January 11, 2024
(Tombstone, Arizona, January 8, 2024) On January 5, 2024, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre announced his intention to retire from the Association due to “health issues.” The move came just two days before the long-awaited trial was to begin in the lawsuit filed by New York Attorney General Letitia James against the NRA and four of its top executives, including LaPierre. LaPierre’s surprise announcement received significant attention from the legacy media, with most reports chortling gleefully as they twisted the knife.
Defenders of LaPierre, mostly members of the lapdog NRA Board of Directors and upper-level paid staff, say he’s been unfairly targeted by anti-gun extremists in an effort to damage the NRA and its mission of defending the Second Amendment. LaPierre’s fans claim that he has been so effective in defending the rights of NRA members, that he became the primary target of anti-gun politicians like Letitia James, former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg. The official line goes on to say that LaPierre was under constant death threats from gun control extremists, requiring him to have a 24/7 personal security detail, to fly exclusively on private jets, and to have “safe houses” where he could get away from the threats and danger. Wayne’s backers claim that LaPierre was “the hardest working man in Washington,” and that his leadership was the key to the NRA’s tremendous success over the past 30 years, and that he had detected the problems within NRA and made “course corrections” to address them. They also claim that criticism from gun rights supporters including my late father and me, is all motivated by jealousy, old grudges, and personal avarice. None of the excuses are true, nor are the counter claims.
While political motivations certainly fueled the investigation into the NRA and its “leaders,” the sad fact is that virtually all of the accusations of mis- and malfeasance against them have been proven to be true and admitted to by the accused. During LaPierre’s three-decade rein over the NRA, power was systematically concentrated in his office. And as his power grew, compensation, perks and benefits for those at the top of the pyramid grew exponentially. At the same time, fees for “consulting” also began appearing, often with no hint of what exactly the NRA was receiving in return, and those payments for “consulting” were almost always to current or former NRA employees, Directors, their family members, or others with close ties to someone high up in the NRA hierarchy.
Most of this information will come out and be examined in the trial in New York, so I won’t dwell on it here. Instead, I want to look back at Wayne LaPierre’s record as a lobbyist and leader of the NRA.Most readers probably know that after the mass murder attack on a country music concert in Las Vegas, Wayne LaPierre put out an official statement declaring: “The NRA believes that devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations.”
Our readers also probably know that this statement, and LaPierre’s refusal to walk it back, led directly to a subsequent BATFE determination that bump-stocks are machineguns and are illegal for public possession under the 1986 Hughes Amendment. Of course, the Hughes Amendment, outlawing the sale and possession of new full-autos, manufactured after May 19th, 1986, is another of LaPierre’s blunders. The decision to go forward with the Firearm Owners Protection Act after that amendment was attached, was not all on LaPierre, but the decision not to actively pursue repeal of the amendment – legislatively and through the courts – as LaPierre had promised, falls squarely on him.
In recent years, LaPierre has also declared NRA support for “red flag” laws, as long as some semblance of due process is provided for the victim/buyer. He’s also declared NRA support for NICS background checks on all firearm transfers at gun shows. It should also be remembered that under LaPierre’s direction, the NRA actively lobbied for implementation of NICS and similar schemes in the states, then supported passage of the Brady Gun Control Bill, with an amendment added providing for the system to shift to the NICS “instant” background check system in the future. In 1999, at the NRA Annual Meeting of Members in Denver, LaPierre gave a speech in which he “set the record straight” regarding what the NRA believes, declaring:
“First, we believe in absolutely gun-free, zero-tolerance, totally safe schools. That means no guns in America's schools, period ... with the rare exception of law enforcement officers or trained security personnel.”
In the same speech, he went on to say:
“The National Rifle Association believes in no unsupervised youth access to guns, period.” and,
“We believe that even if violent juvenile felons get a second chance at going straight, they should never get a second chance at owning a gun. Some call it Juvenile Brady – we call it common sense. We support barring all juveniles convicted of violent felonies from owning guns, for life.”
Granted, this speech was made at a unique moment in history, right after the Columbine atrocity, and just down the road from the place where it happened, but these are not positions that are consistent with the core principles of the Second Amendment, nor are they positions supported by the majority of NRA members. LaPierre was foolishly throwing principles out the window in an effort to appease people who were using a heart-wrenching tragedy to push their political agenda. What all of this demonstrates is the fact that Wayne LaPierre is a political animal, and not a principled activist. It shows his willingness to shift positions and make deals based on expediency and polling numbers, and it calls into question his fundamental understanding of the basic values and beliefs of our movement.
In his resignation announcement, LaPierre said he had been a “card carrying NRA member” for most of his adult life. I have no doubt that’s true since he’s been an employee of the NRA for most of his adult life. I understand he was encouraged to purchase an NRA membership when he was hired back in around 1977. The horrific video of LaPierre’s botched elephant “hunt” demonstrates his lack of competence with a rifle. A politician doesn’t need to be an avid hunter or gun owner to support our cause, and there are plenty of folks who are avid hunters and gun owners who are on the wrong side of our issues. Wayne LaPierre has never been a serious hunter or competitive shooter. He is not a knowledgeable collector, an expert in firearms technology, reloading, self-defense, or use of force. He has proven time and again that he is willing to surrender a principled defense of the right to arms in favor of political advantage, or to attempt to temporarily blunt media attacks.
LaPierre apologists are quick to point out his ability to talk wealthy NRA supporters into writing big checks to the Association, and that’s an important skill. That is, however, a skill that is built into the office to a large degree. Just as the Executive Director of NRA-ILA will instantly be recognized as one of the most influential lobbyists in Washington, so too is the Executive Vice President of the NRA automatically going to be our most influential fundraiser. The $65,000 worth of gifts given to high-dollar donors by LaPierre – from NRA coffers – didn’t hurt either.
The reign of Wayne LaPierre at NRA is over. It should have ended 20 years ago when the problems first became apparent, or 10 years ago when the corruption became a serious threat. Or five years ago when it all spilled out into the public consciousness. Had it been dealt with at any of those points, the NRA would be a strong, healthy, effective organization today, fully funded and ready to face the challenges of the 2024 elections. Instead, it was swept under the rug, denied, defended, and excused, and now it has put the entire organization on the brink of destruction. LaPierre’s exist is a significant step, but it must be only the first step in restoring the NRA. All of LaPierre’s co-conspirators, enablers and apologists among the NRA Board, staff, and vendors, must also be held accountable for their corruption and tolerance of corruption, and their failure to ensure the financial and philosophical integrity of our organization.
About the Author
The Firearms Coalition and the Knox family have been reporting on and working to push the NRA in the right direction, for almost 50 years. Neal Knox led the Cincinnati Revolt in 1977, founded The Firearms Coalition to counter NRA duplicity in 1984, raised the alarm about shady fundraising and questionable spending in 1996/‘97, and continues to report on problems inside the Association, always with the objective of making it stronger and more effective. You can support those efforts by going to FirearmsCoalition.org.
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