As of today, Wayne LaPierre is no longer the National Rifle Association’s chief executive. His exit demarcates the end of an era for the gun group: Over his three-decade-plus tenure as CEO, LaPierre both transformed the organization into a political powerhouse and oversaw its descent into scandal, culminating in a New York corruption trial against him, the NRA, and two other (current and former) top officials. At issue is a pattern of bloated contracts for friendly vendors and luxury expenses charged to the nonprofit that was first uncovered by The Trace’s Mike Spies in an investigation published with The New Yorker in 2019. At the time, a lawyer representing the NRA said that the group had “serious concerns about the accuracy of this reporting and The New Yorker’s sources.”
On the witness stand this week, LaPierre confirmed the essence of that first story, plus many additional elements reported over the years by The Trace. For instance, his cruises in the Bahamas — the first of which coincided with his niece’s wedding there — his safaris with Under Wild Skies, and payments to a charity for which his wife served as president.
After an attorney for the gun group questioned LaPierre about authorizing private flights for his niece, and his failure to disclose the use of private jets to the board, LaPierre agreed with NRA lawyer Sarah Rodgers’s statement that he was “acting outside of [his] authority” with regard to the unilateral decisions he made as head of the organization.
“It was not the right thing to do,” LaPierre said.
As The Trace’s Will Van Sant reported last week, the NRA has been straining to create distance from its longtime leader, arguing that the gun group itself is the true victim of the diversion of resources. LaPierre appeared to be going along with the line, claiming that he acted alone and that the board was not aware of his actions.
John Frazer, general counsel for the NRA and a co-defendant, also took the stand on Tuesday. Frazer testified that LaPierre authorized an April 2019 lawsuit against Ackerman McQueen, the gun group’s onetime PR firm, without informing him first. The decision to sue, he said, cost the organization millions. Later in the day, Assistant Attorney General Emily Stern asked Frazer about whether LaPierre had breached his trust.
“Person to person, no,” Frazer said.
“Did he breach members’ trust?” Stern continued.
“I have to say probably yes,” he responded. Stern pressed further, asking: “Did he breach the trust of the NRA as an institution?”
“I’d say the same thing,” Frazer said. “The organization is its members.”
Reporting contributed from Jennifer Mascia.
There’s no single, agreed-upon meaning of “mass shooting.” Researchers, nonprofit trackers, and the media use the term differently, and the government, for its part, has no official definition. So depending on who you ask, the country has experienced 30-plus mass shootings over the past month, or no mass shootings at all.
This isn’t just a matter of semantics, writes The Trace’s Chip Brownlee. How we think about what is and isn’t a mass shooting influences how our lawmakers respond to these events, and different definitions influence public perception of the severity of the problem. What, then, makes a mass shooting a “mass shooting”? In the latest edition of The Trajectory, Brownlee grapples with the debate.
What to Know Today
In the late 1990s, as the nation recovered from a decade of record homicides, more than 30 cities sued major firearms companies in an effort to slow the tide of guns flooding their cities. Only a lawsuit brought by the city of Gary, Indiana, survived — and gunmakers have spent the years since trying to get it dismissed. Now, in a last-ditch effort to quash the suit, the industry is turning to an influential ally: state lawmakers. [IndyStar and ProPublica]
Far-right extremists are making their way to Eagle Pass, Texas, to support Governor Greg Abbott’s standoff with the federal government over the installation of razor wire at a park along the southern border and the state National Guard’s seizure of the site; the Guard has blocked the U.S. Border Patrol from entering despite a Supreme Court order to allow agents to enter. As the dispute escalates, so do fears that it could turn violent: Right-wing lawmakers, political commentators, and self-declared participants of an armed convoy to Eagle Pass have referenced “civil war” and the possibility of a “force-on-force conflict.” [VICE/The Texas Newsroom/WIRED]
Chicago’s top police official, Larry Snelling, is suspending an initiative launched by his predecessor that assigned officers working overtime to sit in “scarecrow” vehicles as a deterrent to violence. The move comes after a pair of high-profile shootings in the city sparked new fears about public safety. [Chicago Sun-Times]
A growing number of scholars are exploring the roots of America’s gun violence crisis. Two new books dissect how the country arrived at a moment “when we seem willingly to bear the lost lives of many thousands,” writes Rachel Louise Snyder, of American University, “so that a minority of our citizens may buy, carry, sell, trade, exhibit, gift and shoot lethal weaponry.” [The New York Times]
27 Books to Help You Understand Gun Violence: Recommended reading from the journalists of The Trace. (June 2023)