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The NRA Is in Disarray: Here’s What You Need to Know

Over the past several years, dozens of stories about the National Rifle Association have spilled into the light of day, painting a picture of an organization in disarray. We’ve witnessed it hemorrhage money and support. We watched as its longtime CEO Wayne LaPierre resigned in the midst of a corruption trial—a trial which the NRA then went on to lose. We’ve kept tabs as the organization slowly and steadily fell apart.

How did it get here? The trail is long and full of infighting, flirting with fraud, and a disintegrating base of support.

Originally released in July 2019, we’re continuing to update this list so we can make sense of just how far the NRA’s problems extend.


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Lawsuit Troubles

New York Attorney General v. NRA

  • New York AG files lawsuit against the NRA. In August 2020, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced a lawsuit against the NRA, accusing the organization of using millions from its reserves for personal use and tax fraud, among other things. [CNN
  • The NRA fakes bankruptcy and fails. Following the lawsuit, in early 2021, the NRA filed for bankruptcy and tried to reincorporate its nonprofit status in Texas. Within a few months, however, a federal judge dismissed its effort to declare bankruptcy, ruling that the gun rights group had not filed the case in good faith. [NPR]
  • Courts repeatedly dismiss NRA counterclaims. For much of 2021, 2022, and 2023, the NRA spent its time exploring legal avenues to evade AG Letitia James’s lawsuit. Each time, the courts rejected its claims to dismiss the lawsuit. [AP]
  • NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre resigns days before corruption trial. The NRA faced some turmoil in the lead up to its corruption trial when its long-time CEO publicly resigned. LaPierre has led the NRA’s day-to-day operations since 1991 and has consistently leaned into far-right extremist rhetoric and fought against gun safety. [AP
  • AG Letitia James wins trial against NRA. In February 2024, a Manhattan jury ruled that NRA leaders had engaged in a yearslong pattern of financial misconduct and corruption. The jury found that the group’s former leader, Wayne LaPierre, had used NRA funds to pay for personal expenses, including vacations, luxury flights, and yacht rides, and that two other top executives had failed in their duties to the nonprofit organization. [New York Times]

Illegal Campaign Conduct

  • The NRA violates campaign finance law. According to a broad range of election and advertising records, the NRA appears to have illegally coordinated with multiple political campaigns—violating federal law that prevents independent groups from synchronizing their efforts with campaigns. Four complaints filed at the Federal Election Commission (FEC) by the Campaign Legal Center (CLC) and GIFFORDS accused the NRA of illegally coordinating with the campaigns of multiple GOP senate candidates in the 2014, 2016, and 2018 election cycles. [The Trace]
  • The NRA used shell companies to support Trump. GIFFORDS and CLC also filed FEC complaints documenting illegal campaign coordination involving the NRA and the Trump presidential campaign. The group spent $25 million, mostly on television ads, through the same companies—and often the same executives—who placed spots for the Trump campaign, violating well-established campaign finance laws. [HuffPost]
  • GIFFORDS sues the NRA. The FEC dragged its feet on addressing these allegations, so GIFFORDS and CLC sought to compel the agency to investigate these millions of dollars in illegal, unreported, and excessive in-kind contributions by filing a lawsuit against the FEC. In October 2021, a federal judge ruled that the FEC has 30 days to take action on the complaints. After no action was taken, on November 2, 2021, GIFFORDS sued the NRA. As of the beginning of 2024, the case is pending. [ABC News, Washington Post]

NRA v. Ackerman McQueen

  • NRA sues former ad firm Ackerman McQueen. The NRA asked for the financial records of its contractors, including Ackerman McQueen, the group’s former ad firm that operated NRATV, the group’s incendiary online media arm. According to the NRA, the firm refused to turn over financial documents. In April 2019, the NRA sued Ackerman McQueen, accusing the firm of concealing details of how it used the $40 million it received annually from the NRA. [New York Times]
  • Ackerman McQueen’s countersuit. Ackerman McQueen countersued the NRA for $50 million. The firm claimed it had already given the NRA sufficient access to its financial records and that the NRA only brought the initial lawsuit in order to find cause to terminate its contract with Ackerman McQueen. [The Daily Beast]
  • NRA settles lawsuit against Ackerman McQueen. After a protracted legal fight, in which each side was seeking more than $50 million in damages, a confidential settlement was reached in March 2022, just before the case was scheduled to go to trial. While the parties have not disclosed the settlement details, a New York forensic auditor’s report states that the NRA paid $12 million to its former PR firm. [The Trace]
  • NRA files new, secret lawsuit against Ackerman McQueen. After settling its public legal battle with its former ad agency in 2022, the NRA has since filed a new lawsuit against Ackerman McQueen and one of its subsidiaries. While federal courts must usually justify sealing an entire case like this, there have been no comments as to why this case has been shielded from the public. [The Trace]

