It’s been said that rights cannot be granted; they can only be taken away. For many gun owners, the National Rifle Association is their proxy for protecting those rights. As for myself, I thought the NRA would always be there as a sort of embodiment of the 2nd Amendment. After all, the NRA is the whipping boy of anti-gun radicals and politicians, often named as a scapegoat in situations the organization has nothing to do with. I assumed the NRA’s strident counter-advertising and well-funded status meant all was well and good, while I went about life in my little corner of the gun world silently supporting a different national organization that I feel does a better job representing me.
My assumptions were only quasi-correct. NRA is still tied to the Left’s whipping post—whether a gun owner supports the NRA or not, those who would take our guns conflate our identities with this organization. And now the NRA is in trouble, the sort that’s not uncommon for a charitable organization that gets too big for its britches—but in this case, those britches are blowing billions. Expensive Alaskan junket for the “it” boys and girls of its 72-member board of directors, as well as Director Wayne LaPierre’s shameful indulgences, i.e., $18,000+ in car and driver expenses for one week during a luxurious European getaway, and over $13,000 in rent for a summer intern, are not what my fixed-income friends and relatives thought they were supporting when they wrote that last check.
The until-now secret disdain I had for the NRA had to do with its over-the-top, life-disrupting fundraising tactics and the general feeling that the organization copped a leader’s stance while remaining behind the state of the art in the training arena, among other grievances large and petty. I have great respect for the work of the stalwarts of my statewide NRA-associated organization and those of some other states too. But even those loyalties waned when I watched LaPierre support bump stock regulation, and my stomach churned when the organization’s recently-departed director of its Institute for Legislative Action, Chris Cox, recorded a video expressing support for red flag gun confiscation. The mere concept is a violation of multiple items on the Bill of Rights.
Through all these events, I remained passively, perhaps lazily, supportive of gun rights in my own way—teaching responsible ownership and safety to local students, and exercising my right to bear arms daily. But the last straw of my tolerance broke when the newsletter of gun patent attorney Ben Langlotzexplained that NRA employs Bickell & Brewer, a law firm that according to its own description, “is exclusively dedicated to high-stakes advocacy – matters that involve substantial financial or business exposure, cutting-edge legal issues, or significant public policy questions.”
Sounds like a suitable area of expertise for a public relations entity serving the NRA, even if the firm is quite proud of its “offshore operation” in India. NRA has spent a lot of money at Bickell & Brewer. By “a lot,” think in excess of $97,000 per day—for 13 months! LaPierre surely knows that Bickell & Brewer’s founding partner, William Bickell III, is a longtime, generous political donor to some major enemies of gun rights, including one Hilary Rodham Clinton and, more recently, Robert “Beto” O’Rourke.
Even if Bickell and his minions did that cold-blood trick lawyers have a special talent for, and produced content for NRA that was and is effective despite Bickell’s obvious taste for non-Constitutional politics, how many NRA members would continue funding the organization and LaPierre’s seven-digit salary if they knew some of their money is funding the enemy?
Griping is easy. Fixing is hard. A now-public letter from April 2019, co-signed by ousted NRA President Oliver North cites numerous instances in which details about transactions with the law firm were requested from NRA brass, and never delivered. The sudden departures of North and Cox are symptoms of an ailing organization; the discovery that members’ dollars are supporting Deep State candidates is a terrible betrayal. Something must change.
Proposals are many. As I peruse gun blogs and social media, I encounter three main themes for solving the NRA’s ailments. They are as follows:
Shutter the Windows
Some who tired of NRA’s political compromises and intrusive fundraising years ago are eager to throw in the towel in support of a sort of anarchistic or do-it-yourself take on legislative advocacy, or in favor of other pro-gun groups like Gun Owners of America and the Second Amendment Foundation.
Trim and Revamp the Board
Ben Langlotz made reference to herding cats in his assessment of NRA’s 72-member board, and observed that over-representation by active industry folk, intent on building their own businesses, is probably unfocused and ineffective in comparison to the leadership that a smaller, more senior group could be.
Many who have run unsuccessfully for a post on the NRA Board bemoan its outdated, monolithic leadership. With the organization’s ugly secrets now available for public perusal, at least one former candidate, Rob Pincus of Personal Defense Network, has added his voice to a serious reform effort called Save the Second. Three of this ad hoc organization’s five goals for NRA is to reduce the Board to a trim figure, require genuine engagement and attendance by all board members, and implementation of term limits.
Get an Outside Audit/Investigation
Both Save the Second and other board members like Owen “Buz” Mills of Gunsite Academy have requested the commissioning of an independent audit of NRA finances and other practices. Of course, those findings would have to be analyzed by committees that will, due to the nature of the board and the NRA’s business dealings, will encounter numerous conflicts of interest that will require careful navigation to avoid repetition of the organization’s initial mistakes.
What do you think should happen?
NRA occupies a unique place in the hearts and minds of people on all sides of the spectrum where guns are concerned. Would gun rights be easier or more difficult to preserve without constant hate focused on the NRA from gun control advocates? Would gun owners be more or less involved in education and legislation without the NRA? What if an independent audit failed to identify key issues and nothing changed inside the NRA? What other comparable organizations have navigated rough waters of post-growth leadership and management, and how? Which of their efforts succeeded and why? Should the NRA’s roles as an educator, sports incubator, and lobbying organization continue under one umbrella?
These are tough questions that don’t become easier with time. Those interested in preservation of gun rights and education should contact any and all NRA Board members they can, make their expectations known, and volunteer to help in any way they can.