Editorial: The NRA keeps shooting itself in the foot

Wayne LaPierre lifts his arms into the air as he speaks into a microphone.
Wayne LaPierre, the National Rifle Assn.’s top executive, speaks at an annual meeting of the gun rights group.
(Michael Conroy / Associated Press)

From the moment the National Rifle Assn. filed for bankruptcy in January, it looked like a dodge. Financially solvent despite internal disputes and dwindling donations from some wealthy patrons, the NRA clearly did not need protection from creditors. So why file? Well, as U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Harlin D. Hale ruled Tuesday in rejecting the petition, the NRA was trying “to gain an unfair litigation advantage and … to avoid a state regulatory scheme.” In other words, it wanted to hide in Texas from legal troubles in New York.

And boy does it face legal troubles. The New York state attorney general’s office, which oversees nonprofits registered in New York, went to court in 2020 seeking to dissolve the NRA “because of [its] diversion of millions of dollars away from the charitable mission of the organization for personal use by senior leadership, awarding contracts to the financial gain of close associates and family, and appearing to dole out lucrative no-show contracts to former employees in order to buy their silence and continued loyalty.”

Nothing emerged in the bankruptcy hearings to undermine that contention. In fact, longtime top executive Wayne LaPierre, the public face of the NRA, seemed buffoonish at times, testifying that he was unaware that the nonprofit he ran gave a $360,000-a-year consulting contract to a former chief financial officer who left under a cloud. Nor, he said, did he know that the travel agent the NRA used to book charter flights for the LaPierre family to the Bahamas, Europe and elsewhere received a retainer of up to $26,000 a month as well as a 10% booking fee. And it was news to him that a top aide had finagled a job for his wife with a contractor who then charged the NRA to cover her pay.


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May 12, 2021

This is the same CEO who quietly secured eye-popping perks and powers, reportedly including a $17-million severance package, a proposed $6-million mansion in Texas to enhance his personal security after the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. (the deal didn’t go through), and the authority to secretly file for bankruptcy without informing his board of directors. It’s hard to reconcile LaPierre’s putative obliviousness to misdeeds among his underlings with his shrewd control of C-suite politics.

So now the NRA heads back to New York and the fight for its continued existence. We wish New York Atty. Gen. Letitia James luck. The accusations of malfeasance by LaPierre and his top aides are persuasive.

Beyond that, the organization itself has ill served both its members and this country as a whole. The NRA has long been in thrall to the gun industry more than gun owners, operates under internal election rules that defy basic concepts of democracy and accountability, and it takes positions — including deferring continually to LaPierre — with which many of its own members disagree.

There are serious and significant policy discussions to be had over the threat to public health posed by the presence of some 400 million guns in civilian hands. But the NRA under LaPierre has stymied reasonable discourse by taking extremist positions — for instance, insisting that the answer to gun violence is more guns — and has helped stifle independent studies of the effects of firearms on American society. All in service to a doctrinaire view of the 2nd Amendment that would elevate gun rights above all others, including the right of Americans to go about their daily lives without fear of getting shot.

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May 12, 2021

Although we oppose pretty much everything the NRA stands for, the organization, the leadership and its members are entitled to their political positions. But the NRA’s leaders are not free to bleed the nonprofit organization for personal gain, nor to flout laws governing how such organizations must operate, as New York alleges.

The best outcome for the NRA at this juncture would be excising LaPierre and his self-dealing cronies, then reorganizing to become more transparent and responsive to its members, hew to accepted norms and laws governing nonprofits, and become a more responsible and mainstream voice for gun owners.


That may be quixotic, though. It could just be that the best future for advocates of responsible gun ownership is the dismantling of the NRA and the distribution of its assets.