Neal Knox – “NRA Restored To Proper Course”

Preface by Chris Knox:

The Cincinnati Revolution

The gathering storm over whether and how NRA should fulfill its role as “the gun lobby” came to a head at the organization’s 1977 convention in Cincinnati when, operating under long-ignored Bylaws and New York not-for-profit corporation law (NRA is chartered in New York), a loose-knit organization of members that dubbed itself “The Federation for NRA” wrested control of the organization from the “Old Guard” NRA establishment. The man who moved the Bylaw changes that re-made the Association was Neal Knox.

Knox’s motions were far from a solo act. Reform-minded members had gathered for this meeting from across the country and rebel Board members, including Ed Topmiller and Harlon Carter, provided tactical advice.

Nor had Knox sought the lead role. In a planning session prior to the meeting he looked to the core of the reformers to appoint a speaker. They pointed back at him as the most recognizable name and face. Knox’s columns and editorials on NRA over the previous half-dozen years had brought many of the delegates to the meeting. Knox refused the appointment. But Bill Greif, a blunt-spoken New Yorker hustled him into a corner and growled into his good ear, “Enough of this democracy shit, Neal! Tonight we need Napoleon and you’re it!

In a raucous meeting that lasted a full eight hours—until past four in the morning—the members replaced most of the officers with candidates who were less squeamish about involving NRA in politics, and elected Board ally Harlon Carter as Executive Vice President (EVP). Under the newly-passed Bylaws, the redefined post of EVP, now functionally a Chief Executive Officer, would be elected directly by the members gathered at the Convention.

The members also passed Bylaw amendments that dissolved the Management Committee, and created a petition process to nominate Board candidates. Other Bylaw amendments strengthened the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, the lobbying arm, by making the ILA Executive Director report directly to the EVP on a co-equal basis with the Director of General Operations. The ILA Director had previously reported to General Operations. Other new Bylaws provided that only the members could change certain sections of the Bylaws which would be printed in boldface type. For the first time in living memory, the members had a genuine say in the affairs of the Association.

Satisfied that his work was done, Neal returned home to Prescott, Arizona and to his magazines. Within weeks Carter asked him to come to Washington and head ILA. He refused. As he told Harlon, he had every boy’s dream job: he drove a company-provided 4-wheel-drive truck to work, flew the company twin-engine plane to shooting matches and hunting trips, and he got to play with the best new toys the firearms industry had to offer. Why would he want to go to Washington where he would have to commute through Washington traffic and wear a suit and tie to work?

Nonetheless Knox and Harlon Carter were in near-daily telephone contact. Finally, late in 1977, Carter prevailed on him to head ILA. He planned to stay in Washington no more than two years, never dreaming that he would never live outside the Washington area again.

NRA Restored to Proper Course

Handloader July-August, 1977


The National Rifle Association rests in the hands of its membership. At the May 21, 1977 annual members’ meeting a well-organized, determined group of delegates from organizations across the country—the Federation for NRA—deposed almost all the top officers, placed moratoriums on the National Outdoor Center and planned sale of the Washington Headquarters, provided for member nominations of Directors, and elected Harlon B. Carter as Executive Vice President, placing him over all NRA operations.

The Federation’s program was strongly supported by the more than 1,100 Life Members who had registered to vote and more than 1,000 other Life and Annual members—the largest-ever attendance at a members’ meeting. Those members came to Cincinnati deeply disturbed about the reports of serious problems within NRA, which had appeared here, in Gene Crum’s articles in Gun Week, and elsewhere. They were determined to discover whether the allegations were true—and to take corrective actions if they were. During their reports the officers charged that the allegations against them were lies and distortions. First Vice President lrvine Reynolds said the articles were “propaganda that make Hitler look like a piker.” Although not mentioning the writers by name, President Merrill Wright did mention the title of a Rifle article, which gave your editor the right to respond—which I did, challenging specific false statements made by the officers. When several members demanded that my charges be answered,Wright declined.

Then Institute for Legislative Action Executive Director Bob Kukla, in an extremely courageous act, confirmed that the independence of ILA, and its effectiveness in fighting repressive gun legislation had been threatened by the Management Committee, composed of the three top officers. As proof, Kukla played an openly recorded tape of the February 26 Management Committee meeting in which he was criticized for ILA’s opposition to Smith & Wesson’s proposal for national handgun licensing, and ILA’s opposition to the National Education Association’s anti-handgun position. Kukla’s evidence convinced the neutral members of the seriousness of the problems within NRA; although relatively few members in the meeting had known of the Federation’s reform program, they supported it overwhelmingly.

