LaPierre’s departure further clouds the future of the NRA, long viewed as one of the nation’s most fearsome lobbying groups, but hamstrung in recent years by declining revenue, spiraling legal fees and an exodus of staff and board members. A jury trial in which New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) is accusing LaPierre and other top executives of corruption and fraud is scheduled to begin Monday.
James asserted that LaPierre’s departure would not save him from legal peril as he faces millions in penalties and a ban on leading any charity that does business in New York.
“The end of the Wayne LaPierre era at the NRA is an important victory in our case,” James said in a statement. “LaPierre’s resignation validates our claims against him, but it will not insulate him from accountability. We look forward to presenting our case in court.”
LaPierre’s exit was cheered by gun-control advocates but also by some of his former lieutenants, who broke with the NRA amid concerns about his financial stewardship. Josh Powell, a former NRA official who on Friday reached a settlement with the attorney general, is among several former leaders slated to testify as witnesses.
“Wayne’s departure is long overdue,” Powell said. “The association will need a strong, dynamic leader to dig itself out of the deep hole it’s in.”
The NRA ended 2022 nearly $22.5 million in the red, according to its latest tax filing. James’s lawsuit says LaPierre and other executives funneled millions belonging to the organization to fund private jets, posh restaurant bills and even family trips to the Bahamas. The suit alleges they broke state and federal laws that govern nonprofits and signed off on fraudulent reports.
LaPierre, 74, cited health reasons for his resignation, which was accepted by the NRA board of directors at a Friday meeting, according to a news release. Andrew Arulanandam, the organization’s head of general operations, will become the interim chief executive and executive vice president, the news release said.
“I’ve been a card-carrying member of this organization for most of my adult life, and I will never stop supporting the NRA and its fight to defend Second Amendment freedom,” LaPierre said in the statement.
LaPierre was the face of the nation’s leading gun rights group for decades, known for fiery speeches extolling the right to self-defense and overseeing a vast grass-roots army of NRA members known for turning out to the polls.
The NRA was founded in 1871 and operated for many years as a promoter of firearms safety and shooting sports. After LaPierre took over in 1991, the NRA focused on amassing political clout in D.C. and state capitols. Politicians up and down the ballot feared a negative NRA rating would make them vulnerable to an election-year challenge on the right.
But in recent years, LaPierre grappled with mounting internal strife and growing external criticism over intensifying gun violence.
In December 2012, after a mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., killed 20 children, the NRA faced a reckoning. Despite a nationwide outcry for gun-control measures, LaPierre took a hard-line stance against any new laws and ridiculed the idea of gun-free zones. He delivered the line that would become an NRA mantra: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
The NRA spent $31 million to help elect Donald Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign, and was widely lauded in conservative circles.
But internal feuds began to splinter the organization. A major falling out in 2019 with Ackerman McQueen, a public relations firm that had helped shape the NRA’s combative approach, led to dueling lawsuits. The clash marked the end of the group’s television arm and led to the messy ouster of then-NRA President Oliver North at the 2019 annual meeting after he accused LaPierre of profligate spending.
In one of the most embarrassing revelations, LaPierre tried to get the NRA buy him a $6 million, 10,000-square-foot gated mansion near Dallas, which he had said he needed as protection from threats after the mass killing at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
James sued the NRA in 2020, making good on a campaign promise that gun rights activists have attacked as politically motivated.
The NRA filed for bankruptcy in Texas in an effort to reorganize and regroup. A closely watched federal hearing in Dallas in that case included more revelations about LaPierre’s spending habits. His deposition revealed that after receiving threats in the wake of recent school mass killings, he took shelter in a friend’s 108-foot yacht, which LaPierre said he did not offer to pay for and did not disclose as a potential conflict of interest. Other bankruptcy filings found the NRA spending $65,000 on Christmas gifts from LaPierre.
In May 2021, a federal judge denied the NRA bankruptcy protection and said the petition “was not filed in good faith but instead was filed as an effort to gain an unfair litigation advantage” in the case brought by the New York attorney general. Around this time, LaPierre made headlines when secret footage of him was released by the Trace and the New Yorker showing him struggling to kill a wounded elephant at point-blank range.
During LaPierre’s tenure, gun-control groups stepped up their profile and fundraising prowess as mass shootings became increasingly common, although significant gun-control measures at the federal level have remained elusive. “Thoughts and prayers,” some gun-control advocates quipped in response to LaPierre’s exit, mimicking the refrain often used by conservatives in the wake of gun violence.
Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action and co-founder of Everytown for Gun Safety, framed LaPierre’s resignation as a hard-fought victory. “We broke the power broker of the most powerful, wealthy special interest that’s ever existed,” Watts said Friday.
But LaPierre leaves a legacy that includes right-to-carry laws in many states and an energized gun rights movement. A judge in 2022 rejected efforts by the New York attorney general to dissolve the organization.
“Wayne is a towering figure in the fight for constitutional freedom,” said NRA President Charles Cotton. “But one of his other talents is equally important: He built an organization that is bigger than him.”
Shayna Jacobs contributed to this report.