Inside the NRA’s Crisis: The Fall of Former Democrat Wayne LaPierre and the Fight for Gun Reform

Second Amendment


The Weirdness of LaPierre 

Originally a Democrat, like a substantial portion of the National Rifle Association’s longest-serving staff, Wayne was active with the Roanoke Democrats in college but declined a job offer from the office of Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill. Instead, he got a job at the NRA. The NRA building at the time was right across the street from the Democratic National Committee, and so he walked right in and ran into some staff that he knew from his work in politics. They were looking for a Democratic lobbyist, so he signed on right away.

Wayne is a clumsy, meek, spastic man with a weak handshake, those who know him personally say. When he first started at the NRA, he was known for his wrinkled suits and detached gaze. Yet he was repeatedly promoted despite displaying no sense of professional ambition or charisma. After starting as a state-level lobbyist in 1978, he was promoted to head the state-level lobbying department in 1979 and then to direct the NRA’s federal lobbying the next year.

It was like pulling teeth to get him to take a promotion, said John Aquilino, the NRA staffer who helped hire Wayne in the 1970s. “I’ve talked people out of murder, and this was harder,” Aquilino said, recalling when he approached Wayne to head up the NRA’s federal lobbying department. “Gee, I don’t know,” Wayne replied. It was only through reverse psychology that Aquilino was able to get him to agree: after Aquilino told Wayne not to worry about the promotion after all, Wayne was a lot more interested in the role.

Wayne is an awkward egghead type, and it’s not hard to imagine that with a few different twists of fate he would have ended up as a college professor teaching political science, rather than rising to become one of the nation’s most controversial gun rights advocates. He had a soft spot for children and was employed as a substitute special education teacher in Troy, New York, with poor and developmentally disabled students. In 1973, he started a Ph.D. at Boston University but dropped out to help a Democrat run for the Virginia state legislature; a few years later, he received an M.A. in political science from Boston College.

His professorial demeanor is not well suited for leadership of a massive, powerful organization. He is easily bullied and doesn’t have the ability to make firm commitments, or to keep his promises once he makes them. Perhaps the best description came from former NRA board member Wayne Anthony Ross, who said that Wayne had the “backbone of a chocolate eclair.”

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He has no core and has a reputation for never being able to say no, especially to the wrong people, NRA insiders said. He disdains the stresses of controversy—internal intrigue most of all—but by being unable to grow a spine and turn down bad ideas, he ends up causing a substantial portion of the drama inside the NRA described in this book. NRA insiders used to joke that even if you came into Wayne’s office with a red nose and big rubber shoes, you could get him to approve an expenditure if you pressured him enough. In other words, if you could get in to see him, you could eventually get him to write a check. Wayne could never deliver critical news, and if it was absolutely necessary to do so, he would designate someone else to do it—then panic later over whether it was the right decision. –From Vanity Fair (A great read if you want insights into his strange character)

My Take

As a former Navy SEAL and an advocate for both the Second Amendment and responsible gun ownership, I’ve watched the NRA’s trajectory with a mix of admiration and apprehension. The organization, which could have been a beacon of responsible gun ownership, has often veered into the realms of the absurd, championing a version of rights that leaves little room for the responsibilities that must accompany them. The departure of LaPierre, an unstable radicalist by many accounts, isn’t just overdue; it’s a critical juncture for an organization desperately needing to reclaim its relevance in 2024.

LaPierre’s tenure was a wild ride of controversy and the bizarre. From lavish spending scandals to internal power struggles, the NRA under Wayne was more akin to a feudal kingdom than a modern advocacy group.

The attempts by individuals like Oliver North to bring about a change were quashed under the heavy hand of LaPierre’s reign, as reported by multiple news outlets. This wasn’t just a battle for control; it was a reflection of a deeper ideological rift within the ranks, a symptom of the NRA’s spiraling identity crisis.

I also had a run-in with LaPierre when I called him out around 2013 and saw the vile response from his marketing team. Facebook pages were created to discredit me, among other pressures. The most memorable was them calling me a socialist! I was born in Canada to a U.S. mom and a Canadian father and largely grew up in America as an American citizen. I served 13 years, six months, and six days, all sea duty in the Navy until I decided to leave the SEAL Teams in 2006 to spend more time with my kids. Wayne? He got a draft deferment in the Vietnam War…The irony is not lost on me.

The organization’s unwavering stance and refusal to budge on even the most reasonable of gun control measures have often drawn comparisons to another group known for its extreme nature – the Sierra Club. Both organizations, while championing very different causes, have become symbols of uncompromising extremism.

Just as the Sierra Club rarely yields an inch in its environmental crusades, the NRA under LaPierre seemed more interested in fanning the flames of division than fostering a culture of responsible gun ownership. It’s a funny parallel, considering one group hugs trees while the other hugs guns, yet both seem to embrace a similar brand of zealous inflexibility.

As the NRA searches for its new leader, the hope is for someone who can navigate the treacherous waters of America’s gun debate with a steadier hand. The organization needs a leader who understands that the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms also comes with the duty to ensure those arms don’t end up in the wrong hands. It’s about striking a balance, a concept that seemed foreign under LaPierre’s radical regime.

In conclusion, as we stand at this crossroads, there’s a cautious optimism in the air. The NRA, with its rich history and pivotal role in American gun culture, has the chance to redefine itself. It can choose to continue down the path of extremism or pivot towards a future where gun rights are protected yet balanced with public safety. The hope is for fresh leadership that can usher in a new era of responsible firearms ownership, where the rights of individuals are protected alongside the safety of the community. It’s a tall order, but in the spirit of true American resilience and innovation, it’s not only possible; it’s imperative. The time for change is now.

Wayne, as you depart from the NRA, your legacy is not defined by the rights you claimed to defend but by the integrity you failed to uphold. Your tenure was marked not by the preservation of principles but by the pursuit of personal gain at the cost of the very values you vowed to protect. May this be a lesson that leadership is not measured by power or position but by the virtue and vision one brings to the table. Farewell, and may the NRA find the honorable direction it so desperately needs.

Brandon Webb, former Naval SEAL and Naval Special Warfare Sniper Course Manager. 

 



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