Reorganizing the NRA: The Judge Must Do It

by Tommy Grant

As an active Life Member of the National Rifle Association for over 40 years, I am deeply concerned about the future of the NRA.  If you’ve been paying attention at all, you know the Association was rocked with scandals in 2019 and has been struggling with declining membership, revenue, and influence ever since.  Over the past five years, the NRA has spent well over $100 million NRA member dollars ducking, dodging, and denying, only to finally admit that there were “problems” in upper management and, that “mistakes” were made.  Now that a jury has found the Association (actually the board) and several of its executives liable for failing in their fiduciary obligations to act in the best interest of their members, the NRA Board is playing the victim card, saying that they “didn’t know” and were the victims of “unscrupulous vendors and insiders.”  They now say this has been their position “all along” and that they made “course corrections” and fixed the “problems” years ago.  

The NRA Board’s claims should prompt a question: If this was their position “all along,” why did they push the Association to the brink of bankruptcy defending Wayne LaPierre for the past five years?  Why didn’t they fire LaPierre along with anyone else involved – instead of re-hiring him every year, and freezing out any Board, staff, or ordinary member with the temerity to question whether LaPierre staying at the helm was in the best interests of the Association?  Firing Wayne LaPierre would have immediately made a clear, transparent case for victimhood.  Why didn’t they then transparently expose the “problems” and “mistakes,” and lay out their corrective actions and plans for righting the ship and moving forward with good governance for all to see?

The obvious answer is that they were lying then and they’re lying now.  LaPierre left the Association for “health reasons” right after the civil trial in New York began.  Though he admitted to almost all of the accusations made against him, and the jury found him liable for not only failing to fulfill his obligations to the NRA membership, but also improperly enriching himself to the tune of more than $5 million – on top of his $1.5 million to $2.2 million annual salary – the NRA Board has never issued any sort of statement naming LaPierre as one of the “insiders” who victimized them, nor have they taken any action against any of the other NRA employees, directors, or contractors who participated in, facilitated, or turned a blind eye to, LaPierre’s bad behavior.  To this day, many NRA directors are still blaming whistle-blowers, “disloyal” former directors, and me, more than they blame LaPierre and his enablers.  More importantly, the same people who were most culpable in the corruption, and who were LaPierre’s most ardent defenders, remain in the positions of power on the board. That doesn’t sound much like a righted ship or a corrected course. Now it goes to a judge to decide.

Now It Goes to a Judge to Decide

The jury verdicts against the NRA, LaPierre, former Treasurer Woody Phillips, and Secretary and General Counsel John Frazer, along with the guilty plea of former LaPierre deputy Josh Powell, were only part of the first phase of a two-phase trial.  The second phase is set to begin in mid-July.  In this phase, the case goes before Judge Joel Cohen to determine what went wrong and what needs to happen going forward.  The NY AG will argue that the NRA should be put under the control of an independent overseer to restructure and reorganize the Association.  The NRA will argue that they have already addressed the “problems” and that no further action is required or justified. It’s likely the judge will come down somewhere in the middle of these two positions, but where exactly he might land is anyone’s guess.  So far, Judge Cohen has been very fair and reasonable, and he’s exhibited what appears to be a sincere desire to act in the best interests of NRA members.  The big challenge for the judge though, is figuring out what the members want and need.  NY AG Letitia James makes no secret of her hatred for the NRA and its members.  She would like to see the Association destroyed.  On the other hand, the majority of the NRA Board of Directors appear to be more concerned with retaining their positions of influence as directors and maintaining the status quo.  


Neither the AG nor the NRA board appears to be acting in the best interests of the NRA membership – as both are legally obligated to do.  Adding to the judge’s conundrum is the fact that NRA directors are elected by NRA members, leaving him to wonder why the members would reelect directors who have been shielding and abetting “unscrupulous vendors and insiders” all these years.  We can only hope that he does a little research and realizes that the NRA board is a self-selected group. The nominating process for NRA director candidates is heavily influenced by the regime in power and their supporters on the board.  A majority of the small percentage of NRA members who vote in NRA elections, get almost all of their information about the NRA and director candidates from NRA publications, which are controlled by the regime in power.  The NRA board election process is a self-perpetuating loop, which has been controlled by insiders, primarily LaPierre and his allies, for the past 25+ years.

NRA Board of Directors Should Be Reduced to 15 or Less Members

The biggest problem with the current structure of the NRA is the fact that the Board of Directors is huge, with 76 members.  Anyone with any experience with corporate or nonprofit boards will tell you that this is far too many directors.  The only possible rationale for such a huge, ineffective board, is the idea that a board elected at-large, as the NRA’s is, will always attract a certain number of celebrities, politicians, and prominent donors who aren’t really interested in actually doing the work of the board, but want to be recognized as special members of the association.  The argument flows that a large board is needed to make sure there is room for enough “worker bees” to get the job done.  The flaw in this idea is that the non-working directors still have a vote, and their votes tend to be in the pockets of the current leadership.  With 76 directors, a small minority presenting a united front, with the support of “leaders” and prominent celebrities and politicians, can easily dominate. The single most significant thing Judge Cohen could do to improve every aspect of the NRA would be to require that the Board of Directors be reduced to no more than nine to 15 members. More than fifty years of history shows that the current structure of 76 directors, all elected at-large, is subject to abuse by insiders.  In consultation with officials from several state and regional affiliates, we have developed a broad outline for reforming the NRA.  Major features include:

  • Reduction of the NRA board from its current 76 members to no more than fifteen.
  • Creation of a Members’ Council, with each member representing his or her specific state, and elected by the NRA members in that state.
  • Recruitment, vetting, and selection of board members by the Members’ Council.  The council would also handle the committee work that keeps the current directors so busy.
  • Board membership would require qualifications matching similar level positions in corporate, government, or academic governance.
  • Both the Members’ Council and the board would have terms long enough to establish an institutional memory, but short enough to discourage empires and fiefdoms.

These are just some ideas for what might work, and there’s plenty of room for debate and modification.  At its core, the concept is that something like the current board would become an advisory group that heads up the committee work and would report to a much smaller and more professional governing Board of Directors.  Having the representatives on the Members’ Council elected by the NRA members in their respective states, would help to establish more accountability, give each NRA member a representative they can call their own, and would help to give state associations more influence in NRA HQ. As to the celebrities, politicians, and major donors who would like a special relationship with the Association, that could be handled with the creation of a new panel called the Distinguished Ambassadors Committee or something like that.  This could be built as a position of high honor with a focus on fundraising and spreading the NRA message.  Appointment to this honor roll would be in the purview of the Members’ Council, with the advice and consent of the Board of Directors.


Only Judge Cohen Can Make Any of This Happen

Doing any of this would require a major overhaul of the Association, and that will only happen if Judge Cohen orders it to happen.  I see no way that a majority of the current Board of Directors would ever voluntarily agree to remove themselves from their positions, so it must be done by Judge Cohen.  I’ll add that I’m personally not seeking any sort of job or position anywhere in the NRA under this plan.  As I write this on April 22nd, we’re still waiting to learn whether I will be elected to the NRA Board of Directors and looking forward to the Annual Meeting of Members in Dallas on May 18.  As you read this, you might know the results of these as-yet unknown to me developments, but the final trial of the NRA in New York, or a surprise settlement, should still be pending.  If I am elected, I’d gladly surrender my seat in favor of the above-outlined plan. Regardless of the outcome of the election or events at the Members’ Meeting, the NRA needs a major overhaul and Judge Cohen is our best (only) hope for accomplishing that.

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