The NRA is Slowly Dying

Concealed Carry

In 2013, Wayne LaPierre, head of the National Rifle Association, boasted that the advocacy group was experiencing unprecedented growth and was on track to have 10 million members.

Ten years on, that’s not how things have worked out. In fact, the NRA‘s membership has shrunk to less than half that, according to some reports, and with declining membership have come declining revenues. That’s a cause for celebration among anti-gun groups, who have told Newsweek it is proof that Americans are increasingly outraged by gun violence.

The truth is not quite so simple—but it is clear that the NRA is fading fast from what was once a central position in U.S. politics.

A Fading Force

The NRA has argued for Second Amendment Rights since 1871, lobbying against gun control measures with varying success.

From 2003 to 2013, the organization scored 230 legislative victories, according to an Insider tally from the time, including passing six state laws that forbid municipalities from limiting gun rights.

However, such successes have become rarer in recent years. It failed to secure the expansion of concealed carry and a change to laws restricting gun silencers when the Republicans had full control of Washington in 2017 and 2018 as a result of public disapproval following mass shootings, including one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which made supporting gun rights more difficult for lawmakers.

With NRA chief Wayne LaPierre by her side, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem signs an executive order to protect gun rights in her state at the 2023 NRA-ILA Leadership Forum on April 14, 2023 in Indianapolis, Indiana. However, the NRA’s lobbying power appears to be waning.
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Since then its membership has declined to 4.3 million, CEO and executive vice president LaPierre revealed in a January board meeting, according to a report by The Trace, a nonprofit covering gun violence.

Ten years prior, he had said the group had 5 million members.

“The state of the NRA is stronger and larger than it has ever been,” LaPierre told more than 3,000 NRA members at its annual meeting in 2013. “Our commitment to freedom is unwavering and our growth is unprecedented. … By the time we’re finished, the NRA must and will be 10 million strong.”

The declining membership is coupled with declining revenue. The NRA raised $213 million in 2022. This marks a 52 percent drop in overall revenue and a nearly 59 percent drop in membership dues since 2016, according to Citizens for Ethics (CREW), a nonprofit government ethics and accountability watchdog organization.

Similarly, the $97 million it received from membership dues in the same year was down by more than 40 percent from its peak year, 2018, the BBC found. That same year, it was outspent by gun control groups for the first time in recent years, according to an analysis by from the Center for Responsive Politics, another nonprofit watchdog group.

A spokesperson for the NRA said the financial information was “extremely dated” and said Newsweek was rehashing “old storylines” from sources funded by those against gun rights.

Legal Troubles

The decline in membership dues is not the only trouble the NRA is facing. Since 2020, it has faced an ongoing lawsuit from New York Attorney General Letitia James, which alleges that its top officials, including LaPierre himself, diverted donations for their personal use, violating numerous state and federal laws, and even the NRA’s own bylaws and policies.

James alleged that the funds were used for family trips to the Bahamas and private jets, which contributed to a $64 million reduction in the balance sheet in three years, turning a surplus into a deficit. She called for LaPierre to be removed from his post.

“The NRA’s influence has been so powerful that the organization went unchecked for decades while top executives funneled millions into their own pockets,” James said at a press conference at the time.

The NRA, which has described her lawsuit as a “baseless, premeditated attack,” has tried to dismiss the complaint but this was rejected thrice in January 2021, March 2022 and September 2022. It also filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and tried to reorganize in Texas. But in May 2021 a Texas court ruled “that the NRA did not file the bankruptcy petition in good faith.” A trial date has not yet been set for the case.

Its popularity more widely has also declined, with 40 percent seeing it in a negative light in 2018, the first time it was viewed overall more negatively than positively, according to an NBC/WSJ poll.

Gun Control Groups Celebrate

The NRA’s problems are “great news” for gun safety advocates, Shannon Watts, a gun violence prevention campaigner who founded the group Moms Demand Action and wrote the book Fight Like a Mother: How a Grassroots Movement Took on the Gun Lobby and Why Women Will Change the World, told Newsweek.

“For many years, the NRA has been hemorrhaging money and political power,” she said. “This report just confirms what we’ve known for sometime: After years of grifting, the NRA is as bankrupt financially as it is morally. That’s bad news for the NRA, but great news for anyone who cares about gun safety in America.”

Kris Brown, president of Brady, a gun control advocacy group, said it was “no surprise” the NRA was failing because Americans are increasingly “disgusted” by gun violence.

Fifty-eight per cent of U.S. adults favor stricter gun control laws, while the number of people who think gun violence is a very big problem in the U.S. has increased by 9 percentage points since 2022, according to a September 2023 poll by the Pew Research Center.

Sixty-one percent say it is too easy to legally obtain a gun, the research found, though 32 percent of U.S. adults said they owned one.

“It’s no surprise at all that the NRA is losing members and is in a poor financial state. The power and relevancy of the NRA has faded as Americans, including gun-owners, have become more disgusted and enraged by continuous acts of gun violence,” Brown told Newsweek.

“The NRA has provided no solutions to end gun violence other than more guns, and Americans aren’t falling for that anymore. The NRA will continue to lose members as more gun-owners realize they only serve the interests of the profit-hungry gun industry.”

The NRA is slowly dying
Newsweek illustration of Wayne LaPierre. Membership of the NRA is declining and it also faces financial difficulties.

Nick Suplina, from another advocacy group, Everytown for Gun Safety, said the NRA brand has become “toxic”.

The NRA is in a financial doom spiral, and the last few years have only further exposed their deep internal turmoil and disarray,” he told Newsweek.

“In the last decade, the NRA—which was once a political powerhouse—has become so toxic that many Republican legislators and candidates are viewing their once prized ‘A’ rating as a scarlet letter. This is just further proof that the political calculus around gun safety has completely changed, and the majority of Americans are rejecting the NRA’s ‘guns everywhere’ agenda in favor of leaders who will stand up to the gun lobby.”

Rivals Rise Up

However, the cause of gun rights does not rest on one group alone. With the NRA facing difficulties, rivals are looking to fill the void.

One, the National Association for Gun Rights (NAGR), which believes in lobbying at a grassroots level and successfully lobbied for South Dakota, Oklahoma and Kentucky to be added to the list of 15 states that permit unrestricted carry in 2019, has criticized the NRA, telling Newsweek in 2020 that “they have been AWOL from the [gun rights] fight for decades.” The Washington Post reported its budget grew to $15 million in 2022, up from about $6 million in 2019.

Another, The Second Amendment Foundation, now has over 700,000 members, though like the NRA it has not escaped controversy. It sued the Washington State attorney general’s office in May, claiming an investigation into its financial dealings is politically motivated.

Nor have the NRA’s difficulties dissuaded Americans from buying guns. Forty-five percent of U.S. households owned at least one firearm in 2022, according to research compiled by Statista, the highest figure since 2011—and 8 percentage points higher than in 2013, the year LaPierre said the NRA was on track for “unprecedented” growth.