Valley Center’s Gina Roberts Has Sights Set on Joining Board of Embattled NRA

Gun Rights
Gina Roberts expects to learn this spring whether she's won a seat on national NRA board.
Gina Roberts expects to learn this spring whether she’s won a seat on national NRA board. Times of San Diego photo illustration

This month’s issue of American Rifleman, the official magazine of the National Rifle Association, lists 34 candidates for three-year terms on the national NRA board.

List of candidates for NRA Board of Directors. (PDF)
List of candidates for NRA Board of Directors. (PDF)

One is Regina Roberts of Valley Center.

But Roberts, who goes by Gina, has a great shot at being elected to the 76-member board — since 25 will be elevated ahead of the top gun lobby’s mid-May convention in Dallas.

Michael Schwartz, executive director of San Diego County Gun Owners PAC, is among her boosters.

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“The NRA is headed towards an unknown future due to a change in leadership,” he said, alluding to toppled NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, found liable for millions of dollars in a civil corruption case.

“Gina is a great person to help them plot a course (and) is a fantastic person and great Second Amendment ambassador,” Schwartz said of his founding director.

If elected (on her second try), the 69-year-old champion sharpshooter would be the second San Diegan on the NRA board, after the late Thomas F. Gaines of Chula Vista.

But today’s NRA isn’t your father’s — having lost membership, political clout and tons of money in recent years after acquiring a reputation as a bulletproof force in Washington.

Roberts, an NRA member for 45 years, is still big on protecting the Second Amendment [“Religious people would say (self-protection) is a God-given right. I would say it’s just the right of being a human being”] but wants to see the NRA return to its roots and “focus on the members.”

“They went off on a lot of … tangents that they believed supported that [gun rights aim],” she told me in an hour-long phone interview. “And there was a lot of entitlement at entire management levels, none of which I could claim. The biggest thing that the directors can do is get the organization refocused.”

Her thoughts on LaPierre?

“He’s paid back about $1.2 million and likely he’ll be required to pay back another $4 million or so,” Roberts said. “The conviction is politically driven but probably appropriate. Wayne has fought hard for the 2nd Amendment as has his wife, Susan, who worked for free.”

Roberts calls the LaPierre fallout “a mess, both because the previous finance committee allowed it and the entitled feeling of Wayne. There have been a lot of changes made, but more are required.”

Roberts notes her “good relationship” with Susan LaPierre, calling her a “sweetheart.”

She sent Roberts a two-line response about the court outcome, saying: “Wayne is OK, and he’s going to be all right.”

(Roberts says she wouldn’t accept NRA money as a board member — as a 2019 report said that some did — except to defray air fare to meetings six times a year.)

Gina Roberts (shown with arrow) was pictured on Time magazine 2019 cover "Guns in America."
Gina Roberts (shown with arrow) was pictured on Time magazine 2018 cover “Guns in America.”

Roberts recalls a recent gun show, where she introduced herself around.

“The pushback I got was significant,” she said. “Those were people who were really strong members. They were just annoyed. They just didn’t feel like they were being prioritized.”

The NRA for decades has been the “pre-eminent” gun safety and training organization “and they still are,” she says. “But it’s been minimized so bad by the media. It’s probably a third of the budget or more. … but that never makes the news.”

She still wants the NRA to influence elections “like they did when Clinton was president. … We haven’t done that in a long time.”

Her strategy for election spending and messaging?

“That’s kind of a tough question because you don’t get to see the budgets or anything until you’re elected,” Roberts said. “But I kind of have to say, you know, just re-emphasize the servant leadership side of it. You know, it’s like we’re paying a lot of consultants. We paid a lot of lawyers and things that aren’t getting us benefit.”

Roberts is critical of the group for having remained in New York (its base since 1871, founded amid dismay over poor marksmanship by Union troops in the Civil War).

“The fact that they stayed in New York City as a nonprofit was dumb as hell,” she said. “Why did they stay there so long? Now they’ve come under the purview of [New York Attorney General] Letitia James. They’re shaken up like hell right now — they’re like: ‘Oh shit. Maybe we oughta do some changes.’ Well, no shit, people.”

Roberts has shaken up San Diego politics as well.

A transgender woman, she was president of the Log Cabin Republicans — conservative members of the LGBTQ community — and a member of the San Diego County Republican Central Committee until her recent resignation. She also stepped down from the Valley Center fire board and is wrapping up duties with her local Kiwanis Club.

