The Reload Analysis Newsletter

Members’ Newsletter: Trump Complains Gun Owners Don’t Vote as NRA Winds Shift

I’m in Dallas, Texas, covering the NRA’s Annual Meeting live for you guys. I have a quick write up of Donald Trump’s speech to the group, which hit most of the same beats as his Pennsylvania speech to the group did. Although, some dissatisfaction with gun owners crept in as well.

But what went on away from most of the cameras was potentially more interesting. At the Members Meeting, there were signs the winds may be changing within the NRA. As I explain in the piece below, there are a few things worth watching to get an idea of where the fight over NRA leadership is going.

Well, one of those things happened on Saturday. NRA leadership put up a resolution to move the physical headquarters from Virginia to Texas. This wouldn’t have an impact in the ongoing New York trial, and reformers believe it will cost money the group doesn’t have.

I said this fight would be worth watching because if a resolution in favor of the move passed, it would signal that the current leadership still has the upper hand. Well, it failed. And it failed after a number of NRA board members who haven’t spoken against leadership in the past did just that.

So, the NRA’s reformers have more momentum heading into Monday’s board meeting than ever before.

Outside of Dallas, Contributing Writer Jake Fogleman looked at a shocking sentence thrown at a gunsmithing hobbyist in New York City. Dexter Taylor got ten years for building guns he never used in a crime or tried to sell. Jake examined half a dozen cases from the same jurisdiction where more serious crimes got lighter punishments.

Plus, one of the country’s most prolific Second Amendment litigators joins the podcast to discuss Hawaii legalizing butterfly knives.


NRA supporters watch as Donald Trump addresses the group's 2024 Annual Meeting
NRA supporters watch as Donald Trump addresses the group’s 2024 Annual Meeting / Stephen Gutowski

Trump Announces Mobilization Effort at NRA Conference Because ‘Gun Owners Don’t Vote’
By Stephen Gutowski

Dallas, Texas — “The gun owners don’t vote. It’s so crazy. I would think that they would vote more than any other group of people and it’s just the opposite. They don’t vote.”

That was former president Donald Trump’s message to the National Rifle Association on Saturday at the Kay Baley Hutchinson Convention Center. As he accepted the gun-rights group’s formal endorsement, he told the crowd about a new get-out-the-vote effort. He said Gun Owners for Trump would be a new part of his campaign dedicated specifically to activating gun voters.

The campaign’s website featured merchandise, a voter registration portal, and a way to sign up for absentee ballots. It also has a list of pro-gun accomplishments from when Trump was in office, though the effort to designate gun businesses as essential during the pandemic is listed twice.

Trump’s comments coupled with his appearance at the NRA, his second speech to the group this year, signals he places a particularly high value on gun voters. The candidate, whose myriad felony indictments have cost him time on the campaign trail as well as the ability to obtain new guns, also seems unsure whether those voters will turn out for him.

That’s despite the NRA’s longtime and unwavering support for Trump, which began before most other major political groups and has extended through points–such as Trump’s bump stock ban–where they’ve differed on policy. The NRA was the top outside spender, dolling out over $50 million, in the 2016 bid that carried Trump to a surprise White House victory.

However, the group has fallen on hard times since former CEO Wayne LaPierre was accused of diverting millions of dollars of the group’s funds toward lavish personal expenses. He resigned earlier this year, shortly before a New York civil jury found him liable for $5.5 million in diverted funds. The scandal has roiled the NRA and left it in turmoil for almost half a decade, with another battle for control of the organization happening behind the scenes as Trump spoke.

All of that has caused members to flee the NRA, taking the revenue from their dues with them. That’s resulted in the NRA falling behind its rivals in political fundraising and being unable to muster for Trump’s latest re-election bid even half of what it did for his first campaign.

Still, Trump appears to value the group as much as ever. His Saturday speech was similar to the one he gave to the NRA in February. While he went off onto long, familiar tangents about all sorts of issues political and personal, he also promised to undo all of President Joe Biden’s gun-control efforts–including firing ATF Director Steven Dettlebach on day one. He also issued a series of platitudes on how he would protect gun owners.

“With me in the White House, the radical gun grabbers will run straight into a very powerful brick wall,” he said.

Trump has lost some ground to Biden in the months since his last NRA speech. While the race has remained within the margin of error in most polling, Biden has improved slightly since February. He now sits within one point of Trump in the Real Clear Politics average of polls and is tied in The Hill’s average.

Trump doubled down on the distinctions between him and Biden on gun policy, though.

“Let there be no doubt the survival of our Second Amendment is very much on the ballot,” he said. “You know what they want to do? If they get in, our country is going to be destroyed in so many ways, but the Second Amendment will be under siege. And but with me, they never get anywhere.”


