Skip to Content Facebook Feature Image

NRA kicks off annual meeting as board considers successor to longtime leader Wayne LaPierre

News

NRA kicks off annual meeting as board considers successor to longtime leader Wayne LaPierre
News

News

NRA kicks off annual meeting as board considers successor to longtime leader Wayne LaPierre

2024-05-17 13:15 Last Updated At:13:30

DALLAS (AP) — The National Rifle Association is kicking off its annual meeting Friday in downtown Dallas, gathering for the first time in decades without Wayne LaPierre at the helm as board members prepare to elect his replacement.

Though beset by financial troubles and following a trial in which a jury found LaPierre misspent millions of the NRA’s money, the group remains a political force. Upwards of 70,000 people are expected at the three-day event with a scheduled speech by former President Donald Trump, seminars, receptions and acres of guns and gear.

A board of directors meeting on Monday is expected to include elections of LaPierre’s replacement and other officers.

"The immediate question is: Who leads the organization and what direction do they go in the post-Wayne LaPierre NRA?” asked Robert Spitzer, a professor emeritus at the State University of New York-Cortland who has written several books on gun policies.

“They have suffered a series of blows, mostly caused by their own corruption,” Spitzer said.

Trump is set to address members Saturday. At the organization's Great American Outdoor Show earlier this year, he told those gathered that if he is reelected, “no one will lay a finger on your firearms.”

A New York jury in February found LaPierre wrongly used millions of dollars of the organization's money to pay for an extravagant lifestyle that included exotic getaways and trips on private planes and superyachts. LaPierre resigned as executive vice president and chief executive officer on the eve of the trial.

The jury said LaPierre must repay almost $4.4 million to the NRA, while the organization's retired finance chief, Wilson Phillips, owed $2 million. The NRA failed to properly manage its assets, omitted or misrepresented information in its tax filings and violated whistleblower protections under New York law, jurors found.

After reporting a $36 million deficit in 2018 fueled largely by misspending, the NRA cut back on longstanding programs that had been core to its mission, including training and education, recreational shooting and law enforcement initiatives.

The NRA filed for bankruptcy in 2021, but a judge dismissed the case, ruling it was not filed in good faith.

LaPierre had led the NRA’s day-to-day operations since 1991, acting as its face and becoming one of the country’s most influential figures in shaping gun policy. A fiery proponent of gun rights, he once warned of “jack-booted government thugs” seizing guns and condemned gun-control advocates as “opportunists” who “exploit tragedy for gain.”

Andrew Arulanandam, a top NRA lieutenant who served as LaPierre’s spokesperson, has taken on his leadership roles on an interim basis.

Phillip Journey, a newly reelected member of NRA's board, said he is among those trying to elect new leadership with hopes that the organization will become more transparent.

“I want to reestablish the trust that the membership has lost in the current leadership and I think that we need to make the board understand that they can speak their mind and not be punished,” said Journey, a Kansas judge, adding that the organization is “at a great crossroads.”

As the NRA meeting opens in Dallas, it has been a year since a neo-Nazi opened fire at a mall in the Dallas suburb of Allen, killing eight people before a police officer ended the rampage.

The organization's annual meeting last year in Indianapolis fell on the second anniversary of the mass shooting at a FedEx facility in the same city that left nine people dead, only days after mass shootings at a school in Nashville, Tennessee, and a bank in Louisville, Kentucky.

At the 2023 meeting, top Republican hopefuls for the 2024 presidential race vowed to defend the Second Amendment at all costs.

In 2022, the NRA held its annual meeting in Texas just days after a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde. Those taking the stage that year in Houston denounced the massacre while insisting further restrictions on access to firearms were not the answer.

One week after a gunman killed 26 people, mostly children, in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, LaPierre gave a defiant speech saying more gun laws weren't the answer and called for armed guards at schools. “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," he said.

