The Reload Analysis Newsletter

Members’ Newsletter: Bruen Backlash Spreads

The Supreme Court’s landmark ruling that recognized a right to carry a gun in public has been popular with the general public, with the majority of Americans who approve of it growing each time the question is polled.

But it is not popular everywhere. Certainly, the Bruen ruling is extremely unpopular with the lawmakers whose statutes it invalidated. They’ve responded by making it even harder to legally carry a gun than it was before the Court handed down its decision, primarily by enacting expansive new “gun-free zones”.

Now, as Contributing Writer Jake Fogleman explains, several states are considering following their lead despite not actually being affected by Bruen in the first place.

The National Rifle Association was at the center of most gun news this week since its corruption trial began on Monday. But what might be the most surprising NRA news from this week involved an audio recording from 2009. That audio is the most succinct and direct example of how the scheme that’s gotten the NRA into so much trouble worked in practice.

Plus, a former NRA board member joins the podcast to discuss his testimony in the corruption trial. Rocky Marshall lays out his problems with how the NRA has been run and why he thinks it’s still worth saving.


Handgun holsters on sale at a Virginia gun store in July 2022
Handgun holsters on sale at a Virginia gun store in July 2022 / Stephen Gutowski

Analysis: Bruen-Response Bills Begin to Spread [Member Exclusive]
By Jake Fogleman

Two states that weren’t affected by the Supreme Court’s 2022 New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen ruling are set to consider expansive “sensitive place” restrictions for licensed gun carriers this year anyway.

The bills bear a striking resemblance to response laws passed by most of the states forced by Bruen to loosen their permitting requirements. While those states have complied with that aspect of the ruling, they’ve also severely restricted where people with permits are allowed to carry a gun.

Lawmakers in Washington state introduced SB 5444 on Monday. The bill would make it a misdemeanor offense to “knowingly possess” a weapon in public libraries, zoos, aquariums, any park or recreational facility where children are likely to be present, transit facilities, and all state or local public buildings.

Meanwhile, a draft bill leaked by the gun-rights group Rocky Mountain Gun Owners on Thursday revealed Colorado lawmakers plan to introduce an even more expansive gun-free zones measure.

The bill had been touted by House Democratic leadership leading up to the session and is expected to be formally introduced in the coming days. It would ban licensed gun carry in all parks, playgrounds, rec centers, public demonstrations, polling places, medical facilities, banks, places of worship unless given express permission by the operating authority, stadiums, amusement parks, aquariums, museums, zoos, government buildings, correctional facilities, libraries, homeless shelters, daycares, and college campuses. It would also repeal the state’s school gun ban exception for on-duty school security officers.

Similarly expansive sensitive place restrictions have already been adopted in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Hawaii, and California.

But, unlike those states, Colorado and Washington have issued concealed carry permits to all applicants who meet objective criteria on a shall-issue basis for decades—Colorado since 2003 and Washington since 1961. Over that time, concealed carry has become a relatively popular practice in each state. Each currently has more than 700,000 active carry permitholders residing within its borders. Both currently rank in the top ten states in terms of the percentage of their adult populations with carry permits, according to research from the right-leaning Crime Prevention Research Center.

Furthermore, permitholders have a track record of being exceptionally law-abiding in both states. By some estimates, concealed handgun permit holders in Colorado are approximately 39 times less likely to be arrested than adults without a permit. And in Washington, where such data is available, the revocation rate for active permit holders is just 0.074 percent.

That history makes the efforts by Democratic lawmakers to invest political capital into clamping down on the freedoms granted to permitholders in both places a greater political risk, to say the least. Colorado and Washington have historically had fewer gun restrictions than states with Breun-response laws.

However, Colorado and Washington do share one key feature with the other Bruen-response bill states—namely, trifecta Democratic control. That at least partially explains their recent history of enacting most of the gun-control movement’s desired policies. Colorado, in particular, has seen a rapid increase in the number of gun-control laws on its books over the last decade as it transitioned from a perennial purple to a safe blue state.

Colorado and Washington are unlikely to be the last blue states that weren’t affected by Bruen to consider adopting a Bruen-response law, especially as gun-control groups push them as a new way to restrict firearms. But it’s one thing to have a bill introduced and another to get it passed. And Bruen-response bills, which have already faced trouble in court, face a lot of obstacles.

