While the massive Annual Meeting of the National Rifle Association scheduled to take place in Houston over Labor Day weekend was cancelled over COVID concerns, the organization did hold a decidedly smaller Members Meeting (as required by its bylaws) and its Board of Directors meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina this past Saturday. A “crowd” of about 200 people, many of them NRA board members and staffers, were on hand in a sparsely-seated ballroom at an uptown hotel to hear from NRA leadership, though there were a handful of members who were hoping to use the meeting to push for major changes.
NRA member Frank Tait introduced a resolution demanding that the organization’s leaders step down because of the revelations that have come out during the course of the New York Attorney General’s investigation into the NRA and the organization’s attempt to avoid that investigation by declaring bankruptcy and re-chartering itself as a Texas-based non-profit, but the motion to even debate the topic was quickly stifled by a majority of those in attendance (full disclosure: I was in attendance as an NRA member, and was one of about ten attendees who voted in favor of debating the motion).
Once that motion had been defeated, the Members Meeting was quickly adjourned, and a few hours later during the board’s meeting the NRA’s directors chose to keep executive vice president Wayne LaPierre in place. Not long after, New York AG Letitia James weighed in on the board’s decision, declaring that the vote “underscores that board governance is broken and that the rot runs deep at NRA.”
“For years, Mr. LaPierre and his lieutenants used the NRA and its donors as a breeding ground for personal gain and to live a lavish lifestyle, which is why they must be removed. Our fight for transparency and accountability will continue because no one is above the law,” the statement continued.
Here’s the biggest problem with James’ argument; she’s not just calling for the removal of Wayne LaPierre and other top leadership within the organization. She’s trying to dissolve the NRA completely. James claims that she’s acting in the best interest of the members, but if she gets her way there will literally be no NRA members at all because the organization will have ceased to exist. Even before James was elected to her current position and began her investigation of the NRA, she had already declared it to be a “terrorist organization”, so how could anyone honestly believe that she’s has the best interest of the members at heart? She’s standing up for the same folks she called terrorists? I don’t buy it, and I don’t know why any other NRA member would either.
There is a fight for transparency and accountability within the organization itself, but so far there’s been no widespread outpouring of support to reform the NRA from the actual members. Part of that may be because it’s damn near impossible to communicate with the membership outside of the organization’s own channels, so many members are likely largely unaware of allegations and details that have emerged throughout the legal proceedings. But there are also undoubtably a fair number of members who are choosing to stick with the current leadership because they believe that to do anything else provides aid and comfort to the AG in her quest to dissolve the organization, because they simply don’t believe James’ allegations, or because they’re satisfied with the changes that the NRA has made over the past couple of years.
It’s really impossible to know how the majority of NRA members feel about the current leadership, but even if a decided majority were in favor of tossing out the current leadership and replacing them with new faces, they don’t have the ability to easily do make those kinds of changes. While Wayne LaPierre and other leaders correctly spoke this past weekend about the strength of the NRA coming from the millions of members, the fact is that within the organization the rank-and-file members have very little power when it comes to being able to direct change.
My fear is that in the current fight between the NRA’s leadership and the New York Attorney General, the members are more of an afterthought than anything else. I’m gravely concerned that will ultimately lead to James herself being the one with the power to “reform” the organization, even if the courts don’t go along with her demand to dissolve it entirely. And dissolution remains a distinct possibility, unfortunately.
I would much prefer the NRA undertake more substantive internal reforms on its own; not because the New York AG demands it but because the members themselves have spoken out. But that hasn’t happened, and until and unless a larger portion of the NRA’s members start calling for those changes, the easiest option will be to simply keep the status quo in place.