May 23, 2019

NRA Under Fire

“Against the backdrop of a large American flag, Wayne LaPierre, the longtime CEO of the National Rifle Association, opened his speech at this spring’s Conservative Political Action Conference on a familiar apocalyptic note: “Today, we at the NRA awaken each morning to new challenges—threats against our organizations‚ heated and vile political rhetoric, and new forms of opposition that violate the spirit and the letter of the very freedoms our republic was founded to protect.” He then focused on alleged conspiracies by tech companies to silence conservative speech and by the governor of New York to “blacklist” the NRA from doing business with financial institutions.

LaPierre said nothing in his address, however, about the more real ways in which the NRA is under fire. Nine Democratic senators recently called for the Federal Election Commission to investigate whether the gun group illegally coordinated political advertising with several Republican Senate candidates and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. The NRA’s tax-exempt status is drawing scrutiny from regulators in New York, whose new attorney general remarked last October that the NRA isn’t an authentic charitable organization but “a terrorist organization.” A steady barrage of acrid political commentary from NRA national spokeswoman Dana Loesch and other NRA media figures has stirred a backlash among the organization’s own ranks and reportedly provoked concerns even for LaPierre. There are signs of financial woes, if not for NRA executives. These troubles come as the NRA faces rising opposition from advocacy groups such as Everytown for Gun Safety and, leaders of a national gun-reform movement ignited by the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre and further energized by the teen survivors of last year’s mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

The NRA’s leadership also now faces a distinct problem for an organization that has long wrapped itself in the rhetoric of “freedom loving” patriotism. Following investigative reports by multiple news organizations including Mother Jones, the past year has brought deepening federal scrutiny of the NRA’s ties with two Russian operatives: Alexander Torshin, who is suspected of Russian mob activity and money laundering by international authorities and was sanctioned by the US government last year, and Maria Butina, who pleaded guilty in December to a conspiracy charge and has been cooperating with US prosecutors.”

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