An unserialized pistol, or "ghost gun," on display at SHOT Show 2022
An unserialized pistol, or “ghost gun,” on display at SHOT Show 2022 / Stephen Gutowski

Analysis: New York City Throws the Book at Gun Hobbyist [Member Exclusive]
By Jake Fogleman

The punishment for one hobbyist gun builder has been harsher than that of many violent criminals in New York City.

Dexter Taylor, the 53-year-old Brooklyn resident and software engineer who built his own firearms, received a 10-year prison sentence from Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Abena Darkeh on Monday. Taylor was convicted of two counts of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, three counts of third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, five counts of criminal possession of a firearm, unlawful possession of pistol ammunition, and “prohibition on unfinished frames or receivers.”

Those convictions—the majority of which New York law deems violent felonies despite the absence of actual violence—stemmed from Taylor’s infatuation with amateur gunsmithing.

“Ever since I was a kid, I was really, like most red-blooded American kids, I was interested in guns and tanks and fighter planes because it was cool,” he told RedState in an interview last year. “I found out that you can actually legally buy a receiver and you can machine that receiver to completion, and you buy your parts and you put them together and you’ve got a pistol or a rifle. And once I saw that I was hooked. I was like, ‘This is the coolest thing ever. This is the most cool thing you could possibly do in your machine shop.'”

He experimented with the hobby for a couple of years before a SWAT team raided his Brooklyn apartment in 2022 and recovered four AR-15s, five handguns, four rifles, 50 rounds of ammunition, a 3D printer, and various firearm components and accessories. He had a clean criminal history and was not accused of using the firearms he assembled to harm anyone. Nor was he accused of trying to sell or traffic his homemade weapons. Despite that, he was vigorously prosecuted and is likely to spend the next decade in jail–far more than those convicted of more serious crimes in the same jurisdiction often see.

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez (D.), whose office filed the charges against Taylor, is a self-described “progressive prosecutor” who has prioritized resolving cases without jail time to combat “mass incarceration” and “overcriminalization.” Despite that background and the facts of the case, his office celebrated the lengthy prison sentence for Taylor’s gun building.

“Today’s sentence should send a message to anyone who, like this defendant, would try to evade critically important background checks and registration requirements to manufacture and stockpile these dangerous weapons,” Gonzalez said. “Every ghost gun we take off the street is a win for public safety.”

A Reload review of his office’s recent convictions shows several violent criminals getting shorter sentences. That includes an 8-year sentence for an ex-cop who molested a child, a three-to-nine-year sentence for a man convicted of second-degree manslaughter, and a nine-year sentence for a man convicted of attempted murder after shooting two teenagers in a crowded mall. The Reload also found a seven-year sentence for a man who repeatedly sexually assaulted a young girl, and a nine-and-a-half-year sentence for a man who shot an occupied police car, just to name a few.

The tradition of privately manufacturing firearms dates back before this nation’s founding and remains legal both federally and in the vast majority of states. In Taylor’s case, the difference between that experience and a 10-year prison sentence came down to a simple matter of political geography. Taylor believes that distinction is wrong and unconstitutional, which is why he’s decided to continue fighting his charges in court.

“Today we enter the next phase in the fight to protect our God-given rights from a government that wishes to take them from us and grant us mere privileges in return,” he said, according to a transcript of the hearing. “To quote another patriot from another place and time, ‘This is not the end. This is not even the beginning of the end. This is perhaps, the end of the beginning.’ And so, as we enter this new phase, there should be no question in the mind of any patriotic American as to why we fight. After all, only slaves lack the right to armed self-defense and we are no slaves, but free citizens of a great republic…”

It remains to be seen what, if anything, will result from Taylor’s appeals process and how broader legal developments related to the constitutionality of various gun restrictions may impact the sentence he received. However, it will likely take many years to find out for sure.

In the meantime, what is now a certainty is that he will spend at least part of a decade-long sentence in Rikers for something lawful citizens are free to do without incident in neighboring states. As New York City now has demonstrated a pattern of charging otherwise law-abiding gun owners with violent felonies for what are essentially paperwork violations, expect national attention on the case to continue to build.


Podcast: The Second Amendment Implications of Hawaii Legalizing Butterfly Knives (Ft. Alan Beck) [Member Early Access]
By Stephen Gutwoski

This week, we have one of the most successful Second Amendment litigators on the show to talk about the surprising outcome of his latest case.

Hawaii legalized the possession and open carry of most bladed weapons a few days ago. That came as a bit of a shock to Second Amendment activists in the state, including our guest Alan Beck. While he had already won a ruling against the state’s butterfly knife ban and he expected lawmakers might try to undercut that case, nobody really expected a blanket reversal on how Hawaii treats bladed weapons.

Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean his case is over. Beck argued it’s not really possible to open carry butterfly knives. So, that leaves a potential path forward in the suit that Beck plans to pursue.

