By Daniel Trotta
(Reuters) – National Rifle Association members who have been alleging corruption within the gun lobby’s leadership for years have cautiously welcomed a lawsuit from New York state that threatens to dissolve the foremost champion of gun rights in the United States.
New York Attorney General Letitia James sued on Thursday to break up the NRA, alleging senior leaders of the non-profit group wasted millions of dollars of members’ money on their own luxury travel, personal gifts from retailers like Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman, family vacations to the Bahamas and big game hunts in Africa.
“Honestly, this is the best thing for the NRA,” said Stephen Bozich, a lifetime NRA and NRA safety instructor. “It will end up resulting in the kind of action a lot of people in the gun community have been looking for, which is new leadership.”
Like other NRA members, Bozich wants the NRA to remain intact. With the presidential election three months away, he is also skeptical about the political motives of James, a liberal Democrat who ran for attorney general in 2018 on anti-NRA rhetoric.
But within the NRA’s 5 million members are dissidents who have been clamoring for reform, only to be defeated as NRA leadership and its 76-member board of directors closed ranks behind Executive Vice-President Wayne LaPierre.
The dissidents have tried to speak for lower-income members who send some of their scarce disposable income to the NRA to defend their constitutional right to keep and bear arms.
The lawsuit details how LaPierre squandered more than $1 million of that money on private jet travel for his wife and family over four years when he was not even a passenger. Such mismanagement shrank NRA assets by $64 million over three years, the suit said.
“I’ve been trying to wake people up for years as to the corruption,” said Tim Harmsen, a lifetime NRA member and host of the Military Arms Channel online. “The NRA is broken on the inside. It needs new leadership. Wayne has to go. It’s almost as if he’s purposely trying to run the organization into the ground.”
In depositions cited by the lawsuit, LaPierre does not deny the expenditures but justifies them as legitimate expenses.
The NRA has dismissed the suit as a baseless and politically motivated attack. It did not immediately respond to a Reuters request to address the internal criticism.
The NRA’s internal critics complain that years of inaction only jeopardized gun rights and invited someone like James to step in, using the state’s authority to regulate a non-profit organization that is registered in New York.
Richard Feldman, a former NRA lobbyist who remains a member, said LaPierre should take an immediate, unpaid leave and board members who were on the oversight committees should resign.
“Those in the know were aware for years about improprieties and outrageous expenditures with the top leadership at NRA,” Feldman said. “But the extensively detailed allegations of double dealing, sweetheart contracts and engorged salaries coupled with board payoffs are depressingly staggering.”
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by David Gregorio)