[ED: We asked readers to give us their thoughts on the the current controversies swirling around the National Rifle Association and we’ve received a number of thoughtful responses. Click the link above if you’d like to contribute, too. Here are a few more and we’ll continue to run them over the coming days as we receive them.]
Dave S. from Ohio writes:
The current controversies surrounding the National Rifle Association should not be a surprise, nor should they be feared. The NRA is a tremendously large organization that handles billions of dollars in cash and property. The membership is as diverse as any population could be. It is made up of people from every educational, economic, and social stratum drawn from every corner of the nation and even some international members.
That there are expenditures that some consider excessive and others deem necessary is a reflection of the different fiscal priorities of such a broad group. That a business relationship is regarded as necessary by some and seen as incestuous by others is
not odd; it is a function of the diverse backgrounds, experiences, and opinions of millions of people.
What is a surprise is that so many are so concerned that the inner workings of an organization whose members have always had the right to review financial and policy
documents should be made “public.” What is more surprising, and what we ought to concern ourselves with, is why so many believe this will weaken the organization.
The detractors of the NRA are correct: we are in crisis. But it is not a crisis at the executive level. It is a crisis of leadership by the members. These struggles must serve to strengthen the organization by energizing a far too lethargic body of members into real action. Action that focuses on our core mission of promoting accurate and safe marksmanship AND the work of ensuring the freedoms required to participate in those activities at times and places of our choosing.
Finances, salaries, and the inter-woven relationships among leadership and external organizations ought not be surprises to anyone. These facts were and are openly available to anyone and everyone with a membership number. The notion that this information now provides detractors much needed ammunition is political grandstanding.
It is ludicrous to believe that those who are philosophically at odds with the NRA are just now getting a “peek behind the curtain.” Organizations as well-funded as those that oppose the NRA can spare $25 a year to obtain a membership for an “operative” who can then merrily go about the business of obtaining information as a member and passing it on.
That is not to say that some of the issues raised should not be investigated. Quite the contrary. Members have a duty to seek out facts and satisfy themselves that their money is being spent as they expect it should be in accordance with the organization’s by-laws.
This current dilemma we face is not about the cost of the CEO’s suits or travel destinations. We are having a personality crisis. Right now, the vast majority of us (yes, us – I am quite guilty of this) pay our dues, assume that the organization will fly itself while it does our bidding, and then we head off to the range to shoot and lament the erosion of our freedoms.
What bidding? That depends on whom you ask, and therein lies part of the problem. Is the NRA, at its core, a firearms safety training organization? A 2A rights “hardliner”, give-no-quarter, make-no-compromise organization? A 2A rights some-constraints-are-necessary-and-acceptable organization? A competitive rules, standards, policy, and event tracking organization? A hunting and field shooting advocate and training organization?
Right now it is trying to be everything to everyone. The old adage, “You can please some of the people some of the time…” has never rung more true than it does in describing the NRA of 2019. While there is a need for all of the advocacy mentioned above, it is far too complex a set of issues to be handled by one single organization. There is no way to develop a strategy for success in the face of such varied lines of effort.
I am a Patriot Benefactor Life Member. So, what? In this organization, all that really says is that I paid more money for a membership. I am an NRA certified RSO and instructor. I regularly teach Hunter Safety. I have gone to a few Friends of the NRA banquets, but never worked at one.
I write to my legislators now and then, but I have never, not once, written to the NRA. I wanted to. I just never took the time. Now, smacked in the face with the results of my own inaction and failure, I put pen to paper.
We must define who we are. To begin, we must define, or perhaps simply remember, the strategic goals of the organization, and we must be specific about them.
Lofty, vaporous goals like “defend the Second Amendment” are outdated and useless. Moreover, that is not not actually a stated purpose of the organization. Defend a particular paragraph of words contained in a larger document? Nonsense.
The strategic goals of the NRA should be broad, I agree. But they must be specific. They must be measurable. They must be widely known and understood. The membership must drive the organization to adhere to them.
Currently, if you go to the NRA’s public facing website, NRA.org, and scroll to the bottom you find “About the NRA.” Click that, and you are given 14 paragraphs about the history of the NRA. In only one paragraph, the last one, are the NRA’s political efforts mentioned. Yet, I assure you that if you ask ten people what the NRA’s purpose is, you will be met with ten answers involving politics, law, or firearms-related policy.
