Shooting Straight: The Truth About the NRA As it Stands Now

The other day someone sent me a suggestion to join a social media group with a title along the lines of  “retake the NRA.” We’re years into trying to “fix” the problems inherent in the NRA, and I’m years into reminding people we need them.

But is that still true? Is the NRA still the end-all, be-all of gun advocacy groups? Now that Wayne is finally out, will it return to anything close to its former power/usefulness?

We all have questions, and the answers vary. These are mine. YMMV.

Before we get into what I’m sure you all are hoping is a hit piece tearing apart the NRA again, let’s rewind back to its early days. Maybe you knew the NRA was founded back in 1871 for the purpose of educating people on shooting rifles. It was started by a pair of Union veterans who were horrified by how badly their soldiers shot. Their solution was to form the NRA and get more people trained to be competent marksmen.


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The NRA has a lot of members. Are you one? (Photo credit: NRA)

Even the early NRA was exposed to controversy thanks to a bunch of anti-gun Karens who  complained about the existence of the NRA’s range (yes, this was in the nineteenth century). Because of the resistance, the NRA ended up moving their range away from New York to New Jersey. It wasn’t until 1934 that they formed the Institute for Legislative Action—what you know today as the NRA-ILA the association’s lobbying arm.

Was that the beginning of the end for honest firearms education? Probably not.

Interestingly, the NRA’s early commitment to firearms lasted quite a while. During World War II, NRA members helped load ammo for people guarding war plants (and did some of the guarding, too). In 1949, they started doing hunter education to encourage more people to get out and hunt.

Things moved along pretty steadily for decades. Then, in 1990, the NRA decided to become a 501(c)3 with the NRA Foundation. The reasoning at the time was that this would make it easier to raise money for gun rights, and that’s certainly sensible.

In 1991—less than a year after the NRA become a 501(c)3—Wayne LaPierre was put into a position of power. He became the executive vice president and CEO and managed to hold onto that until the last day of January 2024. That was despite years of allegations of fraud and generally improper conduct.

Countless gun owners and people within the gun industry put a lot of energy into trying to get him out of the NRA top job, and in the end it was anti-gunners and his own avarice and greed that finally accomplished it. That’s a shame all its own, because it’s one thing for us to remove someone ourselves, but when the people who want go eliminate gun rights do what we couldn’t, that’s insulting and embarrassing.

If you’ve stuck with me this long, awesome. Today the NRA is a weak, flickering shadow of its former glory. For all these years I’ve kept supporting the organization, but not certain people or their actions. This has irritated a lot of my readers because it’s seen as some sort of gun industry cronyism—or sheer stupidity—but here’s the thing. The NRA has been our biggest dog in the gun rights fight for generations, and even with all the hits it’s taken, it remains a significant power, even to this day.

Does that mean we should give it our money and blindly support it? No.

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Brief backgrounds on the four names on the NRA ballot that are said to be pro-reform. (Photo credit: Members Take Back the NRA via FB)

The NRA has managed to chase away some great board members and advocates. I’d guess the odds of any of them going back in an attempt to rebuild what emerges after all this are pretty slim, but not zero.

There are a handful of names on the current ballot that are being framed as reform options: Jeff Knox, Rocky Marshall, Phillip Journey, Dennis Fusaro, and Gina Roberts. Whether or not they’d actually be able to bring about reform is anyone’s guess, although it seems they’re sincere.

There are two I can speak to as being a great choice. One is Jeff Knox, who has been an outspoken advocate for gun rights for years. The other is Regina Roberts, whom I consider a good friend and a solid, reliable 2A advocate. That doesn’t mean the others aren’t good options as well, only that my personal experience with them is limited.

So, what’s the answer to the continuing problem of the NRA? Burn the whole thing down? (Figuratively, of course.) Try to pretend it never existed? Due to the NRA’s longevity, name recognition, and financial backing (even now), it wouldn’t really benefit the gun world to burn it all down, tempting though that may be. But that also doesn’t mean anyone should be handing over their money, not until we have a far better accounting of where those dollars go and who will be running things in the future.