Financial Corruption

LaPierre’s Lavish Spending

As explored above, the lawsuit New York’s Attorney General Letitia James won against the NRA alleged that NRA leaders used organization funds for personal expenses. Unsurprisingly, Wayne LaPierre was among the worst financial abusers.

  • Wayne LaPierre lied about his yacht trip. When questioned by New York’s attorney general about his alleged acceptance of lavish gifts, LaPierre testified under oath in 2021 that a luxury yacht he used in the Bahamas in 2013, provided by an NRA contractor for free, was for a “security retreat” because he believed his life was in imminent danger following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. He failed to disclose that his niece was getting married in the Bahamas, and that he and his wife used the yacht to attend the wedding and cruise around the Caribbean. In fact, LaPierre failed to list free yacht trips on NRA internal disclosure forms, as required by the organization’s rules and New York State law, for almost 10 years. [New Yorker]
  • NRA CEO under IRS investigation. In 2020, the IRS began investigating longtime National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre for possible criminal tax fraud related to his personal taxes, according to people familiar with the matter. [Wall Street Journal, The Trace]
  • Expensive private flights. For years, Wayne LaPierre employed a California travel agent to book his private flights. Through a complicated financial web of retainer payments and Ackerman McQueen reimbursements, Gayle Sanford, an unregistered travel agent who was accused in a 2009 lawsuit of defrauding small-business owners out of money, arranged travel for LaPierre, as well as his wife and niece. [Wall Street Journal]
  • Plans to buy Wayne LaPierre a mansion. Reports revealed that Wayne LaPierre feared for his life after the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, and determined that the solution was to have the NRA buy him a $6 million Dallas mansion, with Ackerman McQueen assisting in facilitating the transaction and maintaining the property after closing. While the deal ultimately fell through, had it not, the organization would have been a 99% owner of LaPierre’s residence. [Wall Street Journal]

An Absence of Employee Appreciation

  • Leadership payouts. About one-quarter of the NRA board, a body that is supposed to be unpaid, collected money from the group through various contracts and agreements that have little to do with the NRA’s core mission. [Washington Post]
  • Frozen pensions and underpaid employees. Compared to the seven-figure salary of Wayne LaPierre, rank-and-file staffers have been paid below market rate, and had their pensions frozen in 2018. [NPR]

Waning Membership

  • Tax filings reveal just how far the NRA has fallen. In an analysis of the last 15 years of the organization’s tax filings, The Daily Beast reported that the NRA is experiencing a “swift and dramatic” collapse. It’s been declining for years across numerous metrics, including revenue, assets, member dues, lobbying, and political spending, while there have been sharp increases in legal costs and deficits. [The Daily Beast]
  • The NRA has lost roughly one million members since its peak in 2018. Membership levels have hovered at about five million for the past few years, but new financial documents detail the organization’s 12% drop over the course of about a year and a half. The loss of membership contributed to an overall revenue erosion. [The Trace]
  • NRA member revenue hits 15 year low. According to a financial report released at the NRA’s 2022 convention in Houston, NRA member revenue has plunged to lows not seen since 2006. Then CEO Wayne LaPierre defended this drop by blaming gas prices and inflation, despite the fact that the most recent membership revenue decline began in 2018. Also included in the report is a staggering $52 million—or 21% of total spending—on legal fees and related costs in 2021 alone. [The Trace]

