A decade ago, the National Rifle Association seemed like an unstoppable force in American politics. A shooter had killed 20 children at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., in 2012. Democrats and Republicans in Congress appeared ready to pass new restrictions on guns. The N.R.A. called on its members to contact their representatives and voice their opposition, and the bills died.
Today, the N.R.A. has shed hundreds of thousands of members and large sums of money. It is standing trial for fraud and self-dealing in New York. “The N.R.A. is little more than a shell of itself after hemorrhaging hundreds of millions in legal fees,” Joshua Powell, a former top N.R.A. official who settled with the state before the trial, told The Times. The organization’s fall is not a death knell for Second Amendment advocates, but it is a blow.
Today’s newsletter will explain what went wrong with the group.
Loss of trust
The N.R.A.’s troubles began with a feud with its advertising agency, Ackerman McQueen.
The agency was effectively the public face of the N.R.A. for decades, spearheading the group’s online channel NRATV and campaigns like “I am the N.R.A.” But the relationship between the company and its client deteriorated. They disagreed about political messaging. At one point, N.R.A. leadership accused Ackerman McQueen of trying to oust the group’s leader, Wayne LaPierre.
The N.R.A. and Ackerman McQueen fought out their differences in court and settled in 2022.
But the infighting drew government officials’ attention. After an investigation, New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, filed a lawsuit in 2020. She has cited exorbitant spending by the N.R.A.’s leaders, particularly LaPierre’s use of the nonprofit’s funds to cover millions of dollars in expensive clothes, travel and other luxuries.