Wayne had a reported income of between $985,000 and more than $5 million, depending on the year. His net worth varies, depending on who’s reporting it, but is estimated to be between $10 to $20 million. There’s no denying he built a significant fortune as the NRA’s CEO and EVP. There’s also no getting around how dishonest, unsavory, or possibly illegal his earnings have been.

Where we go from here with the NRA is tough call right now. It might be wholly impossible to effectively clean house, not unless every single employee is replaced from the top on down. Some or all of that task may be accomplished with the help of a New York judge in the aftermath of the trial of some of the NRA’s leaders earlier this year. He’ll be holding more hearings as to the association’s future this summer.

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NRAAM takes place in Dallas, Texas in 2024 and should be an…interesting event. (Photo credit: NRA)

Cleaning house aggressively is the only way forward at this point. Yes, the NRA has tarnished its own name and mission, but the brand still has power in the pro-gun community. It doesn’t really matter if we like it or not, that’s a reality.

There’s currently no other organization with the same strength—and yes, despite their failings, they do have strength…somewhere between four and five million members. Until another organization comes along that’s capable of operating at that level, it benefits us to try to fix the NRA, whatever form it may take once the judicial process is concluded.

Can we fix the NRA? I’m a bit skeptical but I hope it’s possible. Decades of corruption became so deeply ingrained it was impossible to eradicate from within. The biggest perpetrators of that are now gone. Removing Wayne–the central mass of the cancer that infected the association–was an important step in the right direction. But there are many more steps that need to be taken and the association likely won’t be in control of the process.

What do you think? Can the NRA be reformed/taken back/saved? Should it?

7 Responses

  1. I think it’s time for We The People to realize that they have the power regardless of what the government does. We simply need to collectively not comply to any regulations passed down. We’ve had this power all along, but we’ve been brainwashed to think the government controls us, so we sent our hard-earned money to to this organization. But all the NRA has done by appearing to fight for our rights is further the thought that the government controls us…unless we send money to this organization, we would no longer have the inalienable right to keep and bear arms. To hell with the NRA and crooks like LaPierre. Wake up America. You’ve had the power all along. Use it. Be free.

  2. We’ve never really “needed” Wayne’s World, or whatever charade it morphs into.

    We’ve simply been subjected to decades of clever marketing strategy, and Goebbels-esque propaganda.

    Join & Support your individual State’s most Pro-2A organization. Contact your State Representatives in a professional, respectful manner to voice your concerns about any and all firearms related legislation. Don’t depend on any national organization to come to the rescue. First and foremost, defend your home turf.

  3. Thank you for this article. I was going to vote for those four people, since they are the only nominees who were not nominated by the Board this year, and the Board is part of the problem.

    I know that Jeffrey Knox’s father was the leader of a revolt which reformed the organization I think in the 80’s. I suggest that any voting members vote for, at most, these four people. Voting for more people will dilute your vote. I know there are some big names among the nominees, but as you wrote, it took anti-gunners to hold LaPierre accountable for his malfeasance. The big names were apparently useless.

    I know Ollie North was forced out by the rascals, as well as the NRA-ILA head, whose name I think is Chris Cox.

    I looked at some of the alternative gun rights orgs and their Mickey Mouse websites deterred me from looking further. My state association is in this category; it can barely process renewals competently, but I am still a member and still donate (although less than I used to) because they are the only game in town. I do believe the Second Amendment Foundation does good work.

    I am staying in the NRA, though I haven’t donated for decades. Trying unsuccessfully to get replacement copies of my monthly magazines soured me on them, while LaPierre was spending $750,000 or whatever on fancy suits!

  4. Here’s a start… why does almost every new firearm come with an NRA membership pamphlet in the box with the gun- but NO OTHER GUN RIGHTS ORGS?!

    That should end immediately by either ditching the free NRA adverts- or INCLUDE ALL OF THE OTHER ORGS, too.

    And while you’re at it- STOP the strong-arm/organized crime tactics of requiring people to join the NRA in order to become a member of shooting ranges… that’s TOTAL BS!!!

  5. “So, what’s the answer to the continuing problem of the NRA? Burn the whole thing down?”

    It’s going to be a very difficult job.

