The longtime chief executive of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, is stepping down at the end of the month, the gun rights organization has announced, days before a civil trial in New York is set to explore allegations he used the group as his “personal piggy bank”.
The NRA issued a short statement from LaPierre via X, formerly known as Twitter, in which he 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. My passion for our cause burns as deeply as ever.”
Membership of the association had dropped significantly in recent years, as mass shootings rose across the US and legal action was taken against the NRA over allegations of corruption, amid financial struggles.
LaPierre, 74, said his departure would be effective from 31 January. He has been in charge of the NRA since 1991. The organization said Andrew Arulanandam, the head of NRA’s general operations, will become interim chief executive and vice-president.
While LaPierre cites ill health for standing down, the timing comes just days before the start of the New York trial that is poised to scrutinize his leadership and alleged financial mismanagement.
A lawsuit from the New York attorney general, Letitia James, accuses LaPierre and other executives of illegally diverting tens of millions of dollars from the NRA and spending organization funds on personal trips, “no-show” contracts and other questionable expenditures.
The trial starts in Manhattan on Monday and LaPierre is expected to be among the witnesses.
James is seeking to ban LaPierre and the other executives from serving in the leadership of any not-for-profit or charitable organization conducting business in New York, which would effectively remove them from any involvement with the NRA.
“There are individuals and officers who are using the NRA as their personal piggy bank, and they need to be held accountable,” James said.
The Guardian reported in 2020 how cracks in the NRA began to emerge as members and powerful donors shared concerns about its spending, management and the widening gap between leadership and the rank and file.
James aired the concerns in a 168-page lawsuit that outlined the workings of an organization in which, allegedly, dissent was not tolerated, spending was not disclosed or approved through the proper channels and oversight was negligent.
“Brazen illegality” in the NRA was rife, she said, citing nearly 30 years in which she said LaPierre made extensive use of the organization’s funds for personal travel, including flights in which his family or associates were on board but he was not.
One such flight, costing the NRA $15,000, ferried his niece’s husband from a convention for the hunting group the Safari Club in Las Vegas to Nebraska, the lawsuit alleges.
The filing also indicates LaPierre will be paid at least $1m a year after his retirement. The condition is referenced in a post-employment contract that was neither reviewed nor approved by the group’s board or any other committee, or disclosed to membership, the complaint says.
As membership in the group began to dwindle, the NRA attempted to avoid the lawsuit by filing for bankruptcy in January 2021. A federal judge in Texas, however, dismissed the bankruptcy case four months later, ruling it was not filed in good faith.
“The court believes the NRA’s purpose … is less like a traditional bankruptcy case in which a debtor is faced with financial difficulties or a judgment that it cannot satisfy, and more like cases in which courts have found bankruptcy was filed to gain an unfair advantage in litigation or to avoid a regulatory scheme,” the judge, Harlin Hale, said in a written order.
Phillip Journey, a former NRA board member who is also expected to testify in the New York trial, said LaPierre’s resignation did not resolve open questions before the court nor remedy what he saw as persistent rot within the gun lobbying group.
“Honestly, the grifters are a snake with many heads, and this is just one,” he said.
Gun reform advocates on Friday celebrated LaPierre’s departure. Shannon Watts, the founder of the advocacy groups Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety, wrote on X: “We did it! Wayne LaPierre is forced to resign after @momsdemand shined a light on his unethical, immoral and corrupt misdeeds for over a decade.
“We broke the powerbroker of the most powerful, wealthy special interest that’s ever existed.”
Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime was murdered in the 2018 Parkland high school shooting in Florida, said LaPierre would not be missed.
In his own forthright post on X, Guttenberg – senior adviser to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence – wrote: “No human being is more responsible for the ‘American Carnage’ in America than Wayne LaPierre.
“The night after Jaime’s murder, I said, ‘I’m going to break the fucking gun lobby’. This resignation is a long time coming. Good riddance and rot in hell, Wayne.”
Samuel Schwartz, a student activist whose cousin Alex Schachter was also among the 17 Parkland victims, tweeted simply “thoughts and prayers”, mocking the words frequently expressed by pro-gun rights Republican politicians after deadly mass shootings in the US in an attempt to deflect from having substantial talks about gun control.
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed reporting