Still, Beck said the repeal of the bladed weapons bans represents real progress. He’s more optimistic than ever that Hawaiians will eventually have gun laws that are closer to the rest of the nation. However, he said it would take a lot more effort to get there.

You can listen to the show on your favorite podcasting app or by clicking here. Video of the episode is available on our YouTube channel. An auto-generated transcript is available here. Reload Members get access on Sunday, as always. Everyone else can listen on Monday.

On the news update, Contributing Writer Jake Fogleman and I discuss my upcoming trip to Dallas to cover the 2024 NRA Annual Meeting and what signs to look for to determine if the group will make substantive reforms or stay its current course. Plus, we discuss the latest in the Dexter Taylor case after a Brooklyn judge sentenced the engineer to 10 years in prison for his hobby of self-manufacturing firearms. We also cover a new ruling out of the 9th Circuit upholding California’s sharing of gun owners’ personal data with university researchers. And we have a bonus member segment, too! Audio is here. Video is here.


The lighted stage at the 2022 NRA Annual Meeting
The lighted stage at the 2022 NRA Annual Meeting / Stephen Gutowski

Analysis: Signs of Change to Look for at the NRA Annual Meeting [Member Exclusive]
By Stephen Gutowski

“I am going to be looking for private remedies, internal remedies, rather than state oversight.”

That’s what Judge Joel Cohen said during a March hearing on the second phase of the NRA’s corruption trial, according to The Trace. This weekend’s Annual Meeting may be the last opportunity for the NRA to go a different direction before Judge Cohen decides on remedies. Of course, not everyone in a position to put the NRA on a different path wants one.

So, here are some things to watch this weekend in Texas.

First, it’s essential to understand the dynamics at play. There are two sides with two diametrically opposed views on what the NRA should do.

NRA President Charles Cotton, interim CEO Andrew Arulanandam, Outside Counsel Bill Brewer, and other current leadership members do not think anything should change between now and when Judge Cohen hears the second phase of the corruption trial in July. Since the beginning of the NRA’s corruption scandal, they have argued that mistakes were made, but the NRA has fully addressed them and no further changes are needed. They’ve stuck with that argument through the failed bankruptcy filing as well as the first phase of the New York trial.

The leadership’s plan was to get through the first half of the trial and then try to convince Judge Cohen they’d already applied internal remedies and that further action wasn’t necessary. If they prevail this weekend, expect very little change in the group’s trajectory. Maybe we’ll see Cotton move from President to CEO and Executive Vice President or some other similar shuffling of longtime leaders, but no policy reforms or real turnover of internal power.

Even though it has no legal significance and may be costly, the current leadership is still committed to moving the NRA’s headquarters to Texas. So, an official announcement of that plan would be another sign of the way the wind is blowing.

On the other side of things are the reformers. At the beginning of the month, NRA members voted Phillip Journey, Rocky Marshall, Jeff Knox, Dennis Fusaro, and Owen “Buz” Mills onto the board. They knew what they were doing, too, because that group has been calling for leadership to step aside for years at this point.

The way to tell if they’re winning is pretty straightforward: They convince the rest of the board to kick out leadership and change tact in the New York case.

That’s a tall order for a coalition that only has five members who’ve been public with their desire to reorganize the NRA. After all, there are 76 board members. The board as a whole has shown little appetite for any significant changes during the past half-decade its corruption scandal has dragged on.

But that was before Wayne LaPierre, who commanded a great deal of loyalty on the board, resigned. It was before the jury found the group failed to safeguard its charitable asserts and retaliated against whistleblowers, including several reformer board members. It was before the NRA membership signaled it agrees with those same reformers by making them among the highest vote-getters in the latest board election.

So, maybe more board members are willing to back a major reform effort than before.

All of this will likely come to a head at the board meeting on Monday. The decisions made there will clarify the NRA’s future.

However, the meeting of the members on Saturday could provide useful insight into the fight. How many members show up could indicate the interest level regular members still have in all this. Whether those who show up make a ruckus might tell how passionate any opposition is, and how board members or leadership respond to any opposition could indicate how strong they believe their hand to be. In the past, board members who support the current leadership haven’t been shy about defending them and berating the opposition during heated exchanges at the members’ meetings.

Whoever prevails in the internal fight, they will face an increasingly difficult time in turning the NRA around. The group is still massive compared to its counterparts, but it has shed a ton of members and, subsequently, revenue. Administrative legal expenses are choking off much of what is left. At a certain point, the NRA will reach a point where recovery is probably impossible.

This weekend will likely tell us which path the NRA takes in the near term. In all likelihood, that choice will have a monumental impact on its long-term viability.


That’s it for now.

I’ll talk to you all again soon.

Thanks,
Stephen Gutowski
Founder
The Reload

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