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NRA in disarray: Infighting threatens gun group's future

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: The NRA risks imploding over scandals and infighting, elder abuse may have been forgotten in the #MeToo movement.

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

Firearm sales fell 6.1 per cent in the U.S. in 2018, the second straight annual decline. (Bryan Woolston/Reuters)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.


  • The National Rifle Association is beset by scandal and infighting, threatening to jeopardize the gun group's future.
  • Elderly women may be the forgotten victims of the #MeToo movement, amid difficulties in bringing allegations of abuse to justice. 
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

The NRA's self-inflicted wounds

America's all-powerful gun lobby appears to be coming apart at the seams. 

The National Rifle Association held its annual convention in Indianapolis, Ind., over the weekend but the standard guns and God festivities were overshadowed by bitter infighting. 

Oliver North, who left Fox News to become the group's president, resigned on Saturday, saying he was being forced out after raising questions about alleged improprieties and insider dealings including $200,000 US in wardrobe expenses for Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's longtime chief executive.

The National Rifle Association's annual meeting has been overshadowed by scandal and infighting. (Bryan Woolston/Reuters)

The organization was already in deep financial trouble, running deficits of up to $45 million US a year as its corporate patrons and members desert amid legal troubles and reports of the group's cozy ties with Russia. Dues and donations were down $70 million US in 2017.

Now, it finds itself under investigation by the New York state attorney general, who the Wall Street Journal reports is probing "related-party transactions between the NRA and its board members; unauthorized political activity; and potentially false or misleading disclosures in regulatory filings," — all of which could threaten the gun group's non-profit status. 

Plus the NRA is in the midst of an acrimonious split with Ackerman McQueen, the advertising agency that has shaped the group's identity and managed its campaigns for more than a quarter century. That battle has sparked a lawsuit and more damaging revelations about the tens of millions of dollars that flowed to the company — $42.6 million US in 2017 alone — and the hefty payments that came back to NRA stars like North, LaPierre and Dana Loesch.

If there were any doubt about how much trouble the NRA is actually in, Donald Trump took to Twitter this morning to blast the investigation and implore the group to staunch the bleeding. 

And there are indications that there's more drama to come. 

A scheduled NRA board meeting today has turned into a marathon closed-door session, with all cell phones being seized at the door to prevent media leaks. 

The NRA spent $30 million US helping to elect Trump in 2016, but his presidency hasn't been the blessing they anticipated. 

U.S. President Donald Trump is greeted by NRA political strategist Chris Cox (left) and Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president and CEO of the NRA, in Indianapolis, Ind., on April 26. Trump has addressed the group's annual meeting each of the three years of his presidency. (Brian Woolston/Reuters)

Gun control advocates outspent the NRA in last fall's midterm elections, helping knock off ultra-firearm friendly Republican incumbents and handing Democrats control of the House of Representatives. 

Using their majority, they passed background check legislation – the furthest a major federal weapons restriction has made it in 25 years. 

And at the state level more than half of U.S. legislatures passed gun control measures in 2018.

More importantly, as the U.S. continues to experience the horrors of mass shootings and daily violence — almost 40,000 Americans died by gun in 2017 — public opinion seems to be slowly turning, with over 60 per cent of the public now favour stricter gun laws, according to Gallup

Overall, firearm sales in the United States fell 6.1 per cent in 2018, the second straight annual decline

That, however, might have more to do with a saturated market, than any change of heart.

Gun sales spiked during Barack Obama's presidency, and hit record levels when it appeared that Hillary Clinton might take over the White House, as enthusiasts stocked up.

The United States, which accounts for just under five per cent of the world's population, now has 46 per cent of all civilian-owned guns.

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Seniors and sexual assault

There are disturbing signs the #MeToo movement may have left elderly women behind, writes CBC's Senior Investigative Editor Diana Swain.

It's often the case in journalism that the story you end up telling isn't the one you started looking into.

Good journalists are open to the idea that as they gather more facts, the picture that emerges can turn out to be different from what they originally thought it might be. Sometimes, what they discover leads them to focus on an aspect that's altogether unexpected.

Late last year, I spoke with a woman who had a disturbing story. Hospital administrators had told Eva Shirdan they believed her elderly mother had been sexually assaulted while she was a patient in their southern Ontario facility. 

Diana Swain spoke to Eva Shirdan (left), who was told by hospital staff that her elderly mother was believed to have been sexually assaulted while she was a patient at a southern Ontario hospital. (CBC News)

The personal care worker (PSW) who was accused was fired and charged with sexually assaulting several elderly female patients.

The story initially raised questions about the role of PSWs in hospitals and long-term care homes. In Ontario, though they are increasingly used to carry out tasks involving patients, PSWs are not regulated. The database the provincial government promised to set up to list PSWs also hasn't been completed, or made accessible to the public.

An important story. But as we began researching, it was something else Shirdan said in that first conversation that I couldn't stop thinking about.  

The trial on the charges effectively ended before it began. 

Shirdan's mother, and another elderly patient who insisted the man not be allowed back in her room, died before the trial date. The Crown withdrew the sexual assault charges in part because of the age and frailty of the remaining alleged victims. 

In an era when the sexual assault and harassment of women is being treated more seriously than ever before, this case raised a troubling question: Were elderly victims of sexual assault still struggling to have their stories heard?

In other words, had they been left out of the MeToo conversation?

That's what Shirdan wondered aloud in that first phone call, as we talked about her mom's experience.

It's that part of the story we decided to explore in more depth tonight on The National.

-Diana Swain

  • WATCH: The story about seniors and sexual abuse, tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online.

A few words on ... 

An extreme close-up.

Quote of the moment

"They don't seem to be going for the traps anymore. The last time we put one there, the rat came out, he looked at it and he just flipped it right down the drain. And he just looked up at us."

-Toronto resident Donna Devlin on the losing battle she and her neighbours are fighting with giant rats.

Donna Devlin, with a rat carcass she has just pulled from her driveway catch basin, an occurrence that she says is common. (Rob Krbavac/CBC)

What The National is reading

  • No respite from flooding in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick (CBC)
  • Sri Lanka bans face coverings after attacks (BBC)
  • Whale with harness could be Russian weapon, says Norwegian experts (Guardian)
  • Trump has made more than 10,000 false or misleading claims (Washington Post)
  • Indonesia plans to move capital city off of crowded Java island (Reuters)
  • Canadian among oil workers kidnapped by gunmen in Nigeria (CBC)
  • France moves to stem surge in police suicides (France24)
  • Polish museum bans 'obscene' banana art (Sky News)

Today in history

April 29, 1976: Karen Kain explains the pain of ballet

To dance is the be in pain. "The first thing I thought about this morning was my ankles. They feel like glass. Like they might shatter when I walked on them," says Karen Kain. The National Ballet star has so many aches and pains it feels like she's "near arthritic." But the job requires that ballerinas overcome the ever-present injuries and perform, casts, hospital visits and even operations be damned.

Karen Kain on the pain of ballet

Digital Archives

45 years ago
The ballerina talks about the physical pain of dancing in this 1976 interview. 6:32

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Jonathon Gatehouse

CBC Investigative Journalist

Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.


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