I doubt that you could find many, even members, who could articulate co-founder Colonel William C. Church’s statement that the association existed to “…promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis.”
The lack of known strategic goals and stated organizational values is an epic failure. I worked for over an hour to find a link on NRA.org to the charter, the by-laws, or any strategy document. I finally logged onto “member services” and still could not
find anything. I ended up on a “chat” with a membership representative who could not provide the documents but directed me to NRA-ILA.
NRA-ILA? That is supposed to be our lobbying group, not the keepers of our core documents! I emailed them and am awaiting a response. This vignette is indicative of the current culture of the NRA and its members.
These documents are not available because, well, no one cares. If we, the members, did care, they would be out in front and available. Again, the crisis is not in how the leadership operates. The crisis is in how we as members fail to operate.
Yes, we must ask ourselves how much the leadership should be compensated and what we are getting for that compensation. That is a fair question to ask about any “corporate” leadership in any organization. That cannot be our focus.
We must get back to the core of the organization. I believe that there is a need for many aspects previously mentioned, and I think that the creation of the NRA-ILA is a good start, but it is not the end.
The NRA should focus on the promotion of accurate and safe marksmanship with the core lines of effort being education, training, and competition. These are apolitical lines of effort focused on activities, events, research, and execution.
The NRA-ILA should continue the lobbying effort and take the forefront of the political activities. Truthfully, it is they who should be drawing the ire of those who oppose the current NRA. NRA TV has its merits and should continue in some measure.
Somehow, we must find a way to “re-brand” the political, non-lobbying efforts of the NRA. Either those efforts are rolled into NRA-ILA or another co-branded organization takes root. We can start by focusing the public-facing NRA.org website on the core lines of effort as described above.
Finally, membership levels should be defined by how much you do, not how much you contribute. Those who are active as instructors, trainers, club officers, match directors and workers, Range Safety Officers, etc. Those are the people who have earned and deserve special recognition.
I accept the need for “presidents’ level” individual benefactors and corporate sponsors. Certainly, they have their place as well, but we must recognize, reward, and encourage those who do the “work” of the organization.
We must better articulate the purpose of the organization as it was first conceived. We must make that our rally cry, and our members must be able to echo that mantra to any and all.
This from Michael Robitaille:
In regards to recent events regarding the NRA, in my personal opinion, things do need to change. Fresh blood is needed to head the organization.
I am a life member of “Freedom’s Safest Place” (AKA the National Rifle Association of America) and am in the process of becoming an Endowment Life Member. I am also an NRA Recruiter, so I do get asked about my thoughts/feelings about the current state of affairs.
At last report, there are over 6 million members of the NRA, but only about 2% attend NRA Annual Meetings and it would not surprise if less than that write to the NRA Board of Directors expressing their thoughts/feelings.
To everyone that is displeased with recent events, make your voices heard. Offer up suggestions on how things can be better. Stop being armchair quarterbacks and become more active.
And this from John Woods:
I’m a lifetime NRA member and ardent supporter of the second amendment. The recent controversy has caused me to look at the leadership of the NRA and ask a question. Is the NRA a good steward of the resources we give it?
Before getting to the specific accusations let’s look at the public financials. Wayne gets paid a lot. That would be ok if he is providing value in excess of his cost.
According to charity watch he is the 8th highest paid charity executive. However looking at his salary as a percentage of total contributions and you see he is putting about 5 cents of every dollar donated into his pocket. That’s high both subjectively and objectively compared to other to other charities. Then you notice that the expenses are also well in excess of the contributions. More out than in is not a recipe for fiscal stability.
As to the specific accusations the letter from the board did not address the Brewer legal bills. The rest of the accusations were small potatoes. As the saying goes follow the money.
In the most innocent of interpretations the NRA became fiscally loose as the money rolled in during the Obama years and now a power struggle is going on over the money that’s left. In of itself this leads me to believe the NRA is no longer a good steward or our resources. Visibility and change is needed. Stonewalling and asking the troops to circle the wagons will not work this time.