Tombstone, Arizona – -(Ammoland.com)- Jason Ouimet, head of NRA’s lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action, has announced that he is resigning to “pursue other opportunities.” Ouimet has held the post for almost four years since long-time head of the ILA, Chris Cox, was forced out. Cox was accused of participating in an “attempted coup” against NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre, shortly after the current round of scandals and lawsuits began to swirl around the embattled NRA boss in early 2019.
Ouimet’s resignation is not good news for the NRA and the Second Amendment movement, as it reinforces concerns about the organization’s future. That lack of future for the NRA, which some of us have been warning about for years, should have Republican politicians and strategists deeply concerned as well.
As the US electorate becomes ever more divided, with various factions becoming more entrenched in their own ideological silos and echo chambers, Republicans face a major fight to retain sufficient power to slow the Democrats’ agenda, much less make any gains. They have, to a troubling degree, abandoned their core principles of free markets, limited government, and responsible spending, instead focusing almost all of their attention on social issues, greatly assisted by the Democrats’ utter lunacy on many of those issues.
Since giving its first-ever endorsement to candidate Ronald Reagan in 1980, the National Rifle Association has been a key ally to the GOP. The NRA got so involved in party politics that it often favored provably anti-gun Republicans over increasingly rare pro-gun Democrats. Putting the party ahead of Second Amendment principles drew strong criticism from all quarters of the gun community, including from this space. But that once-cozy alliance is falling apart.
The reasons for the growing distance between the NRA and the GOP are many and varied, but the most recent issues stem from NRA “leaders” giving then-President Trump some seriously bad advice on topics like bump-stocks and red flag laws. Even though Trump was following NRA guidance, his actions and comments on those subjects alienated millions of GunVoters across the country, who then refused to support him or other Republicans in the 2020 elections. It’s not just GunVoters’ disenchantment with Trump, though. Since early 2019 when a series of scandals involving top NRA officials broke into national headlines, the massive organization has been hemorrhaging money, members, and volunteer support, along with political influence. The troubles led to huge reductions in the Association’s political spending along with growing mistrust for their message.
Younger gun owners now perceive the NRA as a “Fudd” organization, more focused on “sporting purposes” than on preservation of the Second Amendment as a natural right.
Despite steady and significant declines in annual membership numbers and revenue, the NRA Board of Directors signed off on a 2023 budget that appears to be designed to drive the Association straight into bankruptcy. The Association has lost over a million members in the past couple of years, and revenue has declined by over 50%. Yet, the NRA’s 2023 budget predicts significant increases in both membership and revenue without offering any rational reason for the expected reversal in the current trend. With the unrealistic expectations of increased revenue, the Board authorized significant increases in the Association’s spending, which has been running at a deficit of millions of dollars for the past several years. The Association’s line of credit is maxed out, with service on that debt taking a huge chunk of revenue.
It’s expected that the NRA will cross the tipping point, where they will no longer be able to meet basic obligations, by May or June of this year, forcing them into bankruptcy.
On the “bright side,” declaring bankruptcy will at least pause the proceedings in the New York AG’s lawsuit against the Association!?
But that’s NOT a particularly bright “bright side,” as the NY AG will simply line up with other creditors, trying to pick the last bit of meat off of the Association’s dying carcass, all the while lobbying the court for permission to take over the Association to “reorganize” it on behalf of the members. (The NRA is incorporated in New York, and the AG has regulatory authority over it.)
If the NRA doesn’t declare bankruptcy this spring or early summer, they are expected to be in court for the trial in the NY AG suit by July. And make no mistake: The NRA is going to lose that suit. In an astounding piece of legal maneuvering, NRA attorneys filed a motion last year demanding a jury trial (in Manhattan!) before a jury of New York City gun control advocates. Legal experts are still scratching their heads on that one, but it’s just the latest in a long line of unusual legal maneuvering from the firm representing NRA – and drawing something between $40 million and $60 million per year, in the process.
The effect on Republican politics is likely to be substantial.
The NRA claimed some 5.5 million members in 2016 and spent over $30 million on the presidential election alone. Along with direct contributions and independent expenditures on campaigns, the NRA includes candidate information in their four magazines, and sends out pre-election postcards to millions of past, present, and prospective members, listing favored candidates from City Council to President, and urging people to get out and vote. Many political strategists estimate that these efforts have historically impacted elections by as much as five or six percentage points. That’s enough to be the deciding factor in most elections, and it impacts candidates up and down the ticket, almost all of them Republicans.
The NRA has been building lists of gun owners and Second Amendment supporters for 170 years. They’ve been doing so aggressively with sophisticated computer systems for over 40 years. Those lists are the single most valuable asset the NRA owns, and they are almost certainly going to be either locked up by the bankruptcy court or in possession of the New York Attorney General by November 2024. Even if, by some miracle the NRA is still in control of the lists by then, they won’t have the money to do anything useful with them.
Other groups, like GOA, SAF, etc., can’t begin to fill the void that is being created as the NRA collapses. While most of those groups have seen increases in revenue and membership over the past 4 years, the losses at NRA far exceed those gains, and no group has the potential to come anywhere close to being able to fill the gap that the NRA leaves. None of these groups has ever raised more than a few million dollars in a year, and their combined annual revenue is less than $50 million. Compare that to the NRA, which had revenue of almost $400 million just a few years ago. You can see that losing the NRA is going to be a devastating blow to the future of the rights cause and could easily cost Republicans legislative majorities in over a dozen states, not to mention the White House and Congress.
Those who say the NRA has never done much for gun owner rights simply don’t know their history and are willfully blind to the future reality. Roe v. Wade was overturned after almost 50 years. Don’t imagine for a moment that the same thing can’t, and won’t, happen to Bruen, Heller, and McDonald if Democrats are able to gain solid majorities in both houses of Congress and the Presidency for the majority of the next decade.
The only people who have been actively fighting to reverse the downward spiral and save the NRA have been pushed out by the establishment and had their efforts go unfunded by the community. There are currently only two members of the 76-member Board of Directors who have dared to question LaPierre and his “leadership” team: Judge Phil Journey and Frank Tait.
Their terms end this April, and the Nominating Committee passed over both. Neither will be on the Board after the Members’ Meeting in Indianapolis.
I’ve been reporting on problems at the NRA for two decades and redoubled those efforts after LaPierre’s financial shenanigans came to light in 2019. I’ve written articles, pled with Directors, gone to Members’ Meetings to be abused and vilified, and generally tried to raise the alarm, but a small cadre of “leaders” on the Board have convinced their comrades that Wayne is the “only one” who can save the Association, despite the overwhelming evidence that he is the cause of the problems.
At this point, I no longer have any answers or suggestions. I’m tired and frustrated, and frankly, feeling a bit hopeless. I’ve seen the writing on the wall, and I’ve done my best to alert my fellow NRA members, but they’ve chosen to throw up their hands and walk away rather than engage in the fight and work for reform. So now, I think all I can do is report on the collapse, sadly shaking my head, and saying…, “I told you so.”
About Jeff Knox:
Jeff Knox is a second-generation political activist and director of The Firearms Coalition. His father Neal Knox led many of the early gun rights battles for your right to keep and bear arms. Read Neal Knox – The Gun Rights War.
The Firearms Coalition is a loose-knit coalition of individual Second Amendment activists, clubs and civil rights organizations. Founded by Neal Knox in 1984, the organization provides support to grassroots activists in the form of education, analysis of current issues, and with a historical perspective of the gun rights movement. The Firearms Coalition has offices in Buckeye, Arizona, and Manassas, VA. Visit: www.FirearmsCoalition.org.