Time For Perspective

Jan 8, 2024

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

After more than 30 years, numerous internal challenges, and a lawsuit set to begin this morning, Wayne LaPierre says he’s leaving his Executive Vice President/CEO position at the National Rifle Association….for health reasons. NRA photo.

Former NRA board members, fired former 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 ‘voluntarily” resigning.

Bewildered members, on the other hand, are wondering what that would mean for the organization. Some even claiming the New York Attorney General had succeeded in destroying the organization.

That is, I’m afraid, baloney.

The New York Attorney General has, 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 it furthers her future aspirations is only icing on the proverbial cake.

For more than three years, the NRA’s longtime leader has focused on a 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, cutback programs, and virtually remove itself from the past two election cycles.

Meanwhile, more than one hundred million dollars of member funding has been spent on legal defenses that have, for the most part, failed. The ill-considered multi-million dollar Texas bankruptcy was dismissed as a “bad faith filing.” Successive motions to delay, dismiss and otherwise stop the trial set to begin 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 Firm has the opportunity to prove itself worthy of the expenditures. In open court, spin stops. 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, former Executive Director of Operations and Chief of Staff to LaPierre, was one of the five defendants in the lawsuit brought against the NRA and senior management. In his deal, Powell 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.”

She also announced that the trial was “set to proceed on January 8, 2024, as planned.”

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.

He was not. He never was. That’s the myth 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 (and 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 back in.

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 dismantle the organization and redistribute its assets to other organizations.

Should the NYAG win, there will be changes, but the organization will not 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.

Rather than a too-large board doing too-little oversight, the members must demand better.

Instead of militant talk and sheep-like compliance, the membership must make certain the organization reflects the wishes of the membership-not fealty to a figurehead.

However the case works out, there will be changes 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 some clarity in my long-retired crystal ball at that point. Having watched what’s happened in the years since, there’s no chance of a prediction of the outcome of this trial. What has 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 imagine 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.

—Jim Shepherd