For one, expanding these laws to new states opens up new court venues for the inevitable legal challenges that follow. That increases the odds the Supreme Court takes up a case against the new carry restrictions. Not just because there will be more suits, but also because they’ll be more likely to create a circuit split the Court will need to settle.

To date, gun-rights lawsuits against Bruen-response bills have almost all taken place in courts under the Ninth and Second Circuits, where appellate judges have traditionally been prone to upholding gun laws. The Second Circuit, for instance, has already issued several stays against lower court rulings blocking New York and New Jersey’s latest sensitive place restrictions.

Colorado, however, is under the Tenth Circuit’s jurisdiction, a court currently comprised of more Republican-appointed judges than Democratic ones. While that alone does not guarantee a particular gun case’s outcome, the circuit is generally considered more favorable for gun-rights advocates than the Ninth or Second.

That means any legal challenge to a future Colorado sensitive places law will eventually have to work its way through the same appellate court that just upheld an injunction against the state’s recently enacted gun ban for persons under the age of 21.

Of course, the bills have to first pass before any of this can happen. That’s not necessarily guaranteed to occur. Despite the partisan lean of the two states, controversial gun bills have still proved challenging to get passed in recent years.

But should they pass, it would give the gun-control movement reason to further expand efforts to enact new gun-carry restrictions. It would also provide new opportunities for gun-rights litigants to undermine that strategy in court.


Podcast: Former NRA Board Member on His Testimony in the Corruption Case [Member Early Access]
By Stephen Gutowski

The National Rifle Association’s (NRA) corruption trial in New York began this week, and we have the first witness called in the case on the show with us.

Rocky Marshall is a former NRA board member and the first to receive votes for executive vice president against Wayne LaPierre in decades. He has also been a vocal critic of LaPierre, other key members of leadership, and outside counsel Bill Brewer. He blames their mismanagement and misconduct for the NRA’s current downward spiral.

Marshall laid out the questions he was asked during his testimony. The questions were wide-ranging, and he was on the stand for over an hour. He explained his view of where the prosecution is going as well as where the NRA’s defense is headed.

He also talked about his decision to run for the board again. He’s qualified for the ballot alongside three other reform candidates. Marshall said people are underestimating how important the NRA is to the gun-rights movement and argued it’s still possible to fix things from the inside.

Plus, Contributing Writer Jake Fogleman and I discuss the whiplash Californians must feel as gun carry was made lawful again by a federal court ruling.

You can listen to the show on your favorite podcasting app or by clicking here. Video of the episode is also available on our YouTube channel. Reload Members get access on Sunday, as always. The show goes public on Monday.


The NRA seal at the 2022 Great American Outdoor Show
The NRA seal at the 2022 Great American Outdoor Show / Stephen Gutowski

Analysis: New Audio Details How NRA Graft Worked [Member Exclusive]
By Stephen Gutowski

Allegations of corruption at the NRA were first made public nearly five years ago, but audio published this week shows exactly how leaders hid lavish expenses from the group’s membership.

On Thursday, reporter Mike Spies posted a leaked recording of a conversation between top executives at the NRA and its former media contractor Ackerman McQueen. The executives can be heard discussing how best to keep extravagant purchases from making it into public reports. They were particularly concerned with news getting out that NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre often uses private jets to get around.

“We just have to be careful because Wayne wants to get through this whole year saying he hasn’t used private aircraft,” then-NRA-treasurer Woody Phillips said. “He just doesn’t want to be seen getting off the plane — anywhere.”

So, the group concocted a plan to have Ackerman McQueen issue a Platinum American Express card to NRA director of advancement Tyler Schropp.

“Well that’s easy,” William Winkler, Ackerman’s chief financial officer, said. “As far as I’m concerned, we can give Tyler an Ackerman Amex. And do it that way.”

“Oh well that’s the way to do it then,” Melanie Montgomery, an executive vice president at Ackerman McQueen, responded. “Give him an Ackerman card.”

“Yeah,” Phillips said. “That’s the easiest way to do it, and for the most part, it’s going to be stuff that [LaPierre’s assistant] books because it’s stuff with Wayne.”

“That aspect of it’s very easy,” Winkler said. “It’s really the limo services and the hotels that I worry about. He’s going to need it for the hotels especially.”

