With the nation at a crucial juncture in the gun debate, a normally regular meeting of the National Rifle Association has taken on greater importance as its board of directors gathers close to the nation’s capital this week.
President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress are weighing stricter gun measures in the wake of mass killings in Texas and Ohio. Democratic presidential candidates in their argument Thursday were persistent in their pursuit of harsh gun restrictions, punctuated by former El Paso Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s guarantee that, “hell yes, we’re gonna take your AR-15, your AK-47.”
Corporate America also has been pushing back against the NRA. The gun company’s legal struggles and internal strife have deepened since the last time that the NRA board met in a tumultuous April gathering. It has been labeled a domestic terrorist organization by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, a move that prompted a lawsuit against the NRA.
The location of the autumn meeting, an annual affair that’s usually under-the-radar, ended up being contentious. The NRA originally intended to hold the gathering, which isn’t available to the public or to many rank-and-file NRA members, in Alaska. That far-flung place attracted criticism among some NRA members for being an unnecessary expense and a means to prevent scrutiny.
Then just weeks before, at a price of roughly $100,000, it had been switched to subway Washington since the NRA said it was crucial to be near Congress where gun restrictions are gaining some momentum.
Marion Hammer, a former NRA president and one of its most prominent board members, confessed the metro Washington place will make it easier to get access to leaders in this critical period in the gun debate.
“If they are in Alaska, it would make it impossible for NRA’s officers and senior staff to be engaged in the fight for your rights in the nation’s capital,” she wrote in a post within an NRA site.
The meeting started on Wednesday but the board will not formally collect until Saturday. It is not clear what actions, if any, the board could take.
At its annual meeting last spring, former board president Oliver North — and many vocal NRA members — had sought a review of the NRA’s finances and operations. But North resigned from his job as president and, lately, a handful of the board 76 members have resigned after publicly calling for increased scrutiny of its operations.
NRA members have been particularly critical of CEO Wayne LaPierre’s spending habits as he racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs for clothes and travel. The organization has also been accused of straying too far from its original mission and accepting radical political stances, prompting the NRA to get rid of its controversial TV network.
Best NRA donor David Dell’Aquila filed a lawsuit this summer against the NRA asserting it’s misused donations. Dell’Aquila has contributed about $100,000 to the NRA and vowed the majority of his estate worth a few million dollars. He also has produced a website which calls for wholesale changes in NRA leadership, including the ouster of LaPierre.
Along with the internal divisions, the NRA has had to contend with growing backlash from corporate and Democratic leaders following the killings in El Paso, Dayton and Odessa.
As the NRA meetings were to start, top executives at almost 150 U.S.-based companies sent a letter to members of the U.S. Senate advocating an expansion of the country’s background check system and “red flag” legislation.
“Doing nothing about America’s gun violence crisis is simply unacceptable and it is time to stand with the American public on gun safety,” they wrote. “Gun violence in America is not inevitable; it’s preventable. There are steps Congress can, and must, take to prevent and reduce gun violence. We need our lawmakers to support commonsense gun laws that could prevent tragedies like these.”
The Senate returned from recess this week and some are pushing to require background checks for private gun sales. Several important senators made a new pitch to Trump, a longtime NRA supporter, to help break the gridlock over gun-control. Trump has flip-flopped on firearms, first suggesting he would be amenable to background checks legislation or other measures to attempt and stem gun violence, just to backtrack after talking with the NRA and others from the gun lobby.
Rob Pincus, a longtime NRA member and firearms instructor who’s one of the leaders of Save the Second, a group calling for LaPierre’s resignation, traveled to attend the meetings but told The Associated Press that he had been kicked out as it went into executive session. He’s a part of a growing group of ardent gun fans that are critical of the NRA’s operations and thinks that the gun lobby has been squandering member donations.
“If there is a bright side to this for the gun community, it’s realizing that there is no easy button,” he explained recently. “You can’t just send your $50 to one organization and assume that they’re handling it well for you, and people are having to take a little bit more accountability and a little bit more action on their own.”