The reason?

She moved to Cutter, New Mexico (near Truth or Consequences), for a job with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic space-tourism company at Spaceport America.

After serving as a contractor for four months, Roberts was lured out of retirement in June 2022 to be VG’s senior manager of engineering for technical operations — “so I’ve got 10 engineers working for me, some of the brightest kids I’ve ever worked with,” including one 46 years her junior.

“We are responsible for keeping them flying. … Make sure the planes are safe,” says the UC San Diego chemistry and economics graduate.

(Asked if she’d like to be shot into space, Roberts said: “Oh God. I’d go in a second” but doubts she can afford a ticket. “Yeah, if I had half a million dollars. Well, they’d probably give [an] employee discount.”)

A two-time honorary mayor of Valley Center, Roberts will keep her California residency until after the November election. (She rents a granny flat here.)

Another post she’s leaving is membership on the county’s Human Relations Commission, where she learned about the county gun violence reduction project.

“I was the only pro-gun person on that,” she said. “They didn’t reach out to Michael Schwartz, didn’t reach out to any of the other gun groups. I sent a note to [Supervisor] Jim Desmond and said: ‘You need me on this.’”

Roberts pushed the group to recognize that a majority of people committing gun violence are doing it with their own legally owned guns — turning weapons on themselves.

“It’s a tragedy — don’t get me wrong,” she said. “There’s a huge amount of work in the gun community to work on that problem and trying to get the focus on mental health.”

She’s concerned about “a lot of really shaky things going on.”

An example is the Veterans Administration, where she says that if one consults a mental health professional because you’re feeling unsafe, “you are going to become, within days, never going to be able to own a firearm again.”

She says such people are put in a database as unstable, “unable to own a firearm, and that’s completely wrong because the way the rules are written you have to be adjudicated as having a mental health problem.” 

Addressing this issue, she says, are groups like Walk The Talk America and Hold My Guns “setting up programs around the country that if you’re feeling unsafe with your guns, you can give them to a third party who will hold them for you until come back and say: Yeah, I’m good.”

The county’s 18-member gun-violence group issued its final report in 2023.

In New Mexico, Roberts won’t immediately jump into local politics, saying she’ll keep a low profile for the next year.

“I actually enjoy this kind of sitting back for a little bit and watching what’s going on,” she said, but notes that she could run for supervisor in her rural area.

“I’m kind of a whole new experience for Sierra County, especially the Republican Party,” she said.

Her LGBT status drew attention at Virgin Galactic, where Roberts joined the company’s DEIB committee (standing for diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.)

“The lady who runs it actually lives in San Diego and commutes to Tustin and she’s super, super liberal,” Roberts says. They still “related well to each other.”

VG wants Roberts to helm the company’s float in the Las Cruces Pride parade, but she says: “That’s going to be a stretch.”

She still owns a “Don’t Tread on Me” gay-pride flag, however.

“I still get in trouble for just telling people [that] you get through this life a lot better if you don’t play the victim,” she told me. But “we’ve proven that people with completely different political ideologies can work together.”

She won’t return to reality TV, though.

In 2021, she told of navigating Season 1 of a niche show called “Surviving Mann.”

It brands itself as “the ultimate test of strength and survival” hosted by “Don Mann, a SEAL Team 6 Special Operations veteran, extreme adventure champion and New York Times Best-Selling author.”

Contestants are taken to remote special ops training locations “where they must battle it out for the chance to challenge Don in the ultimate survival showdown.”

On Facebook, Roberts said she made it through filming in the Nevada desert.

“It was pretty awesome,” she wrote. “I did some new stuff, more physical training and hiking than a long time (ever) walked about 20 miles in a week, met some really awesome and talented people. Did better overall than I expected, six of the hardest physical days I’ve ever done and I’m proud of how I did.”

Three years earlier, in November 2018, Roberts was among 245 people shown on Time magazine’s foldout cover titled “Guns in America.”

She told Time:

The thing that has always struck me as the best part of being in the gun culture is the fact it makes it possible for everybody to be equal. If you have a 250-pound man attacking a 95-pound woman, it’s not a fair fight. If the woman is trained and able to protect herself with a firearm, it becomes much more of an equal balance.

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