Some Directors were outraged by many of the members’ actions—especially the removal from office of First Vice President Reynolds, Second Vice President Alonzo Garcelon, Executive V.P. Max Rich,V.P.-Finance Tom Billings and Executive Council members C. R. Gutermuth and Fred Hakenjos (Wright was exempted by floor amendment since he had but two days to serve, but he was not elected by the Board to the traditional Executive Council post for past presidents). Although there was much private discussion of legal action to attempt to set aside what the members had done, there was no overt action. However, the Board did adopt a resolution to restore Gutermuth and Hakenjos to the Executive Council on the grounds that the members didn’t have the legal authority to remove them. Also, the Board treated the deposed paid officers much more generously than the treatment given the 74 employees fired and “early-retired” last fall—instead of normal severance pay, Billings was voted $20,000, and Rich was given his full $50,000 per annum pay through December 31, 1977.

There were other indications that numerous Board members are unwilling to accept the members’ actions as a mandate, contending that the members present represented only .5 percent of the voting membership—ignoring the fact that many, particularly those wearing the blaze orange hats of the Federation, came to Cincinnati as delegates of organizations with hundreds and thousands of NRA members. However, as the members wished, the Board did provide that ILA’s basic overhead will be funded from member dues—which have been raised to $15.

The question of the full membership’s opinion of these events will not be resolved until the next election of Directors, when the Federation intends to sponsor a slate of petition-nominated candidates selected by the member organizations of the Federation. (That slate may include some present Board members, but it will not include your editor.) For the first time in years, the members will have a choice of candidates—no longer will there be 25 names for 25 offices, a traditional practice which has made the members’ ballots meaningless. The mere existence of a means for members to elect—or fail to elect—Directors will have a profound impact upon NRA policies, for present and future Directors will be certain to be more mindful of the wishes of the members, thereby avoiding the creation of even more new organizations set up by NRA members to do what the membership wants NRA to be doing—and avoiding future turmoil of the sort that led to the membership meeting at Cincinnati. The representative form of government which now exists within the Association assures that all member interests will be represented, and that the one strong cord that binds NRA together—the love of firearms and shooting in all its varied forms—will make the organization what it ought to be: the world’s most powerful association of gun owners.

And under the leadership of the new officers—President Lloyd Mustin,Vice President John Layton, Executive Vice President Harlon Carter and ILA Executive Director Bob Kukla—that is what it will be. As the new NRA emerges, it will grow in strength and unity, and more than anything else, the evidence of that new vigor will heal the wounds inflicted at Cincinnati—for few NRA members have a greater love of NRA, or a grander vision of NRA’s greatness as a gun organization, than some of the very officers who were deposed at Cincinnati. We never questioned their motives, only their methods.

As Harlon Carter said in his memorable speech at the membership meeting: “Let us put the past behind us. We go forward from here!”

Amen!

Used with permission.

Knox, Neal. Neal Knox – The Gun Rights War: Dispatches from the Front Lines 1966 through 2000 . MacFarlane Press. Kindle Edition. Location 5300-5346.

Neal Knox – The Gun Rights War: Dispatches From The Front Lines 1966-2000

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.

Neal’s son Chris compiled a number of his articles and other written work into a book entitled Neal Knox – The Gun Rights War: Dispatches from the Front Lines 1966-2000. The book was first published in 2009 and then re-released with some updates in a Kindle format in 2019. Chris edited the book and also provided some necessary annotations to put stuff in context.

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.

Eye On The Target Radio

I was a guest yesterday on Eye on the Target Radio with my friends Amanda Suffecool and Rob Campbell. We discussed both the case brought by New York against the NRA and the case brought by DC against the NRA Foundation.

You can listen to them in the embedded player below:


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The last time I appeared on their show discussing the NRA and its issues I was followed by NRA 2nd VP Willes Lee. Sadly, if he and his cohorts had only instituted positive changes instead of labeling me a “hater”, I don’t think the NRA would be looking at a potential dissolution or government-imposed monitor for the Foundation.

UPDATE: My part of the radio show begins in the second half. I should have noted that in the beginning.

Quote Of The Day

I read a most interesting article by Anthony DeWitt in Richochet. It concerned the suit brought by NY Attorney General Letitia James to dissolve the NRA. It is entitled “Wayne’s World is Crumbling”.

DeWitt, like many of us, is pretty angry the NRA’s future has been put in jeopardy thanks to Wayne LaPierre and his cronies. As he notes, nothing has been proved yet and it is still a list of allegations. Nonetheless, he is feeling used and abused by Wayne and his crowd of grifters and has no problem with James taking them to task.

