NRA trims staff, cancels events amid virus

Gun Rights

The National Rifle Association has laid off dozens of employees, canceled its national convention and scuttled fundraising, membership and shooting events that normally would be key to rallying its base in an election year.

The coronavirus pandemic has upended the gun-rights organization during what should be heady times for the group, in the middle of a presidential election and with gun owners riled up over what they see as an effort by authorities to trample on their Second Amendment rights.

The NRA, which boasts about 5 million members, in recent weeks laid off or furloughed dozens of employees, imposed a four-day workweek for some employees and cut salaries across the board, including for CEO Wayne LaPierre. The financial issues, combined with the cancellation of fundraisers and the national convention, which would surely have drawn a visit from President Donald Trump, have complicated its ability to influence the 2020 election.

In a memo to staff, LaPierre said 20% salary cuts were across the board, while some senior staffers “voluntarily” reduced their wages even more.

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He said the staffing reductions and other changes were intended to be temporary.

“The cancellation of the annual meeting had a significant financial impact but, beyond that, the health crisis has caused us to postpone countless fundraising and membership events along with competitions, training seminars and other revenue streams — those disruptions are the primary drivers of our decision-making process,” said Andrew Arulanandam, spokesman for the NRA.

“Like every other business and nonprofit, we are forced to make tough choices in this new economic environment.”

The coronavirus has exacerbated financial woes that were already serving as a drag on the NRA as it wages legal fights with regulators and its once-loyal marketing firm and faces anger from rank-and-file members over stewardship of the gun group.

It’s also facing rising public frustration over gun laws in the wake of mass shootings.

“Everybody’s in the same boat as the NRA. The NRA’s real problem is they had real existing financial problems before this happened,” said Robert Spitzer, chairman of political science at the State University of New York at Cortland and a longtime watcher of the NRA. “It simply does not bode well for their impact on the upcoming election.”

The cutbacks have coincided with the NRA finding a new platform for its message during the pandemic.

With the world panicked over the coronavirus, Americans bought record numbers of guns in March, based on background check data that is the best barometer of firearms sales in the U.S.

The NRA and other gun-rights groups have been aggressively filing lawsuits challenging authorities in places across the U.S. that have declared gun shops and ranges as not being “essential” businesses and therefore allowed to remain open under stay-at-home directives.

Gun owners have been flocking to state capitols to protest the restrictions, most prominently in Michigan.

The immediate hope is that such legal challenges will persuade authorities to back down. But the NRA is also hoping the legal fights over “essential” activity will strengthen their hand in the courts and make it harder to restrict gun rights in the future.

A Section on 05/04/2020

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