A New Day Dawns at the NRA, Are Reform Efforts Paying Dividends?

Opinion

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The NRA Annual Meetings and Exhibits in Dallas were held between May 15 and May 20, 2024, including meetings of various committees of the Board of Directors throughout the period, the Exhibit Hall with various seminars and presentations on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, the Annual Meeting of Members on Saturday, and a meeting of the NRA Board of Directors on Monday.

The big news came from the NRA Board of Directors meeting on Monday, May 20, in which the leadership of the NRA changed hands.

With the exception of the presidency, reform candidates ran the table resulting in a new direction for the 153-year-old Association. First Vice-President Bob Barr beat out a strong challenge from Owen “Buz” Mills, a retired businessman and the owner of Gunsite Academy. The 1st VP chair was filled by reform candidate Bill Bachenberg. The 2nd VP chair went to reform candidate Mark Vaughan, and in the most surprising election, the position of Interim Executive Vice President and CEO went to reform candidate Doug Hamlin over popular firearm designer and manufacturer Ronnie Barrett.

This shift bodes well for the NRA. Members have been deeply troubled by lawsuits and scandals for the past five years and have shown their displeasure by sending four reform candidates, including myself, to the Board of Directors. In that time, the former NRA regime has reportedly spent in excess of $200 million on attorney fees and “crisis communications” in an effort to avoid accountability for mismanagement and blatant corruption within its highest echelons. At the same time, membership has fallen precipitously, as have revenues.

Now, the Association faces a major reorganization, with self-proclaimed reformers holding three of the top four officer positions and former Congressman Bob Barr holding the presidency. That reorganization started almost immediately with the appointment of Mike Blaz, a longtime, in-house attorney for the NRA, to replace John Frazer as the Association’s General Counsel. Frazer remains as the Association’s Secretary, despite having been found to have filed false financial reports by the jury in the recent trial in New York. One of his top deputies had challenged him but had sufficient support within the Board to remain as Secretary. Joe DeBergalis was hired back to be Executive Director of General Operations. DeBergalis was fired unexpectedly by Wayne LaPierre shortly before Christmas and replaced by Andrew Arulanandam.

A few weeks later, LaPierre announced his intention to resign for “health reasons,” putting Arulanandam in line to fill his seat. Arulanandam is now effectively out of the picture.

President Barr was elevated to the leadership last year when then-President Charles Cotton was allowed to be elected to a third term. An emergency Bylaw amendment was passed to allow the third term, and the then-First Vice President Willes Lee, who would have been expected to be elected President, was passed over by the Nominating Committee in favor of Barr for the First Vice President chair.

Barr is not widely considered to have been an active “insider” over the past several years, and reformers believe they can successfully work with him for the good of the Association and members.

The road ahead is a rocky one, but not nearly as rocky as it would have been had the previous leadership cabal retained power. That group is composed of Directors who appear to remain loyal to Wayne LaPierre and his legal advisor Bill Brewer, while apparently being blind to reality. As I’ve said repeatedly over the past 5+ years, there’s no question that New York AG Letitia James hates the NRA and NRA members and that her investigation and prosecution of the Association and its leaders were motivated predominantly by that hatred and her own political ambitions. That perspective is shared by the intransigent former NRA leadership, but their analysis appears to stop right there, while the reformers and I – and just about everyone else who’s ever looked into the situation – clearly see that there’s much more to the story.

All the hatred and political ambition in the world wouldn’t have allowed AG James to get as far as she has with her suit against the NRA if Wayne LaPierre and his enablers on the board had not opened the door for her with their improper actions.

The situation reminds me of a guy who gets into a beef with a local cop, then is later arrested by that cop after the guy drives drunk and careens his car through the front of a 7-11. All the guy can talk about is that the cop was out to get him while he ignores the fact that it’s his car that’s burning in the front window of the convenience store and his blood test that came back at three times the legal limit for alcohol. Sure, the cop might have it in for him, but that doesn’t explain or excuse the flaming car.

At this point, the fire is almost out, and most of those responsible for starting it, providing fuel for it, or fanning the flames, are gone or muted. There are many who stood by and failed to pick up a fire extinguisher or pull the fire alarm, but it will be up to the membership to decide whether those folks deserve to retain their positions of trust or be replaced by fresh faces in coming elections. What’s important now is ensuring the new leadership team has the resources to affect significant and enduring changes.

For a long time, I’ve said that I couldn’t in good conscience advise anyone to join the NRA or make extra contributions, but I am now changing my position.

The recovery has begun, and there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I can’t blame anyone for being skeptical and wanting to take a wait-and-see posture, but if you wait too long, it could be too late. We’re trying hard to restore trust in the Association, rebuild basic services, reestablish old relationships, and regain the moral high ground. The problem is, we’re starting from deep in a hole. Of course, the first rule for when you find yourself in a hole is to stop digging. With the elections in Dallas, the NRA and its leadership have stopped digging and begun the process of trying to climb out of the hole. We could sure use some help with that. Our financial situation is dire, and that could be greatly improved by even a small uptick in membership and contributions. We’ll be seeking additional support from our friends in the industry who have, like many of our members, taken a step back in recent years. Being able to show them improvements in the support we’re receiving from the rank and file would be a great help.

As I said, NRA is not out of the woods yet, but we’re moving in the right direction, and with your help, we can move mountains. Your support of our “Four for Reform” election efforts made a significant impact, and we greatly appreciate them. I have no doubt you will continue to monitor the situation and hold us accountable on our road to recovery and restoration – as you should.

Hopefully, that road won’t be too long and will get easier as we go.

Thank you.


About Jeff Knox:

Jeff Knox is a second-generation political activist and director of The Firearms Coalition. His father Neal Knox led many of the early gun rights battles for your right to keep and bear arms. Read Neal Knox – The Gun Rights War.

The Firearms Coalition is a loose-knit coalition of individual Second Amendment activists, clubs and civil rights organizations. Founded by Neal Knox in 1984, the organization provides support to grassroots activists in the form of education, analysis of current issues, and with a historical perspective of the gun rights movement. The Firearms Coalition has offices in Buckeye, Arizona, and Manassas, VA. Visit: www.FirearmsCoalition.org.

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A New Day Dawns at the NRA, Are Reform Efforts Paying Dividends? is written by Jeff Knox for www.ammoland.com

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