With The Resignation Of CEO LaPierre And A Looming Civil Trial, Will The NRA Survive? : Consider This from NPR Longtime CEO of the National Rifle Associate has announced his resignation. LaPierre steps down amid accusations of misappropriating funds from the non-profit. Facing a civil trial, what will the NRA look like after LaPierre?

Host Scott Detrow speaks with NPR's Brian Mann, who's been following the case.

With The Resignation Of CEO LaPierre And A Looming Civil Trial, Will The NRA Survive?

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BARACK OBAMA: I'm going to speak plainly and honestly about what's happened here.

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

In 2013, President Barack Obama addressed the nation after the Senate failed to pass major gun legislation following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where a gunman killed 20 first graders and six teachers.

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OBAMA: All in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington.

DETROW: And what Obama called a shameful day was a good day for the National Rifle Association at the peak of its political influence. Obama said the NRA's power was why members of Congress voted against the gun control measure.

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OBAMA: They worried that the gun lobby would spend a lot of money and paint them as anti-Second Amendment. And obviously a lot of Republicans had that fear, but Democrats had that fear, too. And so they caved to the pressure.

WAYNE LAPIERRE: The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

DETROW: Today NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, who's been at the forefront of the NRA's campaign against gun control for decades, has resigned. He steps down as he and other former NRA officials are facing a civil trial. NPR's Brian Mann says fear of the NRA is what has kept major gun legislation from being passed.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: You know, the NRA was once one of the biggest political forces in Washington and in state capitols around the country. The organization really succeeded for decades under LaPierre's leadership, pushing the gun control debate to the right, blocking gun control measures even after catastrophic mass shootings like Sandy Hook and Parkland.

DETROW: In 2019, the organization began to unravel.

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WOLF BLITZER: Tonight, new questions emerging about lavish spending and potential conflicts of interest at the National Rifle Association.

AMY GOODMAN: As Iran-Contra figure Oliver North was recently ousted as NRA president after he threatened to reveal evidence of corruption against longtime chief executive Wayne LaPierre. This all comes as New York's...

DETROW: CONSIDER THIS - under LaPierre's leadership, the NRA became one of the most powerful political forces in Washington as well as in state legislatures across the country. But with his resignation and an upcoming civil trial, what does the NRA look like in a post-LaPierre world?

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DETROW: For NPR, I'm Scott Detrow. It's Friday, January 5.

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DETROW: It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. This week in New York, jury selection began in a civil trial that could upend the NRA. In 2020, New York Attorney General Letitia James filed corruption charges against Wayne LaPierre, the CEO and longtime leader of the powerful gun rights group. NPR's Brian Mann has been following the story, and we asked him what LaPierre's resignation could mean for the NRA and also how we got here.

MANN: This is a huge moment. His resignation is a big deal. Wayne LaPierre really was one of the chief architects of the modern gun rights movement, part of the inner circle that moved the NRA far to the right to a more hardline stance on gun regulation at a time when mass shootings and other gun violence were rising. He really transformed what was a sportsman's group into a culture war machine, focusing on gun control issues but also framing this in a way that sort of signaled that, you know, if you're for gun ownership, you're a good guy, and if you're against gun ownership, you're a bad guy. Here he is in one speech, laying out that vision.

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LAPIERRE: Is the press and the political class here in Washington, D.C., so consumed by fear and hatred of the NRA and American gun owners that you're willing to accept the world where real resistance to evil monsters is a lone, unarmed school principal?

MANN: So in a statement announcing his resignation, LaPierre says, I will never stop supporting the NRA and its fight to defend Second Amendment freedom. My passion for our cause burns as deeply as ever. But with this trial looming, he's out. I should mention, Scott, that Kris Brown, head of the Brady Gun Control Organization, is celebrating LaPierre's departure. He issued a statement saying, our thoughts and prayers to Wayne LaPierre. Of course, that's a reference to the phrase we often hear after mass shootings. He says, Wayne LaPierre is going to need thoughts and prayers to be able to sleep at night after pushing the big lie that guns make us safer.

DETROW: And this is, again, such a big moment for somebody who shaped the culture wars and shaped some of the big defining parts of this political culture, especially in an era of so many mass shootings and conversations about gun control. Let's look at this lawsuit, though, because the lawsuit is still going forward, right?

MANN: Yeah. That's right. And the focus of this lawsuit is very different. This national debate has been over gun control and gun safety. As we speak this week, there's been another deadly mass shooting at a school in Iowa. But this lawsuit isn't focused on that stuff. It's really about the money. New York's AG, Letitia James, has argued that Lapierre and these other guys basically turned the NRA into a grifter organization, taking donations from gun owners and funneling them into their personal lives. Here's James speaking with NPR in 2020 after this lawsuit was filed.