    Let’s say the individual members each gets a vote on what direction to take. All the fascists have to do is join the NRA themselves, then they can seize power and shut it down…

  6. “Interestingly, the NRA’s early commitment to firearms lasted quite a while. During World War II, NRA members helped load ammo for people guarding war plants (and did some of the guarding, too). In 1949, they started doing hunter education to encourage more people to get out and hunt.”

    You skipped over the part where the NRA head Karl Frederick sold out the American people in front of congress in 1934 saying he fully supported almost every gun ban they were seeking.

  7. Kat,

    First, thanks for a thoughtful, reasoned, relatively unemotional, and practical take on the current state of the NRA. You echoed many of my own feelings (what’s the old saw about, “the definition of a smart person is someone who agrees with me!”). On the other hand, allow me to suggest a slightly different take:

    Some (IMHO, necessary) facts as a precis:

    1. Since its founding, the NRA has unquestionably done much good. It has also, unfortunately, done more than a few things that have come back and bitten the 2A community in the arse. I would argue that, at least largely under Wayne, the NRA has “lost its way”.

    2. I have yet to hear a reasoned and persuasive “anti” response to my assertion that the NRA is, by a WIDE margin, the best firearms safety and firearms education organization in the world. Seriously, on that front (even today, when that’s one of the areas where I think the NRA has lost focus), they are so far in front of everyone else, they can’t even seen second place in their rear view mirror. Back in the day, the NRA (among other things) partnered with local schools and school boards to help organize, sponsor, and support schools in establishing and maintaining shooting teams, doing safety education, etc. And even today’s NRA educational programs are solid-to-excellent. Sure, there are (usually expensive) private training educators and facilities that are “better”, but none that are as universally accessible.

    3. Reasonable minds can argue about the extent to which the NRA was EVER an effective lobbying organization for 2A rights, but . . . it would be difficult to rationally argue, today, that there aren’t FAR more effective lobbying organizations for gun rights out there. SAF, GAO, and many others (much smaller than the NRA, with MUCH smaller resources) have accomplished more, by being focused, strategic, persistent, and indefatigable. The NRA clearly has resources to provide financial and resource support to the pro-2A lobbying movement that is far beyond what any other group can bring to the table. I won’t definitively state that this is a fact, but it is certainly my impression that their strategic/policy skills on the lobbying front are . . . sub-par. The NRA-ILA has, objectively, done some good work. It has also stepped on multiple rakes – if I looked up the definition of “self-own” in a dictionary, a picture of the NRA logo as an illustration would not shock me.

    4. Wayne is a scumbag, but the real damage (in my view) of the “Wayne Era” is that . . . by continuing to accept/support that scumbag, the NRA tarnished its own brand. The NRA has lost members, public support, credibility, impact to the point where I don’t believe it is possible to redeem the NRA without a MAJOR realignment.

    If you can pokes holes in any of those, feel free, but if and to the extent they are accurate, we shouldn’t even TRY to “revive” the NRA; we should re-imagine the NRA. Firearms education and pro-2A lobbying are not “inconsistent”, but they require a VERY different focus. Let the NRA do what it did (and still does, to some extent) BEST – educate people about firearms, firearms skills, firearm safety. Support reintroducing that into schools (start educating them young). I know that “technically” there is a difference between the NRA and the NRA-ILA, but . . . nobody, including gun owners, actually believes that. Since the NRA wasn’t, IMHO, very good at the whole lobbying thing (other than providing resources), the ILA should (i) become TRULY independent, and focus entirely on lobbying, and (ii) become a “lean, mean fighting machine”. If the NRA wants to cut a deal with that new entity where the NRA commits to fund a portion of their efforts with a contribution from member dues, that money should come with NO strings attached, and the NRA and ILA boards should be COMPLETELY separate and independent.

    Obviously, and this should go without having to be said, that the NRA should eschew any HINT of cronyism, grift, etc. – NO MORE $7,500 suits, no more member-paid condos for the boss’ side piece, no more crony contracts for the boss’ “good buddies”. Don’t think it will happen, but if that “rebirth” of the NRA happened, I’d immediately renew my membership, and become a donor. Short of that, they’ll never get another penny of my money.

    As you said, YMMV. Still, well-written and well-reasoned piece – thanks!!

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