The meat of the issue which DeWitt points out is just whom is the victim.

If the smoke proves to be from a fire, and the mirrors turn out to be a true reflection of the leadership of the NRA, then I have no quarrel with her taking on LaPierre and his alleged co-conspirators who have allegedly defrauded the membership. I have no quarrel with her investigation demonstrating that the NRA Board of Directors is little more than a bunch of chained and costumed characters in an S&M bondage flick. But let’s remember, they defrauded the membership, not the state of New York, and the membership is not perpetrator, they’re the victim. What the NY AG proposes is, in fact, just shooting everyone.

DeWitt is correct. The victim here are the 5 million members of the NRA whose dues and donations have provided a very nice lifestyle for a bunch of grifters and hanger’s on.

James Seeks NRA Dissolution

While there was some speculation earlier today that NY Attorney General Letitia James’ “national announcement” would have to do with President Trump. That was wrong. The original speculation was that it had to do with the NRA was correct.

James has moved to dissolve the NRA in NY Supreme Court for New York County. She has an 18 point, 169 page complaint which includes claims that Wayne LaPierre, Josh Powell, Woody Phillips, and John Frazer have violated their fiduciary duty.

James in her press conference said that she will be forwarding information to the Internal Revenue Service regarding the NRA’s non-profit status. As to freezing assets of both the named individuals and the organization as a whole that is included in the complaint. When asked if she will be seeking criminal charges, James said the investigation is ongoing and any criminal charges will be referred to Manhattan DA Cy Vance Jr. if necessary. James also denied that bringing this dissolution action has anything to do with her personal views on “gun violence” and is only seeking to enforce New York charity law.

James, in her press release, says the resolution she seeks is:

As a result of all the allegations mentioned above, Attorney General James seeks to dissolve the NRA; asks the court to order LaPierre, Phillips, Powell, and Frazer to make full restitution for funds they unlawfully profited and salaries earned while employees; pay penalties; recover illegal and unauthorized payments to the four individuals; remove LaPierre and Frazer from the NRA’s leadership (Phillips and Powell are no longer employed by the NRA); and ensure none of the four individual defendants can ever again serve on the board of a charity in New York.

You can watch the full announcement below. I will be scanning through the court filing in an effort to provide a digest later today.

NYAG’s Major National Announcement – NRA?

Rumors started flying late last night after New York Attorney General Letitia James’ press office sent out a notice of a press conference to be held today. As the Tweet below from Stephen Gutowski speculates it might have something to do with her investigation into the National Rifle Association and its finances. I have seen other Tweets from journalists that tend to agree.

It might have nothing to do with the NRA or everything to do with the NRA. The announcement could be something about President Trump. Heck, it could even be an announcement that she will be Joe Biden’s VP pick given she fits the narrative.

There is a Livestream of the press conference at 11:30am EDT this morning and I plan to watch.

The link is here.

Personal Insecurity And NRA Election Rigging

I have always felt that Wayne LaPierre seemed like an insecure person from the first time I saw him in person. That was at the NRA Annual Meeting in Charlotte in 2010 where he was walking the floor with a team of personal bodyguards. If there was anywhere he should be feel safe, you would think it was there.

While I didn’t realize it then, his personal insecurity goes far deeper in my opinion.

We have watched him force out Ollie North as NRA President and continue to harass him in court. Ollie, a long time board member, didn’t want to be a mere figurehead and that was a threat to Wayne.

We watched him accuse Chris Cox of treason based upon innocuous phone texts. Chris had long been seen as the heir apparent when Wayne retired. It led to Chris resigning instead.

We have watched him use subpoenas as a threat against both board members and outsiders.

We have watched him take private planes and try to have the NRA buy him a mansion in Dallas because he was afraid for his personal safety despite his bodyguards.

We have watched him surround himself with staff whose backgrounds made them utterly dependent upon him for their jobs. I’m talking about his personal assistant who is a prohibited person, his former chief of staff whom most found to be an incompetent, and even a CFO who had embezzled in his prior position.

Despite all of this, I never thought Wayne would have to resort to rigging elections to the Board of Directors to preserve his position.

I was wrong.

The podcast Gangster Capitalism has been running a series about the NRA this year. They thought they had finished Season Two when they got a tip from Dezarae Payne and Michael Schwartz. Both had been active in the NRA Members’ Councils of California. It turns out the Members Councils were not really the grass roots activists fighting for the preservation of gun rights in California. Rather they became a tool to be used by Wayne to assure the election to the board of people supportive of him and keep him in power.