Leadership Infighting

  • Despite resistance, Wayne LaPierre retains power. Undeterred by the detailed evidence of fraud and self-dealing, in October 2021 the NRA reelected Wayne LaPierre as executive vice president and CEO. Only days earlier, NRA board member and Director Roscoe Marshall called the corruption allegations against LaPierre and others highly credible. [CNN, Bloomberg]
  • Leadership exodus. An analysis by The Trace found in early 2020 that at least 21 people who were part of the NRA’s leadership—executives, board members, attorneys, and other staff—left the organization. [The Trace]
  • NRA’s CEO and president trade punches. The dispute between then NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre and NRA President Oliver North was closely tied to the organization’s lawsuit against its former ad agency, Ackerman McQueen. North aligned himself with Ackerman McQueen and attempted to oust LaPierre, accusing him of mishandling NRA funds and threatening to go to the board with incriminating information. LaPierre retaliated with claims that this was payback for the lawsuit and eventually won the power struggle when North resigned. [HuffPost, Rolling Stone, Washington Post]

Mass Shootings

  • NRA tweets appalling post on the Fourth of July. The same day that an armed citizen killed seven people and injured dozens more in Highland Park, Illinois, in 2022, the NRA tweeted that American celebrations of Independence Day are the result of arming citizens. The tweet was not deleted, and it gained attention as residents of the town were sheltering in place during the manhunt for the shooter. [HuffPost]
  • NRA convention held just days after the Uvalde shooting. The NRA went forward with its 2022 convention in Houston, just days after a gunman took 21 lives at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Numerous commitments pulled out of the convention in the wake of the tragedy, including Texas Republicans and the company that manufactured the gun used in the Uvalde massacre. The NRA defended its plans to go ahead with the convention by stating that convention attendees would “reflect on the attack.” [NPR]
  • In the wake of Columbine. Over 20 years after the mass shooting at Columbine High School, secret recordings revealed leaders of the NRA scheming about how to respond after the Columbine shooting in 1999. On the tapes, officials are heard rejecting a fund for victims and settling on a destructive message that has shaped the organization’s response to mass shootings in the decades since. [NPR]

Additional Controversies

  • The NRA continues to prioritize politics over gun safety. The NRA spending on education and training has decreased by 77% since 2014. Andrew Lander, who spent 13 years shaping the NRA’s standard-setting firearms training programs, said the NRA has prioritized political aims at the expense of its fundamental mission. [Rolling Stone]
  • Republican governor offers harsh criticism of the NRA. After close work with and praise for the NRA, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee condemned the organization’s interest in using involuntary commitment laws “to round up mentally ill people and deprive them of other liberties.” In the wake of a school shooting in Nashville—and against NRA and GOP opposition—Governor Lee has proposed commonsense gun safety legislation to keep firearms away from people who could hurt themselves or others. [AP
  • The NRA secretly influenced the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision. When the Supreme Court handed down its first major Second Amendment decision in nearly a decade in June 2022, limiting the ability of state governments to decide who can carry a gun in public, 49 amicus briefs were submitted in support of the NRA’s argument. Nearly a quarter, however, were from people and institutions to whom the NRA had given millions of dollars. Only one of the briefs disclosed this financial connection, meaning that the justices and the public were largely unaware that the NRA financially supported these “independent voices.” [Politico]
  • NRA board member subpoenaed by January 6 committee. The US House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol issued another round of subpoenas in late January 2022, targeting individuals accused of submitting falsified electoral college paperwork as part of an unsuccessful attempt to subvert the 2020 presidential election results. The list of individuals subpoenaed included Bill Bachenberg, who has been on the NRA’s board of directors since 2005. [Salon]
  • LaPierre tricked into gun violence prevention video. A gun violence prevention group has released videos in which they trick famous pro-gun figures into addressing a sea of empty chairs, representing children and teenagers who were shot and killed before they could graduate from high school. [NBC]
  • The NRA has close ties with Russia. In 2019, now Russian parliament member Maria Butina was sentenced to prison in the US after pleading guilty to conspiracy to infiltrate the NRA on behalf of Russia. NRA officials paid for and introduced Butina to American political organizations and Republican party officials, leading a Senate Finance Committee report to declare that the NRA acted as a “foreign asset” for Russia leading up to the 2016 election—an election in which the NRA spent at least $50 million trying to elect Republican leaders. The report also noted that the NRA was very closely involved in organizing a 2015 visit to Moscow by some of the organization’s leaders. [NPR, New York Times]



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