The NRA Is in Trouble, But Don’t Count It Out Yet

The NRA’s annual convention in Dallas last year. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The wife of the National Rifle Association’s CEO preferred makeup artists from Nashville, the Daily Beast reported on Friday, and the organization spent “tens of thousands of dollars” to fly stylists out to accompany her to official events. Susan LaPierre, who is the wife of Wayne LaPierre, co-chairs the NRA’s Women’s Leadership Forum, and according to sources who spoke to the Beast, the organization canceled the stylists for an April event after weeks of bad press over its dubious expenditures.

LaPierre’s beauty regimen is ridiculous, but it might be the least of the NRA’s worries. The Trump presidency should be a moment of glory for the NRA: The president has taken no serious action on gun control, even as mass shootings rack up bloodier and bloodier tallies, and he shares the organization’s commitment to racist fearmongering. The NRA should be well-positioned to press the attack, and block new efforts at gun-control legislation formed in the wake of recent killings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas. Money and power, however, may have distracted its leaders from the organization’s stated goals.

The organization seems ready to collapse from within. Hollowed out by allegations of mismanagement, lavish spending habits, and a general lack of direction, it may now be undone by its own hand. The Wall Street Journal had previously reported that the organization nearly bought the LaPierres a $6.5 million mansion — a home LaPierre needed because, he said, it would protect him, and he feared for his life after the Parkland shooting in 2018. Earlier this month, four of its board members resigned, protesting the organization’s lack of transparency. They had “been stonewalled, accused of disloyalty, stripped of committee assignments and denied effective counsel necessary to properly discharge our responsibilities as Board members,” they complained in a statement reported by the HuffPost. In May the Ackerman McQueen ad firm ended its contract with the NRA. The organization is now embroiled in a legal battle with the agency over accusations that it sided with former NRA president Oliver North in an attempt to oust LaPierre from the top spot. In June, it closed NRATV.

Allies are worried. After a series of mass shootings this month, there is renewed interest in passing some form of gun control, and the NRA is hardly in a position to do much about it. But while it may be tempting to cheer the organization’s troubles, the NRA isn’t dead yet. “It will reconstitute itself without a problem,” an anonymous former Trump adviser told Politico on Friday. The NRA isn’t the only gun-rights organization in the U.S., either; the Politico piece even mentions a few, like Save the Second and Gun Owners of America, and some view the NRA as being unacceptably moderate. Even if the NRA did shut its doors, it seems entirely likely that some other group will attract the group’s donors. As long as the money flows — and it will — gun-rights lobbyists will find jobs.

The views it took mainstream would not die with the organization, either. The NRA’s legacy consists of more than the skill of its lobbyists and the volume of Susan LaPierre’s hair. The NRA, which in 2017 represented 19 percent of all gun owners in the U.S., doesn’t strive only to preserve the Second Amendment right to bear arms. Its ultimate goal is the unlimited expansion of that right. To accomplish this, it always needed to make further gun control unthinkable, and that meant playing to the fears of its mostly white membership: The right to bear arms had to be defined as broadly as possible because crime abounds, emanating from America’s cities and brought over the border by immigrants. This is why the late, little-lamented NRATV broadcast views that often had nothing to do with the Second Amendment per se. “You’re coming from Mexico, it’s not an asylum claim,” NRATV host Grant Stinchfield once said, according to a transcript published by Media Matters for America. “Asylum claims are when you’re coming from literally brutal dictatorships. You sneak out of North Korea and you manage to get here, you can claim asylum. Because you were carrying a Bible in North Korea and pushing the Word, that’s asylum.” The NRA is customarily silent when black gun owners are murdered by police. Its lobbying efforts against even the most limited forms of gun control bear significant responsibility for Chicago’s ongoing spate of shootings. But the NRA’s concern for the dead of Chicago is fleeting, fixed more on the media than on the victims its work helped create. “Where’s the CNN town hall for Chicago? Where’s the CNN town hall for sanctuary cities?” asked NRATV’s Dana Loesch at CPAC last year. The NRA never misses an opportunity to promote the racial grievances of its members.

Its message is obvious. Rights are for Christians, and for white Christians at that. That belief is bigger than the NRA, and it will survive whatever scandal the LaPierres generate next.

Despite Scandal, the NRA’s Message Is Clearer Than Ever