FILE - An NRA sign is seen outside the track of the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, Friday April 12, 2013. The National Rifle Association is kicking off its annual meeting Friday, May 17, 2024, in downtown Dallas, gathering for the first time in decades without Wayne LaPierre at the helm, as board members prepare to elect his replacement. (AP Photo/Tim Sharp, file)

FILE - An NRA sign is seen outside the track of the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, Friday April 12, 2013. The National Rifle Association is kicking off its annual meeting Friday, May 17, 2024, in downtown Dallas, gathering for the first time in decades without Wayne LaPierre at the helm, as board members prepare to elect his replacement. (AP Photo/Tim Sharp, file)

FILE - Former President Donald Trump reacts to the crowd before speaking during the National Rifle Association Convention, Friday, April 14, 2023, in Indianapolis. The National Rifle Association is kicking off its annual meeting Friday, May 17, 2024, in downtown Dallas, gathering for the first time in decades without Wayne LaPierre at the helm, as board members prepare to elect his replacement. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, file)

FILE - Former President Donald Trump reacts to the crowd before speaking during the National Rifle Association Convention, Friday, April 14, 2023, in Indianapolis. The National Rifle Association is kicking off its annual meeting Friday, May 17, 2024, in downtown Dallas, gathering for the first time in decades without Wayne LaPierre at the helm, as board members prepare to elect his replacement. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, file)

FILE - National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre speaks during the Leadership Forum at the NRA-ILA Meeting at the George R. Brown Convention Center Friday, May 27, 2022, in Houston. The National Rifle Association is kicking off its annual meeting Friday, May 17, 2024, in downtown Dallas, gathering for the first time in decades without Wayne LaPierre at the helm, as board members prepare to elect his replacement. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke, file)

FILE - National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre speaks during the Leadership Forum at the NRA-ILA Meeting at the George R. Brown Convention Center Friday, May 27, 2022, in Houston. The National Rifle Association is kicking off its annual meeting Friday, May 17, 2024, in downtown Dallas, gathering for the first time in decades without Wayne LaPierre at the helm, as board members prepare to elect his replacement. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke, file)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand’s government will overhaul the tighter gun laws introduced after a deadly mass shooting by a white supremacist five years ago, because they put excessive burdens on gun owners who feel vilified by law enforcement and the public, the lawmaker leading the changes said.

“What’s happened is a massive change with massive penalties and targets on people who didn’t do anything wrong,” Associate Justice Minister Nicole McKee — a lobbyist for gun owners before she entered Parliament in 2020 — told The Associated Press in an interview this week. Every part of the law will be scrutinized, including the restrictions that bar all but a few hundred New Zealanders from firing banned semiautomatic weapons, she said.

McKee’s pledge of a wide-ranging review — following an earlier announcement that she would ease rules for gun clubs — was applauded by groups representing the country’s 250,000 license holders and decried by survivors of the 2019 terrorist attack at two Christchurch mosques where an Australian man opened fire on Muslim worshippers, killing 51 people.

“It makes me scared for our futures,” Temel Ataçocuğu — who was shot nine times in the attack and fears an erosion of the assault weapon ban — told the AP. “What have the past five years been for? How are they going to prevent this from happening again?”

New Zealand drew global admiration when its then-Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said six days after the massacre that her government would outlaw all semiautomatic weapons. The change was approved by 119 lawmakers with only one opposed, and sweeping reforms followed: bolstered licensing requirements, more rules for gun clubs, and the creation of a firearms registry.

The changes introduced “onerous regulatory compliance,” said McKee, whose political party, Act, campaigned for New Zealand’s 2023 election on a platform for reversing many of them. Now in government as part of a center-right coalition, McKee pledged to update the law before the next election in 2026.

Her bloc has enough lawmakers to easily pass any reforms. Prime Minister Christopher Luxon and a spokesperson for Labour — New Zealand’s largest opposition party, formerly led by Ardern — have not answered AP requests for comment.

McKee said she would consult with the public before deciding specific measures and that her personal views would not direct the overhaul. Critics rejected that.

“She was elected as a gun lobbyist, that was her role,” said Chris Cahill, president of the Police Association, a group representing most New Zealand officers. “She’s got a loyalty to the gun lobby groups.”

