The National Rifle Association, by all appearances, is at war with itself — and seeking distance from Wayne LaPierre, the gun group’s longtime, and soon to be former, chief executive.
The NRA announced LaPierre’s resignation last Friday, just days before a corruption trial against the organization, LaPierre, and other top current and former officials got underway in a Manhattan courtroom. New York Attorney General Letitia James, who brought the case, had hoped a guilty verdict would result in LaPierre’s ouster; his resignation, which the NRA said is due to health reasons, forestalled that outcome.
LaPierre’s exit signals the end of an era for the NRA. The chief executive has been credited with transforming the NRA into a feared political machine — but also with overseeing its decline. James’s investigation into the group began after The Trace’s Mike Spies reported on internal accounting documents that indicated a culture of self-dealing at the gun-rights group; Spies this week uncovered secret audio from a 2009 meeting that reveals executives from the gun group and its PR firm hatching a plan that would conceal extravagant expenses involving LaPierre.
In her opening remarks this week, Sarah Rogers, an attorney for the NRA, sought to distinguish the organization from LaPierre and “numerous wrongdoers.” “The NRA is not this man,” she said, later adding: “The only question, or at least one question, is why the NRA, the victim of that betrayal, is a defendant in this case.”
But his resignation and the NRA’s trial defense doesn’t necessarily mean that LaPierre no longer has sway within the organization. He’s been the face of the NRA for three decades, during which he’s weathered scandals, accusations of wrongdoing, and attempted dismissals. In a piece for The Atlantic, Stephen Gutowski, the founder of firearms policy publication The Reload, summarized the situation: “The NRA remains under the control of an old guard that comprises mainly LaPierre’s lieutenants. If change is to come quickly to the NRA, it will be through the trial.”
Should the jury side with James, The Trace’s Will Van Sant wrote, “an invigorated NRA could emerge and direct its resources fully” to the central mission it has slowly abandoned: gun rights advocacy and teaching Americans how to handle guns. In November, former NRA board member Phil Journey, an outspoken critic of the organization’s leadership and a 4H shooting instructor, voiced what the gun group was losing by diverting money from educational programs. “Introducing kids to shooting sports is fundamental to bringing young people into the fold,” he told Van Sant. “And in 20 or 30 years, we will find ourselves in a political wilderness, without any support.”
From The Trace
The latest from our newsroom.
Secret audio reveals executives from the gun group and its PR firm hatching a plan that would conceal extravagant expenses involving Wayne LaPierre. Read more →
A researcher puts the latest homicide statistics into context — and warns lawmakers not to become complacent. Read more →
Recent shootings claimed the lives of a bus driver and a school staffer, part of a crisis that led new mayor Cherelle Parker to declare a public safety emergency. Read more →
Under LaPierre’s leadership, the NRA became one of the most powerful interest groups in Washington, D.C. Read more →
What to Know This Week
Thousands of emergency planning documents for U.S. schools, including procedures for active-shooter situations, were exposed in a highly sensitive database leak. More than 4 million school records were publicly accessible online. [WIRED]
Maryland Governor Wes Moore unveiled a proposal to establish a gun violence prevention center under the Department of Health, answering a call from the Biden administration to recreate the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention on a state level. [The Washington Post/The Baltimore Banner]
Years before he allegedly killed his parents and four others, the suspected perpetrator of a gun rampage across Central Texas was investigated by the Army for spousal abuse, a military report shows. No charges were filed under military law, per an Army spokesperson. [The Texas Newsroom]
Over the past few weeks, a number of political figures — from Republican U.S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Green to ATF Director Steven Dettelbach — have fallen victim to “swatting,” false emergency reports intended to elicit an aggressive response from police, and that have resulted in fatal shootings in some cases. The swatting spike comes amid a “deeply disturbing spike” in threats against government officials, per Attorney General Merrick Garland. [Intelligencer/The Washington Post/ABC]
President Joe Biden delivered his second campaign speech of the year at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, where a shooter killed nine people in a racist attack in 2015. Biden warned that extremist and white supremacist ideologies continue to pose an existential threat. [PBS NewsHour/The Guardian]
For veterans in small and remote towns across America, the military’s promise of a lifetime of health care is falling short in a particularly crucial area: psychiatric treatment. In Chico, California, overworked staff at a VA clinic warned that disaster was imminent. Then two veterans shot and killed their mothers. [ProPublica]
The three leading GOP presidential candidates — former President Donald Trump, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis — have all led their states or the country during mass shootings and their aftermath. But they did little or nothing to implement new gun safety laws. [The Boston Globe]
East Palo Alto, a small city in California’s Bay Area, was called the “murder capital” of the U.S. in 1992. But over the past 30 years, it’s undergone a dramatic turnaround: According to recent police data, the city experienced zero homicides in 2023. What’s behind the transformation? [Los Angeles Times]
Wyoming has long held a grim record as the state with the nation’s highest suicide rate. Mental health professionals in the state say their prevention efforts are complicated by the popularity of guns — but they also say that in 2023, they started to see some positive change. [NPR]
The 17-year-old shooter who attacked a school in Perry, Iowa, killing a sixth-grader and injuring seven other people, was apparently active on Discord and posted messages about “gearing up” in the minutes before opening fire. One Discord user told NBC that a social media account affiliated with the shooter was also active in a now-defunct server called “School Massacres Discussion.” [NBC]
Homicides plummeted in much of the country last year, declining by an average of 12.3 percent across U.S. cities. But the nation’s capital proved an exception: 2023 was Washington, D.C.’s deadliest year in two decades, with 90 percent of the killings attributed to gunfire. Why is violent crime spiking in the district? [The Washington Post/The New Republic]
Aria Kamal, 18, had an artist’s soul. The Middlebury College freshman wrote poetry, participated in a school theater group and choir, and played guitar; she loved opera. Kamal was shot and killed at her home in Dover, Massachusetts, over the holidays. She was funny — Kamal had a “witty irreverence,” a high school friend told The Boston Globe — and found joy in small things. She loved freely and was fearlessly herself, another classmate said, qualities she developed by overcoming personal struggles in her early teens. Kamal’s friends trusted her with their problems, knowing she’d listen without judgment and offer insight. A neuroscience major, Kamal was happy at Middlebury: Apart from her arts groups, she was involved in a foraging collective and Women in Computer Sciences. She fell into a romantic relationship, someone she could trade poems and stargaze with. “She saw all the good, and all the beauty, and had a wonderful gift in that she could make you see it, too,” Kamal’s partner said. “Love and light just radiated from her.”
From Ratmaster to Kingmaker: How Jonathan Stickland Trolled His Way to Texas GOP Power: “In his teens and his 20s, Stickland was a prolific internet troll. But instead of growing out of it, he would make a career of it — ascending to the role of a conservative Texas powerbroker, before taking heat for hosting a meeting with white supremacist Nick Fuentes.” [The Texas Tribune]
“It really is a testament to the commitment of the community to fix itself. … People there are really concerned and care about the community where they live.”
— Sharifa Wilson, the mayor of East Palo Alto, California, in 1992, on the city’s work to reduce homicides, to the Los Angeles Times