Wayne LaPierre, the leader of the National Rifle Association (NRA), has survived a confidence vote by his organisation’s members ahead of a crucial decision about his future on Monday.
The vote came as the group convened in Houston for its annual meeting just days after an 18-year-old gunman shot dead 19 children and two adults at an elementary school in the south Texas city of Uvalde.
Mr LaPierre, who along with three other top NRA figures has been accused of abusing millions of dollars in funds for personal purposes, is currently the group’s executive vice president as well as its CEO. On Monday he will face his organisation’s board, which is set to decide whether or not to renew him in his vice presidential position.
His long tenure at the organisation’s helm has seen Mr LaPierre become one of the most controversial unelected figures in national US politics. With his determined opposition to any meaningful gun safety legislation – a stance he reiterated after the Uvalde massacre – he has cemented his position at the helm of the gun lobby, this despite a decade-long run of mass shootings, including in schools, that have put more and more pressure on the US’ elected leaders to stem the flow of weapons such as assault-style rifles.
But it was the furore over the NRA’s finances, not a change in public opinion about guns, that put Mr LaPierre’s job security in doubt.
The scandal first broke out in August 2020 when New York Attorney General Letitia James charged him and three other leaders for “their diversion of millions of dollars away from the charitable mission of the organisation for personal use by senior leadership, awarding contracts to the financial gain of close associates and family, and appearing to dole out lucrative no-show contracts to former employees in order to buy their silence and continued loyalty”.
In response to the charges, the NRA began an effort to dissolve itself in New York under bankruptcy law and incorporate itself instead in the more gun lobby-friendly state of Texas. However, that effort was thrown out by a Texas court last year.
In his May 2021 ruling, Judge Harlin Hale wrote that “the NRA’s purpose in filing bankruptcy 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.”
Ms James’s action against the NRA initially amounted to full-blown effort to get the group shut down. That aim was rejected by a New York judge earlier this year, but Ms James will still be allowed to proceed with her lawsuit against Mr LaPierre and other top executives.