The review was “without a doubt, a backdoor into giving people access to semiautomatic assault rifles again,” Cahill said.

At the time of the ban, McKee denounced it as “knee-jerk.” As a minister she is more guarded, but told the AP that New Zealand had not been entirely rid of such weapons; several hundred people have permits to use them for pest control in rural areas, while others can own but not fire them.

“If we extend the access, what are the possible controls around the use of the extension? And would society be happy with what those controls mean?” McKee said she would ask during the review.

“It’s about how do we find the balance with protecting people but not going over the top with a regulatory regime,” she said. Any concerns raised by opponents should be “realistic," McKee added. “It cannot be anecdotal.”

New Zealand’s gun laws were safer before the 2019 reforms, the minister said, citing the dozens of pages of information now required for a gun license as an example of changes that could deter gun owners’ compliance.

“That’s absolute rubbish,” said Cahill. Gun laws were “loose” before the terrorist attack, he added, and the scrutiny reported by owners in the years since reflected the proper administration of the law after an injection of government funds.

McKee will begin by examining the gun registry created after the attacks; some gun owners want it shrunk to only the highest-powered weapons, rather than all guns. She will also explore removing from police oversight the new agency that administers gun licenses and registrations.

Gun crime has increased in New Zealand since 2019, according to analysis of official crime figures by New Zealand news outlets. Supporters of the tighter restrictions say they will take time to have an impact, and that a burgeoning problem with violent gang crime is fueling the rise. McKee, and groups representing gun owners, say scrutiny since the attack has fallen on law-abiding license holders at the expense of criminals, who are not captured by the stricter rules.

The Council of Licensed Firearms Owners said members had lost or couldn't obtain licenses because of malicious reports from past partners — who must be interviewed as part of a person’s application — or because they had divulged depression to their doctors. Areas of flexibility should be introduced to applications, spokesperson Hugh Devereux-Mack said.

“Every single New Zealander who is not convicted of a serious criminal offense and has no sort of problematic behaviors or serious mental health conditions is eligible to own a firearm,” Devereux-Mack said.

The gunman serving a life sentence for the Christchurch attack, Brenton Tarrant, moved to New Zealand from Australia, acquired a gun license and amassed a cache of assault weapons, all legally, without drawing the attention of law enforcement until he committed the massacre.

The police were censured by an inquiry that found Tarrant was incorrectly allowed to nominate a character reference who barely knew him because he did not have relatives in New Zealand who could be interviewed.

McKee said the rules that followed have made the system rigid and unwieldy. She would prefer a licensing regime “that looked at the individual," she said — without prompting the same disregard of rules that had allowed Tarrant to receive a license.

Devereux-Mack said his group might support an additional practical testing component to gun licensing, and a tiered system with more freedoms for longtime license holders.

“New Zealand won’t be safer if it becomes easier to get a gun,” Ataçocuğu said. “I have to have an eye test every time I renew my drivers’ license. Gun owners should have similar background and mental health checks every few years to make sure they’re still safe to have guns.”

FILE - An armed policeman patrols the grounds at the Al Noor mosque following the previous week's mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 23, 2019. New Zealand’s government will overhaul the tighter gun laws introduced after a deadly mass shooting by a white supremacist five years ago, because they put excessive burdens on gun owners who feel vilified by law enforcement and the public, the lawmaker leading the changes said. (AP Photo/Mark Baker, File)

FILE - An armed policeman patrols the grounds at the Al Noor mosque following the previous week's mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 23, 2019. New Zealand’s government will overhaul the tighter gun laws introduced after a deadly mass shooting by a white supremacist five years ago, because they put excessive burdens on gun owners who feel vilified by law enforcement and the public, the lawmaker leading the changes said. (AP Photo/Mark Baker, File)

FILE - A police officer stands guard with a rose at the service for a victim of the March 15 mosque shootings at the Memorial Park Cemetery in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 21, 2019. New Zealand’s government will overhaul the tighter gun laws introduced after a deadly mass shooting by a white supremacist five years ago, because they put excessive burdens on gun owners who feel vilified by law enforcement and the public, the lawmaker leading the changes said. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File);;;

