Is America’s gun lobby losing clout?

Gun Rights
A customer compares handguns at a store in Texas. Reuters

Picture used for illustrative purposes.

The resignation of the head of the National Rifle Association (NRA) in the United States, Wayne LaPierre, before a trial begins on civil charges of malfeasance, where he is accused of misspending millions of dollars on private jet flights, yacht trips, African safaris at the expense of the NRA, shows that the powerful pro-gun lobby is losing its once unassailable position among the conservatives.

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It has been found that the membership of NRA is dwindling, and there is infighting among the 76 board members. The gun control advocates see the resignation of LaPierre as a weakening of the NRA position, and that the resignation will not insulate the organisation from the legal consequences of the upcoming trial.

 New York Attorney Letitia James, who has brought the charges against LePierre, said that his resignation is an “important victory in our case” and that while his “exit validates our claims against him, it will not insulate him or the NRA from accountability.”

It is however acknowledged that LaPierre had given a hard edge to the NRA position on guns, especially through his responses to the school shootouts in America through the last 25 years. After the Columbine High School shootout in 1999 which left 15 dead, including the two teenage attackers who belonged to the school, a teacher and 12 other students, LaPierre claimed that there should be armed guards at schools. And after the Sandy Hooks Elementary School shootout in 2012 where 20 children and six adults were killed, after the attacker went on the shooting spree after killing his own mother and at the end shot himself, LaPierre’s response was, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

He is also credited with bringing Hollywood star Charlton Heston to head the NRA when it was facing public criticism. He tried to rally support for the organisation and its cause, and he succeeded too in a manner of speaking because it remains difficult to impose any kind of gun control.

LaPierre, 74, who has been at the helm of the NRA since 1991, remained defiant even while he resigned. He said, “I’ve been a card-carrying member of this organisation for most of my adult life, and I will never stop supporting the NRA and its fight to defend Second Amendment freedom. MY passion for our cause burns as deeply as ever.”

The US Constitution Second Amendment says, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

But the NRA finances were in trouble since 2018 when there was a $36 million deficit, and in 2021 the organisation filed for bankruptcy and tried to set itself up in Texas instead of New York where it was founded in 1871 as a non-profit organisation. The Texas judge disallowed the bankruptcy petition and its bid to incorporate itself in the state as a bid to dodge the New York Attorney General’s case. The financial collapse of NRA was obviously due to the misspending indulged in by LaPierre and others.

The NRA may want to reinvent itself post-LaPierre’s exit but as New York Attorney General James, a Democrat, had pointed out, neither LaPierre nor NRA can escape accountability for the financial swindle. And the organisation will have an uphill task to reinvent itself and build up its image among the conservatives, especially the Republican politicians, and regain respectability which it once commanded among the pro-gun constituency. It looks like LaPierre and his associates had indeed indulged in hubris and they cannot escape the nemesis.

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