The Sunday Magazine

Financial scandals, moral outrage are finally putting a dent in NRA's political firepower — Michael's essay

For decades, the National Rifle Association has pretty much achieved whatever it wanted by way of legislation. Now America's all-powerful gun lobby appears to be coming apart at the seams, along with its stockpile of political firepower, writes Michael Enright.
The NRA's annual meeting in April was overshadowed by scandal and bitter infighting. (Bryan Woolston/Reuters)

It is stunning to behold the Wagnerian, ongoing collapse of the most powerful gun lobby in the world, the National Rifle Association.

No, wait, this is not Wagner, this is not Valhalla. This is Greek, this is Aeschylus and the curse on the House of Atreus.

This is all about hubris and a family at war with itself.

For decades, the NRA has pretty much achieved whatever it wanted by way of legislation. It bought and paid for congressional candidates who were only too anxious to do its bidding.

In the 2016 general election, it paid out more than $30 million to the Donald J. Trump campaign.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the NRA convention in Dallas on Friday, May 4, 2018. (Susan Walsh/Associated Press)

It prided itself in being able to destroy any attempts, however feeble, at gun control.

And it has stood by, refusing all attempts at compromise, even after the slaughter of children.

Wayne LaPierre, the ineffably weird CEO, is seen as the great protector of the Constitution's Second Amendment, which he says guarantees to any American the right to buy a gun.

I have always believed that LaPierre couldn't care less about the Second Amendment. His mission in life is to promote the manufacture and sale of guns, using the Second Amendment as philosophical cover.

It matters not to him that thousands of Americans — dozens of them children — perish each year in gunfire from the sane and the sick.

Wayne LaPierre has been the public face of the gun lobbying group for decades. (Michael Conroy/Associated Press)

Recently, the NRA came out against updating the Violence Against Women Act because its enactment might prevent a husband or boyfriend from buying a gun and killing them.

The sad thing is that the NRA used to be a leading advocate for gun control. Back in the '30s, it questioned why people should own handguns.

Fast forward to Indianapolis, where earlier this month the top officials of the NRA were tearing each at each other like cats in a bag.

First there was the unseemly firing of NRA president Oliver North.

We all remember Ollie North. He was convicted but never jailed for his part in Irangate. This was the crazy plan to sell arms to Iran and funnel the money to the government forces in Nicaragua.

Last year he was named president of the NRA. This month he was fired.

Clearly, defending the Second Amendment is not only a sacred mission but an expensive one.- Michael Enright

North was complaining that the NRA was bleeding money, including $100,000 a day in legal fees.

He called it an existential threat. He asked CEO LaPierre for an external audit. LaPierre refused. And now we know why.

Apparently the ancient musketeer was dipping into the NRA cash drawer for things such as $39,000 for a day's shopping at a men's boutique in Beverly Hills, plus $18,000 for a car and driver in Europe; all told half a million in expenses.

Clearly, defending the Second Amendment is not only a sacred mission but an expensive one.

Wayne accused Ollie of trying to smear him. Ollie shot back that Wayne's reckless spending may bankrupt the whole enterprise.

Students at some U.S. high schools were joined by teachers and staff during walkouts in March 2018 to protest gun violence. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

On the political front, the NRA is trying to fight a resurgent gun control mood sparked by the slaughter of children at Sandy Hook and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Plus, the midterm elections in November saw some pro-gun control candidates elected to the House of Representatives, with polls showing that a majority of Americans want some kind of gun control.

Sensible gun control will never be achieved until LaPierre is packed off to Davy Crockett theme park.- Michael Enright

The NRA still stockpiles a lot of political firepower. There are more than a few Senators and Representatives who dance to its tune.

And it is still able to raise large amounts of money despite Wayne LaPierre's sumptuous ideas about west coast shopping sprees.

Sensible gun control will never be achieved until LaPierre is packed off to Davy Crockett theme park.

But the delicious fiasco at the annual meeting strongly suggests that come the 2020 election, the NRA could be shooting blanks.

Update, Nov. 14, 2019: This story has been edited from its original version to bring it in line with our Journalistic Standards and Practices, after a CBC ombudsman review.

Click 'listen' at top to hear full essay.


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