FILE - A police officer stands guard with a rose at the service for a victim of the March 15 mosque shootings at the Memorial Park Cemetery in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 21, 2019. New Zealand’s government will overhaul the tighter gun laws introduced after a deadly mass shooting by a white supremacist five years ago, because they put excessive burdens on gun owners who feel vilified by law enforcement and the public, the lawmaker leading the changes said. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File);;;

FILE - Police acting superintendent Mike McIlraith shows New Zealand lawmakers in Wellington on April 2, 2019, an AR-15 style rifle similar to one of the weapons a gunman used to slaughter 50 people at two mosques. New Zealand’s government will overhaul the tighter gun laws introduced after a deadly mass shooting by a white supremacist five years ago, because they put excessive burdens on gun owners who feel vilified by law enforcement and the public, the lawmaker leading the changes said.(AP Photo/Nick Perry, File)

FILE - Police acting superintendent Mike McIlraith shows New Zealand lawmakers in Wellington on April 2, 2019, an AR-15 style rifle similar to one of the weapons a gunman used to slaughter 50 people at two mosques. New Zealand’s government will overhaul the tighter gun laws introduced after a deadly mass shooting by a white supremacist five years ago, because they put excessive burdens on gun owners who feel vilified by law enforcement and the public, the lawmaker leading the changes said.(AP Photo/Nick Perry, File)

FILE - Armed police officers guard the entrance as family and survivors from the March 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings line up to enter the Christchurch High Court for day two of the sentencing hearing of Australian Brenton Harrison Tarrant, in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Aug. 25, 2020. New Zealand’s government will overhaul the tighter gun laws introduced after a deadly mass shooting by a white supremacist five years ago, because they put excessive burdens on gun owners who feel vilified by law enforcement and the public, the lawmaker leading the changes said. (AP Photo/Mark Baker, File)

FILE - Armed police officers guard the entrance as family and survivors from the March 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings line up to enter the Christchurch High Court for day two of the sentencing hearing of Australian Brenton Harrison Tarrant, in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Aug. 25, 2020. New Zealand’s government will overhaul the tighter gun laws introduced after a deadly mass shooting by a white supremacist five years ago, because they put excessive burdens on gun owners who feel vilified by law enforcement and the public, the lawmaker leading the changes said. (AP Photo/Mark Baker, File)

FILE- Al Noor mosque shooting survivor Temel Ataçocuğu points to the scar of a bullet wound in his arm during an interview at his home in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Feb. 25, 2020. New Zealand’s government will overhaul the tighter gun laws introduced after a deadly mass shooting by a white supremacist five years ago, because they put excessive burdens on gun owners who feel vilified by law enforcement and the public, the lawmaker leading the changes said. (AP Photo/Mark Baker, File)

FILE- Al Noor mosque shooting survivor Temel Ataçocuğu points to the scar of a bullet wound in his arm during an interview at his home in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Feb. 25, 2020. New Zealand’s government will overhaul the tighter gun laws introduced after a deadly mass shooting by a white supremacist five years ago, because they put excessive burdens on gun owners who feel vilified by law enforcement and the public, the lawmaker leading the changes said. (AP Photo/Mark Baker, File)

New Zealand's Associate Justice Minister Nicole McKee addresses a press conference at Parliament in Wellington, New Zealand, on April 22, 2024. McKee says the government will review stricter gun controls introduced after a mass shooting five years ago as part of a wide-ranging overhaul of firearms laws. (Mark Mitchell/New Zealand Herald via AP)

New Zealand's Associate Justice Minister Nicole McKee addresses a press conference at Parliament in Wellington, New Zealand, on April 22, 2024. McKee says the government will review stricter gun controls introduced after a mass shooting five years ago as part of a wide-ranging overhaul of firearms laws. (Mark Mitchell/New Zealand Herald via AP)

Recommended Articles