It is now conceivable that sometime in the not-too-distant future — 2022? 2023? — the National Rifle Association will cease to exist. Even more likely is that a New York court severely sanctions its leadership, or the prospect of this spurs dramatic changes in the organization’s leadership.
Stephen Gutowski, the longtime gun and Second Amendment-focused writer at the Washington Free Beacon has launched his own gun-focused publication, The Reload. This morning Gutowski lays out the grim assessments from bankruptcy and nonprofit law experts in the aftermath of federal bankruptcy court rejecting the NRA’s filing. Federal Judge Harlin Hale ruled that the NRA was “inappropriately trying to use the bankruptcy court to avoid government oversight,” and stated “in recent years, however, it has become apparent that the NRA was suffering from inadequate governance and internal controls.” One nonprofit expert concluded, “I think it actually made dissolution more likely.”
(When a judge with the nickname “Cooter,” who grew up in a small town in Louisiana rules against the NRA, you know they had a weak case.)
An accurate sense of the NRA’s problems requires keeping two things in mind. The first is that New York state attorney general Letitia James is just about the worst person to lead any investigation of the NRA, because of her past statements labeling the group a “terrorist organization” and obvious ideological vendetta against the group. The second is that the NRA’s management genuinely did bad things that may well have violated the law, or at minimum, represented self-dealing and egregious waste of donor money.
At the 2019 NRA Annual Meeting, it was clear the NRA’s Board of Directors faced an enormously consequential decision with the accusations and counter-accusations between Wayne LaPierre and Ollie North. The board largely decided to act as if everything was fine, and contend that the accusations of self-dealing and wasteful spending represented the usual media bias. That non-response to insiders accusing other insiders now looks like a colossal error in judgment. Having rejected the option of making changes on their own, the NRA’s leadership is likely to have change forced upon it by a court.
The last few years showcased an odd split between the status of the NRA and the status of the cause the organization defends. The NRA spent about half as much as it did on political campaigns and elections in 2020 as it did in 2016, is beset by infighting and dueling lawsuits, ceased its NRATV operations, and has now just lost its bid for bankruptcy. And yet, in 2020, gun sales in the U.S. increased by 40 percent, more than 5 million people bought a gun for the first time last year, and this January, more than 4.1 million guns were sold. Polling indicates gun control is actually less popular now than it was three years ago.
With the cause of the Second Amendment relatively strong, and the NRA relatively weak, some gun owners may see the dissolution or wholesale replacement of the current NRA leadership as less of a tragedy and political setback than a necessary step.