The group agreed that Schropp would be responsible for billing non-controversial expenses through the NRA while shuttling the more problematic ones through Ackerman’s credit card.

“Most of what he’ll do, he’ll do like he does here, where it’ll just be he’ll fill out an expense report for us, he’ll have cards for that too,” Phillips said of Schropp.

“Woody did that,” Montgomery noted. “He said, ‘Can you do some, you know, that goes through the NRA system, then just your high, well, the stuff you do with Wayne, do through Ackerman.’”

Ackerman would then bill the expenses back to the NRA without itemizing what they were connected to, a common practice between the two sides for decades. The contract between Ackerman and the NRA would continue to balloon for years, reaching upwards of $40 million in 2017 alone, before eventually crashing back down to earth in a public and legal battle that pitted each side against the other. In that legal fight, which the NRA eventually settled by paying Ackerman an undisclosed sum, the gun-rights group admitted it was common practice for Ackerman to bill it without a full explanation of what the money had been spent on.

The scheme laid bare in the audio recording is at the center of New York Attorney General Letitia James’s (D.) case against the NRA and its leadership. In fact, the tape shows the group discussing a similar arrangement with Ackerman employee Tony Makris, who spent years shepherding around celebrity board members like Charlton Heston and Tom Selleck. They were apparently concerned he’d been spending too much on luxury travel in recent years and were planning to ask him to cut back.

“In the case of Tony, now that he’s married, does anyone know what he’s doing about the Beverly Hills Hotel?” Phillips said. “Because that would cut out a lot of this cost if he’s not doing that. I think without it being a special occasion, we’d have a hard time paying for that.”

But the group decided that spending on these kinds of extravagant travel arrangements would be worth it in the end if the combined team of Makris and Schropp could land big enough donors or celebrity supporters. In fact, they were comfortable with an overall increase in that kind of spending.

“Some of that stuff, with Tyler being in the Office of Advancement, may go up a little bit, because, you know, they’re gonna kind of partner up,” Montgomery said. “And, if it works, then that’s a good day.”

Schropp’s Ackerman Amex has come up before in the years since allegations of impropriety first surfaced. He defended the use of the card in a 2021 deposition by saying it was for “donor privacy reasons, and Wayne LaPierre privacy and security reasons.” LaPierre, who has admitted knowing some of his expenses were routed through Ackerman in this way, has also repeatedly used privacy and security as justification for nearly all of his questionable luxury travel expenses.

James has claimed in legal documents Schropp used the card to book rooms at the most luxurious resorts. Her suit claims he routinely spent $1,500 a night at destinations including the Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, Beverly Hills Hotel, and the St. Regis. But that was just the tip of the iceberg in what James said was more than $64 million worth of misappropriated funds over the years.

Spies, who started the firestorm the NRA is currently engulfed by publishing other leaked documents detailing corruption back in 2019, posted the audio in a piece for left-leaning outlets ProPublica and The Trace. NRA outside counsel Bill Brewer said the call is demonstrative of how the group was defrauded by some insiders.

“The tape has not been authenticated by the NRA but, if real, we are shocked by its content,” Brewer told Spies. “The suggested contents would confirm what the NRA has said all along: there were certain ‘insiders’ and vendors who took advantage of the Association. If true, it is an example of a shadowy business arrangement — one that was not brought to the attention of the NRA board.”

However, the conversation in the recording dates to the summer of 2009, and the NRA kept up its cozy relationship with Ackerman McQueen for another decade before the two sides eventually blamed each other for the malfeasance. Additionally, Schropp remains employed at the NRA and Woody Phillips received a consulting contract after being forced out of his role as treasurer. LaPierre, too, remains in power, with his recently announced resignation not going into effect until the end of the month.

Ultimately, the NRA ended up reporting some private jet travel on its 990 that year despite the efforts to work around that requirement. It claimed the private flights were used when “multiple events when reduced airline schedules precluded other options,” an explanation it would stick with from then on that has since been challenged by the corruption suit. The practice of issuing NRA executives credit cards from outside contractors was also ended in 2019.

But none of that has prevented the actions now most acutely outlined in the new audio tape from pushing the NRA to the brink of extinction, whether as the result of legal action or the membership losing faith its dues are being wisely spent.


That’s it for now.

I’ll talk to you all again soon.

Thanks,
Stephen Gutowski
Founder
The Reload

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