The key to the scheme was Paul Payne who is employed by the NRA as the Liaison to the Executive Vice President. Payne, who is separated from Ms. Payne, was paid by the NRA $80,000 annually, had a $3,000 monthly expense account, had a leased car of his choice, and had a personal assistant who was paid $60,000 a year. Of course, he had benefits on top of this.

From The Trace which picked up the story:

Dezarae Payne told the podcast that every year LaPierre’s office gives Paul Payne the names of NRA board candidates considered allies of the longtime boss of the gun group. Payne then works through the council to lobby NRA members in California to vote for those candidates. Because such a small percentage of members take part in the annual mail ballot election for board seats, Dezarea Payne said, her husband’s electioneering has routinely been critical to victory.

But that wasn’t the whole of it.

Every year, Dezarea Payne said, her husband solicits volunteers who are flown to the convention to encourage members to back LaPierre’s favored candidate for the one-year term. These volunteers are given free concert and event tickets at the convention, and treated to a lavish dinner with LaPierre and his key aides. Payne said the trip costs the NRA $35,000 to $45,000 and has been a clandestine affair. “You have to be completely loyal to Wayne,” she said of the volunteers, who typically number up to a dozen. “You can’t question what they are doing, you have to be secretive, you can’t tell people what you are doing, who you work for.”

I saw this in action at the 2018 Annual Meeting in Dallas. Liston Matthews of the Good Hill Press Blog and I stayed at the Fairfield Inn in the Cockrell Hill section of town. There were a number of people there from the Members’ Council of California and they were talking up Herb Lankford for 76th Director. However, we were supporting Adam Kraut in his second attempt at the board. If you walked on the floor of the expo center, you saw support for Adam everywhere. Nonetheless, Mr. Lankford was elected. Not to dismiss Mr. Lankford but I wondered why a bunch of guys from California were so up on someone from Columbia, South Carolina. It didn’t make sense then but it does now.

You really need to listen to the podcast. You have to hear it in the words of Ms. Payne and Mr. Schwartz. Merely reading it does not have the same impact.

Wayne’s personal insecurity reminds me a lot of Richard Nixon in 1972. They both directly or indirectly resorted to stuff to assure their position when it wasn’t needed. There was no way that Richard Nixon was going to lose to George McGovern but Watergate still happened. As to the NRA, the bylaws make it virtually impossible to oust Wayne.

What happens now is anybody’s guess. The Board could demand Wayne’s retirement or resignation but I somehow doubt that will happen. The Attorney General of New York will probably add this to her list of things to investigate. The one thing that is sure is that just when we face a critical election for gun rights, Wayne’s attention – and the NRA’s by extension – will be elsewhere.

“Will No One Rid Me Of This Meddlesome Priest?”

The quote in the title is attributed to King Henry II of England with reference to his dispute with Thomas a’Becket who was the Archbishop of Canterbury. In response, four Norman knights traveled from Normandy to Canterbury, confronted Thomas, and ultimately killed him. The murder in 1170 was later made into plays by T. S. Eliot and Jean Anouilh as well as a movie with Richard Burton.

This is not meant to be a history or literature lesson. Rather a lawsuit by the NRA against Oliver North in NY Supreme Court, County of Albany made me think of that quote.

I could almost hear Wayne LaPierre saying, “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome president.” To which, William Brewer III replied, “I will, my liege!”

The complaint, much of which is redacted, seeks to have Oliver North removed from the NRA Board of Directors. According to a footnote, they redacted much of the complaint because it might contain information that Col. North might argue should be kept under seal.

The complaint alleges that Col. North has an “irreconcilable conflict” due to his employment with Ackerman McQueen and his membership on the Board of Directors. The Audit Committee, which had approved the arrangement, later rescinded their approval in May 2019 after the conflict between Wayne LaPierre and Col. North had come to a head.

The NRA is seeking a declaration that Col. North’s refusal to terminate his employment with Ackerman McQueen “was an election by him to terminate his NRA Board membership.” Here is where I might note that Col. North was the leading vote-getter in the 2019 NRA Board of Director election.

The attorneys bringing he lawsuit on behalf are Svetlana Eisenberg and William Brewer III of Brewer, Attorneys and Counselors.

