NRA under new management

Gun Rights

The National Rifle Association is getting back to business, eager to put leadership woes and legal battles behind it and focus on what made it one of the most influential groups in the country: its members and donors.

“We’ve got a brand that will be rebuilt, and we’re going to come back stronger than ever,” newly installed Executive Vice President and CEO Doug Hamlin said.

“We’re here to stay. Yeah, we’re going to make it, and we’re going to work really hard to rebuild it,” said Hamlin, elected at a recent board meeting to succeed Wayne LaPierre, credited with creating the modern NRA before resigning in January amid a financial scandal.

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Hamlin was part of a reform, or “dissidents,” ticket even though he was the NRA’s publications chief. New President Bob Barr, a former Republican congressman from Georgia, is also a longtime board member. But they, like other reformers taking executive office roles, were seen as outside the culture at NRA HQ.

Job one will be winning back members who quit in recent years over bad headlines about NRA mismanagement and extravagant expense accounts. “To be honest with you, I think that we withstood a billion dollars in negative publicity. We’ve been a punching bag,” Hamlin told Secrets.

He promised to boost the group’s outreach and support to members and strengthen its bread-and-butter offerings of training, instructional lessons, and famous Friends of NRA dinners.

He also said the Second Amendment group will woo women and minorities who have led the recent surge in firearm purchases.

“We’ve lost some members. Our membership is down, and we’re not happy about that. But we will rebuild it. There’s been over 10 million first-time gun buyers in the last five years, 30% of those being women,” Hamlin said.

He revealed that membership has dropped to 4 million. But, he added, with an estimated 120 million gun owners in America, “there’s a lot of upside.” His goal is 10 million members, which would be a record.

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Donors are also in focus, and Hamlin is winning many over. “I have talked to a lot of them today,” he told Secrets during an interview at NRA Headquarters. “They’re back. They’re asking, ‘What can I do? Who can I introduce you to? How can I support you? We need a strong NRA.’ I mean, these are the themes that come from these conversations, and they’re very sincere,” he said.

While he has been the operational leader of the NRA for less than one month, early reviews are good. “If anybody can save it, he can,” former NRA President David Keene said.

Big hurdles remain, however. The New York legal case that led to LaPierre’s resignation and ended with a requirement he repay $4 million is moving on, and it could require that the group face a financial monitor. To show that it has cleaned up its act, the group has hired an independent compliance officer.

Hamlin said, “We want to communicate to the world as well as to the judge that we think we’ve got people in place that did not exist before, who get paid solely to have access to anything and everything we do, and if there are any issues whatsoever, report them immediately to the audit committee. Just talk about what happened. Let’s get to the bottom of it. And if there have been things done incorrectly, then correct them.”

Its recent 9-0 victory in the U.S. Supreme Court over New York in a First Amendment case could help by showing the state has been trying to destroy the NRA.

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The election also presents the NRA with a test of its influence. It has endorsed former President Donald Trump again, and he has responded by attending two major group conferences. The gun rights group also plans to play in battleground states and up to six Senate races.

“We’re going to play really hard, and we’re going to play it straight, but we have a lot of levers to pull and your NRA is going to have an influence,” Hamlin vowed. “It’s really back to basics.”

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