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LETITIA JAMES: It seems like these four individuals - their focus was to use the NRA, to use it for their own personal benefit, for their lavish lifestyle, with private jets and fancy vacations and expensive meals.

MANN: Now, with these claims of corruption and mismanagement, if the NRA loses this case, the gun rights group could be subject to really strict oversight by New York state officials. So you'd have one of the most conservative activist groups in the country being really bird-dogged and watchdogged constantly by New York regulators.

DETROW: But at the same time, you know, as you've reported a lot in recent years, the NRA isn't as powerful as it used to be, right? It's had these financial problems. It's scaled back its operations. So why does this trial still matter so much?

MANN: Yeah, you're right. This has already crippled the NRA. The organization tried unsuccessfully to file for bankruptcy at one point. They've lost a ton of members. And really importantly, they shut down their big, powerful media operation that included a television channel. That's all gone. But I think why this matters that if the NRA wins, there's, you know, a lot of conservative money and support still out there. They could bounce back quickly. If they lose, it's hard to see the NRA regaining sort of its kingmaker status.

DETROW: OK. So that's the James view. That's the New York state view. What has LaPierre said? What has the NRA said about all of this?

MANN: Well, they framed this again, Scott, as a culture war fight. They say this is a Democratic state attorney general in a Democratic state trying to shut down a very important conservative organization, trying to silence them. And that's one of the reasons this case has taken so long to come to trial like this, is that the NRA has argued repeatedly in court saying this is not appropriate, that they're being attacked politically. Courts have rejected those arguments over and over again. The NRA has lost that stage of the legal fight, and so now we're going to trial.

DETROW: You know, you said before how LaPierre kind of made the NRA into this culture war machine. And you saw over the years how much power the NRA exerted over the Republican Party, especially. You saw its death grip on the party when it came to any conversation about any sort of federal gun control legislation. With all of these problems, have you seen anyone in Congress, any of these allies back away from the organization, distance themselves in any way at all?

MANN: So this is fascinating. You know, the NRA's political machine has clearly been crippled, but the organization's ideas and philosophies were already deeply rooted in the Republican Party and among many core GOP voters. Polls show an overwhelming majority of Americans support things like universal background checks for gun purchases. Even most Republicans support that. But core voters, the folks who vote in GOP primaries, they're really hardcore on guns. So, you know, the GOP has not backed away from the NRA's framing of all this.

I do think there's one thing here, Scott, that is worth talking about for just a second. And that's why, you know, while the NRA is still very powerful in the Republican Party, they've lost a ton of their bipartisan support. You know, it's easy to forget now that at one time, Democrats also courted the NRA for their pro-gun ratings. But as this controversy grew, as scandals grew around the NRA's hard-line positions, that's really changed. And one reason is because of what we've heard through this scandal. One of the guys who's being sued here in this case is Joshua Powell. He's a former NRA official. But he's turned against the NRA, and he's come forward to talk about what goes on inside the organization and what he describes as their radical tactics.

JOSHUA POWELL: The term - pour gasoline on the fire - is from Wayne's lips to God's ears and was used regularly. If you're pandering to the fringe of the gun movement and you beat it into their head that Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden are going to jump out of a black helicopter and take their guns, and jackbooted thugs are just around the corner, it's very easy to raise money off of fear.

MANN: So tactics like that really alienated the NRA from the Democratic Party, and that's had a big impact. We've seen state governments led by Democrats embracing gun control laws, pushing gun regulations as far as the U.S. Supreme Court and the Second Amendment will let them go.

DETROW: I mean, Brian, on one hand, you think about the NRA over the years, under LaPierre's leadership, enormous success in ingraining gun rights and absolutely no compromise whatsoever in the culture of Republican officeholders - right? - and in making the culture war issues they post front and center in American politics. On the other hand, really fallen apart in so many ways in recent years. Now that LaPierre is gone from the group, what do you think the future of the NRA is when it comes to American politics?

MANN: You know, it's going to be very interesting to see if the NRA can regain its footing with LaPierre out. He's become very controversial within gun culture. Other organizations like the Gun Owners of America and the Second Amendment Foundation have really moved in aggressively, trying to pull in members from the NRA, trying to kind of take the lead on this issue. And that may be part of the political pressure that forced LaPierre out. This is - this lawsuit is one factor, but there's a lot of competition now in the gun movement for, you know, who will wear the mantle leading hard-line gun owners forward as these debates continue. So we'll just have to see after this lawsuit is over where this trial goes, whether the NRA can regain its role in all of that or not.

DETROW: That's NPR's Brian Mann, who's been covering the NRA and this upcoming trial of Wayne LaPierre. Thank you so much.

MANN: Thank you, Scott.

DETROW: This episode was produced by Marc Rivers and edited by Jeanette Woods. Our executive producer is Sami Yenigun.

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DETROW: It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. I'm Scott Detrow.

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