Philosopher and historian George Santayana wrote in 1905 that “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” In that spirit, I thought it would be useful to readers to revisit some of the history of the National Rifle Association starting with the Cincinnati Revolt and going up through the late 1990s. It was in the late 1990s that Wayne LaPierre cemented his role as Executive Vice President of the NRA and effectively stifled any future efforts to remove him.
This history is not unbiased as it comes from the writings of the late Neal Knox. He was one of the architects of the Cincinnati Revolt, served as head of NRA-ILA, was a NRA Board member, was its 1st Vice President, was the man who first hired Wayne LaPierre as a lobbyist, and later became his chief antagonist. Neal was also a gun writer and publisher. He was the founding editor of Gun Week (now The GunMag), was the editor of Wolfe Publishing’s Handloader and Rifle magazines, and later had a column in Shotgun News (now Firearm News). This archived post from Gun Week gives more of Neal’s life and work.
Through the gracious permission of Chris and Jeff Knox, I will be reprinting selected chapters from the book as it relates to the NRA. I’ll be doing this on an occasional basis so as to spread it out.
It is my belief that knowing some of this history will allow readers to better understand the current NRA, its problems, and what has led to it being sued by New York Attorney General Letitia James. The problems that she points out in her lawsuit didn’t just happen and it is important to realize that.
Healthy organizations have succession plans. Good leaders make it a priority. Development of future leaders is such an organizational imperative that it is usually under the purview of the CEO. Having a succession plan is both forward looking and a measure of risk management.
Think how many corporations and non-profits have lost their chief executives to heart attacks, cancer, and accidents. The list goes on and on.
For almost a decade I’ve been asking people in the firearms and Second Amendment community to seriously consider who might take over as Executive Vice President of the NRA if Wayne LaPierre were to retire or be hit by a bus.
About 6 years ago I got really serious about that question and was raising the issue in my regular columns, then 3 and a half years ago, after the election of Donald Trump, there was talk that Wayne might be offered some sort of position within the Trump administration, and I was very actively asking people for suggestions of possible successors, or at least the qualities a successor would need in order to be successful and keep the NRA strong. Finally, last year all sorts of accusations of financial improprieties and self-dealing among LaPierre and other NRA executives, broke in major media, and a lot of people began asking the same questions I’d been asking for years, but the same answer kept coming back… Crickets.
Let’s look at the people that Jeff notes have been seriously mentioned as potential successors as Executive VP and CEO of the NRA.
Out. Through the machinations of either Wayne LaPierre or his erstwhile Rasputin, William Brewer III, Chris was labeled as having been a part of a “coup attempt”. This was always strongly denied by Chris and he eventually resigned.
Out. Again, was accused of plotting to overthrow Wayne and again the fine hand of William Brewer III seems to have been involved. This happened after Ollie started asking too many questions especially with regard to Brewer. Wayne portrayed this as “extortion“.
It isn’t just the CEO who should be responsible for succession planning. Professor Ram Charan who taught at both Harvard Business School and Northwestern University, had this to say on succession planning.
A CEO or board that has been in place for six or seven years and has not yet provided a pool of qualified candidates, and a robust process for selecting the next leader, is a failure. Everyone talks about emulating such best practitioners as General Electric, but few work very hard at it.
By all objective measures, the NRA Board of Directors has failed. They have no succession plan for Wayne. The majority of the board has kow-towed to Wayne and jumped when he said jump.
Part of the reason the board fails is structural and part is due to the composition. The structural issue is that the Board of Directors is too damn large to be effective. The other issue is that many on the board are there due to either celebrity status or allegiance to Wayne. It is the latter that is the greater problem. The board owes a duty of loyalty to the organization and not to any one individual.
In the short run, nothing can be done about the size of the board. However, the board can still start to work on a succession plan to Wayne. Based upon Wayne’s age of 70 alone, this needs to be done. My fear is that the board will do as it has always done. That is do nothing and the organization will continue to suffer while our blood enemies grow stronger.
