NRA and SHOT Updates

Aug 7, 2020

A pair of shoes finally dropped yesterday in the feuds between the National Rifle Association and the State of New York and the District of Columbia.

Before everyone starts going completely bonkers, let’s all take a deep, calming breath.

Granted, more suits were flying in New York and DC than a broken closet rod in Wayne LaPierre’s closet, but allegations in a lawsuit are exactly that- allegations.

From a purely legal standpoint, NRA officials might feel better about things today than they did on Wednesday.

Those who have been named in the suit: LaPierre, Wilson “Woody” Phillips, John Frazier and Josh Powell, know exactly what New York Attorney General Letitia James is alleging they’ve done wrong.

There’s no more wondering about what depositional questions - asked or unasked- meant, where the questioning was really heading or any of that. The initial “bill of horrors” is on the table.

Now, the only thing they need concern themselves with is disproving the allegations.

What does that mean for “the rest of us”?

That the NRA will likely continue as it has have for the past year.

At the risk of angering five-million other gun owners, the NRA hasn’t been exactly what you’d call active at anything (other than non-stop fundraising) for some time.

Stretched budgets, staff cuts and growing legal fees have put the NRA to the sidelines in this very important election cycle. That’s not opinion, that’s fact.

The NRA spent approximately $30 million supporting President Trump’s 2016 campaign. They didn’t have those millions to spend this year.

Behind-the-scenes infighting that has continued uninterrupted since the “Imbroglio in Indianapolis” when Mr. LaPierre and his supporters eliminated anyone who dared raise questions about the organization’s management should go quiet.

Unfortunately, the complaints raised by those “dissidents” spoke directly to the matters listed in the New York Attorney General’s suit. Now, instead of insiders asking for corrective actions, a District Attorney seeks to dissolve the 149-year old organization entirely.

As you can see in the news section today, the industry is lining up to support the National Rifle Association.

In that support, they characterize the entire matter as a “political campaign” designed to silence the NRA’s voice. Viewed through solely through political optics, I agree. This smells very similar to politics as usual.

But I disagree- strongly- with the assertion that any individual is the National Rifle Association.

The strength of the organization, despite the PR campaigns to the contrary, is not the person appearing on camera whenever a situation breaks out. The strength of the National Rifle Association is its members.

The membership, if motivated, is a powerful force in local, state and national elections.

If anything, bringing these suits this close to an election cycle risks a blowback that may bring every gun owning voter- including those who are new gun owners, out to act.

If that happens, any anti-gun Democrat facing reelection anywhere other than a solidly liberal area could pay the price.

The fact that District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine brought a similar suit today against the National Rifle Association Foundation indicates the timing wasn’t coincidental.

It’s a carefully orchestrated move on the parts of both AGs.

In explaining the reasoning behind the District's suit, Racine tweeted: “Donors gave money to fund firearms safety, firearms education and marksmanship training. Instead, that money was diverted to support wasteful spending by the NRA and its executives.”

Key to the D.C. complaint are a pair of $5 million loans in 2017 and 2018 from the Foundation to the Association. In addition to those loans, the suit alleges the Foundation paid millions in fees to the NRA with no oversight, essentially placing the NRA’s interests above its own. That is a violation of the Foundation’s articles of incorporation. The Board’s duty is to protect the Foundation, not the Association.

Both the New York and District of Columbia lawsuits focused on the idea of irresponsible conduct by the executives, and a lack of oversight by the Board of Directors of both organizations.

Technically, that’s breach of fiduciary trust. Being a Board member -of any not-for-profit organization- subjects you to specific obligations. Making certain money is spent wisely is a core obligation for any Director.

Both cases hinge upon the assertion that money was spent otherwise.

The only thing the “named defendants” in the New York suit need to do is demonstrate they acted responsibly and fulfilled their obligations. That’s the essence of New York’s case.

If Messers. LaPierre, Phillips, Frazier and Powell can prove they fulfilled their fiduciary obligations, there’s no case.

If they fail, New York will also seek to dissolve the NRA and redirect “any remaining funds to charitable uses consistent with the mission set forth in the NRA’s certificate of incorporation”.

It will also be compelled by law to recover $63-plus million dollars it says was misspent under their leadership- plus damages.

The dual filings yesterday ended much of the speculation that has swirled around the organization for months. From this point forward “the NRA story” will be about facts, not rumor and innuendo. Facts are essential to prove- or disprove- allegations.

Today, we’re also able to bring you an update on SHOT 2021. That update will come directly from the CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

In a July 30 letter to the NSSF’s Chris Dolnack, the NSSF’s top exec for SHOT Show, LVCVA CEO Steve Hill writes:

“Las Vegas is honored to call SHOT Show a valued partner, and truly appreciate the business it brings to our city each year. Your show, and your industry, are extremely important to our destination.

We greatly appreciate the efforts and commitment NSSF has made to continue planning for a safe and productive event in Las Vegas this coming January.

While no one can say with certainty what conditions will look like six months from now, what I can say with absolute certainty is that the safety and health of your exhibitors and attendees is paramount to your valued partners at ConvExx, Freeman, Las Vegas Sands, and Caesars Entertainment. Along with LVCVA, they are all working tirelessly to ensure SHOT Show is produced with every safety and security precaution in mind. Measures like checking temperatures of everyone entering the facility, requiring facial coverings, managing occupancy levels and traffic flow to ensure proper social distancing and following all guidance from the CDC and Nevada public health are just some of the safety protocols being discussed as we speak.

I can assure you that all the resorts and convention facilities throughout Las Vegas are doing everything possible to prepare safe meetings and trade shows during the months ahead. I am confident that everyone associated with the show will be excited and ready to host your industry, and the thousands of professionals it brings, for a safe and productive event in January.

Thank you for your continued support and partnership in delivering a first-class event to Las Vegas, and we look forward to welcoming the SHOT Show family in January.”

That, in a nutshell, is about all any of us know about what’s going to happen six months from now.

But we’re watching, listening, and talking with people whose jobs are to make big decisions in uncertain times like these.

And, as always, we’ll keep you posted.

— Jim Shepherd