When Pete Brownell resigned as President of the NRA in 2018, a great effort was made to get Col. North to be President. At the time, he was under contract to Fox News and would have to resign that in order to become NRA President. I have been told by multiple insiders as well as have seen in court filings that Wayne LaPierre actually negotiated Col. North’s contract with Ackerman McQueen. The whole “they won’t give us the contract” so we can know what conflicts Ollie has is a charade as is the declaration by the Audit Committee.

In reality, the conflict is between Wayne LaPierre, his cronies on the Board, and his attorney who is sucking the NRA dry and those who wanted to return the NRA to effectiveness and to see Brewer gone.

2020 NRA Meeting Of Members

The NRA Meeting of Members is an organizational requirement and was to have been held in Nashville in April. Like so many meeting during the pandemic, it had to be postponed. It appears that it is now scheduled for Saturday, September 5th, in Springfield, Missouri.

There has been no official announcement but an announcement from the NRA Whittington Center regarding their Board of Trustees Fall Meeting spilled the beans.

This is Labor Day Weekend so one might hope that it would drive attendance. The NRA Board Fall Meeting will be on Labor Day itself.

There is no word on where exactly the meeting will be held but it appears that Springfield has plenty of meeting facilities. It is also home to the NRA Sporting Arms Museum at the “mother church” of Bass Pro Shops.

So if you want to get your kicks on Route 66, Springfield is the place to be this coming Labor Day weekend. As a bonus, the hotels appear to be quite reasonable.

Perhaps The Locals Do Know Best

We often complain about national groups coming in and telling the locals how they should be doing it. This is usually in the context of a group like Mike Bloomberg’s Everytown, Moms Demand Action, or Giffords. However, sometimes it is our own side in the battle for gun rights that is doing this.

Such is the case in Alabama where the NRA is supporting a move to consolidate the list of pistol permit holders, that state’s nomenclature for a concealed carry permit, into a statewide database. The bills in question are HB39 and SB47. The bills provide for the permits to be standardized and issued statewide. They also provide for a lifetime carry permit.

This move is getting a mixed reaction as reported by CBS 42.

Bama Carry and the Alabama Gun Rights Network don’t always agree on the best strategies for advancing gun rights in the Heart of Dixie.

However, when I reached out to friends who are affiliated with those organizations, the response I got was virtually identical. They are opposed to the bills in their current form as they create a database of gun owners which has the potential to be abused.

My friend Beth Alcazar, the Alabama representative of the DC Project and a board member of Bama Carry, had this to say to me in a Facebook message. I’m quoting her with her permission.

At the heart of this matter (and why we are hesitant to get on board) is the fact that law abiding gun owners will be on a registry, with all information being shared, statewide, and this info. could end up on a driver license. This, of course, could cause problems traveling across state lines. What if someone is stopped or pulled over and now questioned or harassed (or searched) because of this identification? And what happens if a government body must be created to oversee this database? Currently, our permit info. is only in the hands of our sheriffs. A lifetime permit could open that up… from just local to state.

Additionally, the NRA doesn’t appear to be listening to Alabamians or to our state’s largest gun rights group, and they continue to push legislation that has potential problems or unintended consequences.

And therein lies the problem. When it is a matter of state and local politics, local activists should be listened to. That there seems to be a disconnect between local gun right rights groups and the NRA on an issue of local concern is not good. The NRA should either defer to the local groups or work to find a compromise that satisfies all gun rights groups involved.

We in North Carolina had much the same problem in 2011 concerning gun bans outside the home during periods of declared emergencies. Grass Roots North Carolina along with local plaintiffs and the Second Amendment Foundation brought Bateman v. Perdue. The NRA-ILA representative in North Carolina was pushing for a quick legislative fix that would have mooted the case. The problem with a quick legislative fix was that it could have been changed on the whim of the next General Assembly. GRNC, SAF, and local activists had to push legislators to let the court case run its path. In the end the General Assembly did that and we won a decision in Bateman declaring the gun ban unconstitutional.

I wrote back then (June 2011) that “there are some in the NRA’s hierarchy who believe the NRA has to be the be-all and end-all of all things Second Amendment.” I noted that the NRA does some things really well and others not so well. I said the NRA should concentrate on training, the legislative arena, and other areas where a mass organization can do well. I didn’t think they were nearly as good at Second Amendment litigation as SAF.

I would now modify my statement from 2011 to say that the NRA does lobbying at the national level well and should work closer with state and local groups on state level lobbying if they want to be effective. Moreover, by state and local groups I don’t mean it has to be the NRA state affiliate as the experience of non-affiliates VCDL and GRNC has shown. Whether the NRA and their state ILA representatives are wise enough to recognize this is still open to debate.