The ballots for the 2020 NRA Board of Directors Election were included in the February issues of the official magazines. Those who get the magazines electronically should have received their ballots separately in the mail. If you haven’t received your ballot and you think you are eligible to vote, contact NRA Membership Services at 1- 703-267-1000. Ask for membership. (Correction courtesy of Dave V.)
Completed ballots must be received back by March 29th. Late ballots will not be counted.
The first published endorsements that I saw were from Lt. Col. Robert Brown of Soldier of Fortune Magazine. Col. Brown has been a member of the Board of Directors for a number of years and has been a somewhat independent voice on the board. He endorsed six people for the Board. He notes elsewhere he is NOT voting for Charles Cotton, the current 1st VP.
Ammoland News is endorsing only two candidates this year: Anthony Colandro and Graham Hill. They go on to say:
Based on the last years’ controversy at the NRA AmmoLand News is very cautious in who we are endorsing as we wait and see how the NRA’s legal challenges work out. Graham Hill is one of those Directors that we know very well and have much respect for his work and trust his leadership skills can help guide the NRA in the year to come. Please Bullet Vote only for Graham Hill and Anthony Colandro when you return your NRA ballot.
Anthony’s DECADES of Second Amendment activism experience, fighting for all of us, with a target on his back, is the thing legends are made of! Leading rallies, testifying for gun owners at hearings held at our state capitol, hosting Tony Simon’s Diversity Shoot and the Second Amendment Women Shooting Club–SAW at his range. He never stops fighting! His in-your-face weekly radio broadcast reaches millions of gun owners nationwide.
The Trigger Pressers Union (a training organization) has endorsed Frank Tait and Jim Wallace. Klint Macro, the head and founder, is also endorsing Todd Ellis and Anthony Colandro according to their Facebook post.
Next up is Save the Second. The organization itself has not endorsed any candidates. They have, however, provided a valuable service by creating a guide to all candidates which can be found here. It has many links to candidates’ social media sites, endorsements, and biographical information.
They also have produced a 2 1/2 hour YouTube where they discuss the candidates. It is worth watching.
The individual directors of Save the Second have made their own recommendations independent of the organization.
Jeff is blunt on what the NRA faces and the assortment of candidates on this ballot.
The NRA is in deep trouble. I honestly expect indictments and financial sanctions to be coming down very soon from investigations being conducted by the New York and DC attorneys general and other agencies. All of these troubles tie directly back to Wayne LaPierre and the NRA Directors who allowed him to abuse his power so egregiously. If the Association can be saved, it’s going to require Directors willing to make hard decisions and stand firmly on principles. This ballot doesn’t offer a lot of hope for that, but we must do what we can with what we’ve got.
Jeff has made both endorsements and non-endorsements. The non-endorsements are those who should not get your vote under any circumstances. These include Charles Cotton, Ron Schmeitz, and Alan Cors. Rejecting these three would, in Jeff’s words, send a “loud message to the Board and the powers that be.” He also mentions John Cushman who is running by petition. Cushman has been on the Board off and on for 20 years. Jeff considers him part of the problem and not part of the solution.
In years gone past, Jeff has endorsed bullet voting. This year he has broadened the number of candidates he supports. They include:
Finally, as a reminder, I am endorsing both Frank Tait and Graham Hill. I think both are excellent candidates and worthy of your support. I am also suggesting bullet voting. The NRA Board election is what is termed in political science an “approval election“. This means there are multiple candidates running for multiple seats and you can vote for as many candidates as there are seats. Social scientists have written extensively on approval elections and on voting strategically in these elections.
Since you cannot rank order your preferences, if you vote for as many candidates as there are open seats, then your most favored candidate is equal to your least favored candidate. One merely needs to look to the presidential election of 1800 to see the consequences. Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr both got the same number of electoral votes even though one was running for president and the other for vice-president. This became known as the Burr Dilemma. That election was ultimately decided in the House of Representatives.
If you see other endorsements for the Board that you think should be highlighted, please comment and include a link to the endorsement with your comments.
Lt. Col. Allen West, USA (Ret), former Congressman from Florida and a NRA Board Member, put out this tweet a little over an hour ago. Mind you that the release put out by the American Rifleman and elsewhere was that the Board unanimously elected the new officers, reelected Wayne LaPierre as EVP, and re-appointed the rest of the Executive Team.
