Joining the the National Rifle Association will soon be nearly 30 percent more expensive than it was just over two years ago. The organization is jacking up its membership dues for the second time in as many years, according to alerts the group has sent to members. The fee hike, from $40 to $45 for an annual membership, comes on the heels of claims from the NRA that it has suffered “tens of millions of dollars in damages” at the hands of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and is at risk of ceasing operations.
“Without this dues increase,” the gun lobby said in an appeal to members, “we simply can’t compete in the 2018 elections — where not only our Second Amendment rights but every freedom we cherish is at stake.”
A source close to the NRA said the increase has been planned for some time; members appear to have first been alerted earlier this summer. The NRA has been urging members to renew before the increase kicks in, and it has extended the deadline twice. An operator at the organization’s membership line told The Trace that the increase will take effect after Labor Day.
“The board approved the increases, which the organization’s financial people advocated for over a long period of time before they were approved,” the source close to the NRA said. “It was part of a long-running discussion.” The NRA last raised its annual dues, to $40, in March 2016. Before that, the cost of membership had remained stable at $35 for 20 years.
NRA Raises Membership Dues
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The back-to-back increases are the latest outward indication of financial strain on the right-wing political behemoth. In May, the NRA sued Cuomo and the New York State Department of Financial Services over the state’s effort to thwart the NRA-branded Carry Guard liability insurance that the group sells to members, claiming — without evidence — that the scrutiny has cost it more than $20 million and has “imperiled the NRA’s access to basic banking services” and other business relationships it needs to operate.
“If you don’t think you can find new people to sign up, that’s what you have left — increase dues per member,” said Brian Mittendorf, chair of the accounting department at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business. “I don’t think their current members are going to be that sensitive to a $5 increase.”
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But Mittendorf, who has studied the NRA’s publicly reported finances, said the NRA is going to need to increase revenue — what the troubled Carry Guard initiative was designed to do — if it wants to maintain its rate of spending, which surged by $100 million in 2016, according to a Center for Responsive Politics analysis. “They don’t have enough resources to cover their bills,” he said.
Two years ago, the NRA reported negative $14 million in unrestricted net assets — basically what the organization’s balance sheet would read if it had to pay all its debts with available money. Much of that debt, Mittendorf said, is from pension obligations that the NRA won’t have to pay for many years. “But if those liabilities all came due, they’d be in trouble.”
The NRA currently claims six million members, up from “more than five million” in January 2016, though it doesn’t offer any documentation for the number, and estimates based on independently obtained data put it closer to four million. An NRA spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Whatever the true size of NRA’s membership, it’s not clear that raising its dues is the answer to its problem. In 2016 — the year it increased dues by 14 percent, and during which membership was supposedly on an upswing — the NRA’s revenue from membership actually decreased by one percent, to $163.5 million. And not all members are taking the news of the latest increase, however modest, in stride: “Screw you, NRA. You’re too damn out of touch,” wrote one Reddit user on the site’s firearms subreddit. “I’m gonna let my membership expire, and then we are done.”