NRA On Trial: It is Time for Association Members to Ensure Some Real Organizational Hygiene

SHOT Show 2024 saw a uniquely large gathering of CEOs and other senior industry leaders. The occasion? The joint 75th birthday celebration of both Hornady and Ruger. 

It was a large party with live music, a sit-down dinner for 400-plus guests, giveaways, and…very few speeches. In short, it was an occasion, as society writers used to write, where “a good time was had by all.”

Even as that good time was being had, there was more than a little discussion regarding the state of another, older organization; the National Rifle Association. 

As usual, no one was going on the record about the NRA’s current state. That’s just as well as many of the comments would have been unprintable. 

With one possible exception — resplendent in his canary yellow NRA million-buck contributor’s jacket — no one seemed happy about the NRA’s current state of affairs. The comment of the evening came from a CEO who spotted that yellow jacket and quipped, “He’s probably drinking Bud Light, too.”

For nearly three years, many of these CEOs have quietly protested the corruption among the NRA’s senior leadership by keeping their corporate wallets closed. Dollars that once flowed freely into NRA coffers have been placed in escrow, waiting for the NRA to clean its own house. 

As the proceedings in the New York City courtroom have demonstrated, any organizational cleansing is a long way from complete. Yesterday, Wayne LaPierre continued his testimony regarding his spending on travel, clothing, and contracts with associates.

During his testimony yesterday, LaPierre — who is simultaneously the star witness for both the prosecution and the defense — told NRA attorney Sarah Rogers he felt the attorney general should have praised the NRA for it’s “course correction”…reforms put in place to improve accounting practices in 2018, two years before the AG sued the organization for violating New York State law governing nonprofits. 

Instead, LaPierre finds himself essentially the primary witness — for the prosecution — in its corruption case. Later in yesterday’s testimony, he admitted he failed to fulfill his duties by not disclosing transportation he authorized for his family and friends.   

But, there is — finally — light at the end of the tunnel. Effective tomorrow, January 31, 2024, Wayne LaPierre will no longer be the Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association. 

Despite a dislike of Letitia James and her undisguised hatred of the NRA, she has done, using the rule of law, what the membership was unwilling or unable to do for years…remove the executive who, by his own testimony, for years used the organization as a “personal piggy bank.”

Although LaPierre’s attorneys say his resignation was health-related, there’s little doubt that the trial that began less than 72 hours after his resignation announcement weighed heavily on LaPierre. “Work stressors” were cited as a factor in his decision to announce he would be stepping down.

For years, reformers who dared to defy the cabal that controlled the NRA have been punished. That became obvious in 2019 after reformers in Indianapolis offered LaPierre the opportunity to resign. Instead, he and his supporters punished every dissident. 

Since then, corporations have closed their wallets and quietly delivered the message that the NRA needed to clean itself up. Instead, more than one hundred million dollars of membership funds have been spent to defend indefensible abuses of trust and duty. Abuses that have now been admitted in court.

Not liking truth doesn’t make it any less true. NRA members must acknowledge this, then move beyond the fact that LaPierre and his cohorts have effectively bankrupted the organization. 

Instead of dwelling on things the membership allowed to happen (denying is enabling) because they didn’t like the people who delivered the news, they must now decide if they want their organization to be around in the future.

Survival will require significant change. If the NRA’s house isn’t put in order after this trial, future judicial proceedings are all but certain. Should that happen, future judges won’t find petitions to dissolve the organization to be a “bridge too far.” The pattern of misconduct would be undeniable. 

Allowing it to continue would be inexcusable.

In the current trial’s opening arguments, defense counsel displayed an organizational chart that showed the membership changes on the NRA board during LaPierre’s tenure. It was effective at showing how the members have changed over the years. That helped reduce the “pro LaPierre” Board argument.

But the chart didn’t show how “pro LaPierre” members had been elevated to senior positions. Ranked by power positions on the board you could see their ability to control (read: rubber-stamp) all the spending, monitoring, and reporting of the organization.

In a board with too many members, placing the most ardent supporters in the most influential slots meant the pillaging was on. Several of those board members profited, too.

This trial has shown their continued mendacity to cover their misdeeds. The duplicity shown by the defendants — some board members and senior staffers — is almost beyond belief. Breach of trust and duty isn’t debatable. It’s been admitted in their testimonies. 

For three years, I’ve avoided speculation regarding the NRA’s “problems.” I’ve often been criticized for “ignoring the story.” I wasn’t ignoring it. I was waiting to see facts, not assertions. After more than half a century covering courthouses, I know nothing is ever accurately — or fairly — decided in the court of public opinion.

Only when right hands are raised, oaths are sworn, and the potential for punishment is present, does the shading stop and truth dominates.

The outcome of this trial is still to be decided by the jury. Administration of justice, if the verdicts go against the defendants, will come via Judge Joel Cohen. But whatever the verdicts, they are not where the righting of past wrongs end. That’s where they can finally begin. 

Should the National Rifle Association’s members and supporters not demand effective, honest, and transparent leadership moving forward, it’s only a matter of time before the organization will be disbanded by its enemies. And they will have the law on their side. 

None of us want to see that. A clean, healthy and effective NRA is still very much needed.

—Jim Shepherd

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