(3/3) I wish we could have delivered on what our NRA members asked of us in the resolution they referred to the Board. The NRA & 2A is greater than any one person. It’s about the spirit of those Patriots who took the field on April 19, 1775 at Lexington Green and Concord Bridge.
We recorded a special episode of The Polite Society Podcast tonight to discuss the NRA Annual Meeting, the Board Meeting, and the Meeting of the Members on Saturday. Our guest was Jeff Knox of The Firearm Coalition. One thing that Jeff brought up was that he wouldn’t be surprised to see some of the celebs on the board bailing upon the advice of their attorneys. Given the strictness of NY law and the mandate that directors actually direct, I’m just glad to be a peon and not a board member.
Jeff Knox, son of the late Neal Knox, is a person I like and respect. We’ve met at various NRA Annual Meetings and Gun Rights Policy Conferences over the years. I’ve come to appreciate his great love for the NRA and what it could be as well as his extensive institutional memory. He has been fighting a long but so-far losing battle to reform the NRA in an effort to recapture what the Cincinnati Revolt of 1977 was supposed to institutionalize. Some may have seen his efforts as quixotic as he has been a lone voice in the wilderness arguing that change was needed for lo these many years. Nonetheless, he was right and the recent revelations regarding the NRA are providing him some vindication.
Things are coming to a head. As I wrote yesterday, Everytown for Gun Safety has filed a formal complaint with the Internal Revenue Service. This shot across the bow from the gun prohibitionists may only be the first step. Moreover, Attorney General Letitia James (D-NY) could well move to dissolve the NRA for being in violation of New York’s stringent non-profit laws as the organization is chartered in the State of New York.
Option 1. A majority of the Board circles the wagons in defense of Wayne LaPierre and his pals and tries to weather the storm. (They’ll fail, and the whole ship will sink.)
Option 2. A majority of the Board fires LaPierre and other executives (or accepts their resignations) and nullifies their contracts, suspends all vendor contracts pending thorough review and renegotiation, and purges culpable members of their own body – demonstrating a commitment to safeguarding NRA assets on behalf of the membership. (Plugging the holes and possibly saving the ship.)
The days of muddling through are in the past. The enemies of the Second Amendment are seeing to that.
Jeff goes on to write:
The current NRA Board of Directors have a slim chance of saving the NRA from total ruin, but they must act swiftly and decisively.
They must expunge everyone involved in even the appearance of corruption. Including board members who failed in their oversight obligations and individuals like Josh Powell the genius behind many of the NRA’s recent disasters like Carry Guard and a known manipulator of Wayne LaPierre’s decision making. They must halt all outside contracts until they can be thoroughly reviewed and either canceled or renegotiated. As much as possible needs to be brought in-house and run under the direct oversight of the board. This action may mean the end of things like Ackerman McQueen run NRA-TV, so do not be surprised if they pack up shop one day soon.
All of the significant, life-threatening issues facing NRA revolve around just three operational areas: PR, fundraising, and political spending. Suspending operations in those three areas, and bringing them under tight, in-house control for the immediate future, would put the association back on stable ground and allow it to continue operating effectively.
There will undoubtedly be repercussions from all of this, including fines, sanctions, lawsuits, and possibly criminal indictments, but all of those repercussions are on their way, regardless of what the board does now. The difference is whether those consequences will be levied against an organization that still has the people who created those problems at the helm – people who will be using NRA resources to cover their tails – or an organization that has policed itself and taken corrective action to address its problems.
If I may use the analogy of the stages of cancer, we are well beyond Stage 1 where the cancer is small and only in one area. The only question we are facing is whether it is Stage 3 where the cancer is much larger and has spread into adjacent tissues or is it Stage 4 where the cancer has metastasized to other areas of the body and survival is in doubt. Both Stage 3 and Stage 4 are bad. Treating either stage requires strong, even radical, measures if long-term survival is to have any probability of success.
This unfortunately is what we are facing. I would love to have been writing about all the new products coming out or the seminars and presentations I anticipated attending this weekend. Events of the past week dictate otherwise.