reasons” brought a wide array of responses.

Former NRA board members, fired past NRA executives, and others who had run afoul of WLP over the years were celebrating the fact that after numerous failed attempts to oust him, he was finally “voluntarily” resigning. Many bewildered members, on the other hand, wondered what that means for the organization. Some are even claiming that New York Attorney General Letitia James had succeeded in destroying the organization. And lots of random outside interests are claiming credit for LaPierre’s departure.

Shannon Watts Wayne LaPierre tweet

That, I’m afraid, is baloney.

The New York AG, despite her dislike of the NRA and the NRA’s assertions to the contrary, has done nothing she wasn’t obligated to do under New York statute. As a New York-registered not-for-profit charitable corporation, the NRA has legal obligations to use its funds for charitable purposes, not, as the AG wrote, “to support the lavish lifestyles of senior management and organization insiders.”

Unlike LaPierre, Letitia James is doing her job. The fact that it also furthers her future political aspirations is only icing on the proverbial cake.

For more than three years, the NRA’s longtime leader has focused on one single goal: protecting Wayne LaPierre. In the face of accusations of insider dealing, corruption and general malfeasance, membership has nosedived. So, too, have donations. The organization has been forced to downsize, cut back programs, and virtually remove itself from the past two election cycles.

Meanwhile more than one hundred million dollars of member dues and donations have been spent on legal defense that, for the most part, has failed. The ill-considered multi-million dollar bankruptcy was dismissed as a “bad faith filing.” Successive motions to delay, dismiss, and otherwise stop the trial that begins this morning have failed. As the trial judge said last week, it’s time to let the outcome of the case rest on the facts.

Beginning today, the Brewer law firm has an opportunity to prove itself worthy of the expenditures. That job likely grew more difficult late Friday afternoon when former senior NRA executive Josh Powell cut a deal with the AG’s office.

Powell, who was LaPierre’s former number two, was one of the five defendants in the lawsuit brought against the NRA and senior management. In his deal, Powell has admitted to the Attorney General’s claims of wrongdoing. That deal buttresses the AG’s claims of corruption. Powell’s testimony will likely corroborate it. “Joshua Powell’s admission of wrongdoing and Wayne LaPierre’s resignation confirm what we have alleged for years,” Attorney General James said “the NRA and its senior leadership are financially corrupt.”

Shortly after news broke announcing LaPierre’s resignation, one of my friends sent me a text asking, “Did you ever think we’d live to see the day the NRA would fail…NOT from the anti-gunners but from THE NRA themselves?” That question jarred me into a realization that, for many, including however many millions of members remain, Wayne LaPierre is or was — the National Rifle Association.

The truth is he was not. He never was. That’s the myth that was sold to the membership. But that doesn’t mean life without Wayne won’t be difficult.

There are two possible courses at this point. If the NRA wins, it can follow through on the long-needed governance changes (which are now clearly stated on their website) or continue the conduct that got them into this situation. Should the latter happen, the New York Attorney General, whomever it happens to be at the time, would have no recourse but to step in again.

Repeating that conduct would be so egregious an offense that a court would be hard-pressed not to grant the AG’s original request: to completely dismantle the organization and distribute its assets to other organizations.

New York Supreme Court Manhattan
Jim Shepherd for SNW

Should the AG succeed and the state wins, there will be changes, but the organization won’t be dismantled. It might be effectively dismembered, but the NRA, at least the NRA described by its original charter, will remain. Either way, it’s up to the members to figure out what to do with their organization.

However the case turns out, big changes are ahead.

Before the disastrous NRA annual meeting in Indianapolis in 2019, I wrote that changes were necessary. Describing what I felt would be the the worst possible outcome, I also wrote than “The NRA must get its house in order. If it doesn’t, the Attorney General for the State of New York will certainly do it for us – and no NRA member will like the results.”

There was apparently still some clarity in my long-retired crystal ball at the time. Having watched what has unfolded in the years since, there’s no chance of me making a prediction of the outcome of this trial.

What’s been said, done, and spent on this trial boggles the mind. That having been said, I’m back in New York City and headed to the courthouse this morning. I can’t predict what I’ll see or hear, despite having been in many courthouses in the past half century of reporting.

Whatever it is, we’ll keep you posted.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *