The Reload Analysis Newsletter

Members’ Newsletter: Wayne LaPierre Bows Out

The National Rifle Association has been upended.

On Friday, Wayne LaPierre announced he plans to step down at the end of the month. That ends a 33-year run as the head of the organization. The group soared to incredible heights of membership and power during his tenure. But he has also been at the center of a corruption scandal that has greatly diminished the NRA’s size and influence over the past five years.

I take a look at what this means for what still remains the nation’s largest gun group. The answer differs based on the length of time you’re judging by.

Meanwhile, Californian gun carriers are probably experiencing a bit of whiplash this morning. The effective ban on carry that resulted from SB2 going into effect on the back of an administrative stay on a ruling against the law has been reversed. So, carry by permitholders is legal once more.

Illinois gun owners made news this week too when most declined to register their “assault weapons.” Contributing Writer Jake Fogleman examines the history of failed registration and/or confiscation efforts.

Plus, George Mason University’s Robert Leider joins the podcast to explain why challenging gun laws is still so difficult.


Wayne LaPierre's seat sits empty at an NRA board meeting in October 2021
Wayne LaPierre’s seat sits empty at an NRA board meeting in October 2021 / Stephen Gutowski

Analysis: Wayne LaPierre’s Resignation Changes Nothing, Everything for the NRA [Member Exclusive]
By Stephen Gutowski

In a shocking move, Wayne LaPierre announced his resignation as National Rifle Association executive vice president on Friday.

His resignation doesn’t go into effect until the end of the month, by which time the New York corruption case against him and the NRA will be nearly over. And when he does step down, his closest allies will remain in control of the gun-rights group anyway. But the end of LaPierre’s decades-long tenure at the top of the NRA will inevitably transform what the group is and how it works, at least eventually.

So, LaPierre’s resignation probably won’t change much in the near term. But it’s likely to invite a seachange in the long term.

When LaPierre steps aside, Andrew Arulanandam will take over. Arulanandam has been a close LaPierre confidant for a very long time. He was one of the few people besides LaPierre and outside lawyer Bill Brewer to know about the failed bankruptcy filing before it was publicly announced. Most of the NRA’s Board of Directors didn’t even know about the filing before Arulanandam.

He was also the group’s long-serving spokesperson until just last month. In what appears to have been a move to set Arulanandam up to succeed LaPierre, the former head of NRA General Operations (GO) was removed and replaced by Arulanandam. Perhaps not coincidentally, the head of GO is the one who succeeds the executive vice president when they step down.

Additionally, the other person quoted in LaPierre’s resignation notice was long-time ally and NRA president Charles Cotton. His position in that role was also the result of recent internal maneuvering. Cotton’s term as president was set to expire last year, with First Vice President Willis Lee in line to replace him.

Instead, the NRA changed its rules to oust Lee and extend Cotton.

The result of all this is, unless the NRA Board takes emergency action, there probably won’t be many changes to how the group runs until at least the Annual Meeting in May. It will likely pursue the same financial strategy that has prioritized sending a huge percentage of the group’s shrinking budget to Brewer to follow the same legal strategy that’s got them to this point.

LaPierre’s resignation could boost the defense Brewer has formulated. The NRA’s legal strategy has been to admit to a fraction of the wrongdoing it and its leaders have been accused of but counter that reforms have been implemented and the worst offenders have been let go. LaPierre, who is at the center of the corruption allegations, remaining in charge was a major problem with that argument, and his retirement could help.

But the NRA still faces an uphill battle on that front. LaPierre’s resignation wasn’t accompanied by a settlement announcement from New York Attorney General Letitia James (D.). And she’s arguing the move actually bolsters her arguments.

“LaPierre’s resignation validates our claims against him, but it will not insulate him or the NRA from accountability,” she said in a statement. “All charities in New York state must adhere to the rule of law, and my office will not tolerate gross mismanagement or top executives funneling millions into their own pockets. Our case will move ahead, and we look forward to proving the facts in court.”

The trial itself might render LaPierre’s resignation moot. If the NRA loses, he’ll be barred from working at the group or any other that operates in New York. And many of the leaders who approved of his conduct could be gone, too.

But LaPierre’s resignation ensures that the NRA will need a new leader regardless of the outcome of the trial. Even if the NRA prevails in the New York corruption case, the Board will have to decide on a new executive vice president. Without LaPierre as an option, it’s unclear where they will go.

It’s more likely than ever before that LaPierre’s staunchest allies will lose control of the organization. The last five years have been a disaster for the organization. It has lost over a million members, revenue has fallen by more than half, and spending on political efforts as well as member services has been hollowed out.

Several NRA Board Members have been pushed out of the group over the same time period for objecting to going down this path. Those who’ve remained have been willing to do so primarily because of their loyalty to LaPierre, often citing his successful track record as evidence the group is traveling down a road that will eventually lead to something positive.

With LaPierre gone, NRA Board Members may be willing to shake things up. That’s especially true if the next six weeks in court don’t go well. More reform-minded leadership could ultimately emerge from that dynamic.

Refreshing the organization’s leadership, internal controls, and public face could go a long way to reverse its current downward spiral.

The NRA remains a strong brand. No other group in the gun space is as well-known or as influential, even today. The corruption suit has dogged its image and finances. But rebound remains a realistic possibility in the long term.

Those million members who dropped off could be easiest to convince to return. But there are tens, perhaps, hundreds of millions of gun owners beyond that the group could reach too. The truth is the NRA wasn’t keeping up with population growth in the years before the scandal broke, and it hasn’t capitalized on the recent jump in gun ownership.

52% of American voters report having a gun in the home, according to a recent NBC poll. Over 250 million Americans are adults, according to the Census Bureau. But internal documents show the NRA has never had even 5.5 million members.

That’s a huge number that puts the NRA in a league of its own and underlines its influence. But it also reveals a serious problem with the NRA’s outreach operation that stretches back even before its recent struggles. A reformed and refreshed organization has an opportunity to be bigger and more powerful than ever before.

But whether it capitalizes on that change will likely rely on more than just cleaning up its operations. Given how long LaPierre was the head of the group, it’s hard to know how somebody else might manage in his role.

New leadership would bring all kinds of questions about where the NRA goes in the long term. What approach will it take to attract new members? How will it prioritize resources? Will it focus more on services like training or competition shooting? More on lobbying or political ads?

And what will its politics look like? The NRA has long been hit from either end of the spectrum. Those on the left have long accused it of being extreme on gun policy and refusing to make “common sense” compromises. On the right, the most common recruiting method of other gun-rights groups is to claim the NRA compromises too much.

When you’re as big as the NRA, that sort of dynamic may be an inevitability. But the way new leadership at the group comes down on that argument will impact where it goes on political strategy. The outcome of that is unknowable as of now.

What we do know is Wayne LaPierre will no longer be the one with his finger on the trigger, and that’s bound to change the NRA’s aim in some ways. Just not right away.


Holstered gun
A holstered handgun / Stephen Gutowski

Gun Carry Lawful Again in California as Ruling Against ‘Unconstitutional’ Restrictions Put Back into Effect
By Stephen Gutowski

Californians with a gun-carry permit can lawfully carry a gun in most areas of the state once again.

A three-judge panel on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals removed a stay applied to a lower court ruling against California’s SB2, which created a near-total ban on gun carry in the state. The action reinstates the lower court ruling that found the law violated the Second Amendment rights of those with gun-carry permits.

“The administrative stay previously entered is dissolved,” the panel wrote in May v. Bonta. “The emergency motion under Circuit Rule 27-3 for a stay pending appeal and for an interim administrative stay is denied pending further order of the court.”

The administrative move, like the one that preceded it, has a huge practical effect. The stay allowed the state to implement dozens of expansive “gun-free” zones at the beginning of the year, including one on every piece of private property unless the owner explicitly authorizes gun carry. The cumulative effect of the new “sensitive places” restrictions added up to an effective ban on gun carry.

Undoing the stay practically undoes enforcement of those new zones as the case against them proceeds on appeal. California Attorney General Rob Bonta (D.) did not respond to a request for comment on the order. However, gun-rights advocates celebrated the stay being dissolved.

“The right to carry in California was unconstitutionally eliminated for almost a week,” Kostas Moros, a lawyer for plaintiffs California Pistol and Rifle Association, told The Reload. “We are relieved the status quo has been restored, and Californians with CCW permits, who are among the most law-abiding people there are, can resume carrying as they have for years.”

The panel’s actions reinstate the preliminary injunction issued against the law by U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney in December. Carney found SB2 “unconstitutionally deprive” permitholders “of their constitutional right to carry a handgun in public for self-defense.” He further accused California of intentionally ignoring and undermining the Supreme Court’s decision in 2022’s New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, which established carrying a gun for self-defense is protected by the Constitution.

“SB2’s coverage is sweeping, repugnant to the Second Amendment, and openly defiant of the Supreme Court,” Carney, a George W. Bush appointee, wrote. “The law designates twenty-six categories of places, such as hospitals, public transportation, places that sell liquor for on-site consumption, playgrounds, parks, casinos, stadiums, libraries, amusement parks, zoos, places of worship, and banks, as ‘sensitive places’ where concealed carry permitholders cannot carry their handguns. SB2 turns nearly every public place in California into a ‘sensitive place,’ effectively abolishing the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding and exceptionally qualified citizens to be armed and to defend themselves in public.”

The panel could still reconsider part of the stay before arguments in the case are actually heard. Those arguments are currently scheduled to occur in April.


Podcast: Gun Law Professor On Why Firearms Restrictions Are Still Hard to Fight [Member Early Access]
By Stephen Gutowski

This week, we’re discussing some of the incongruities that make it so difficult for gun-rights advocates to beat new gun restrictions even after the Supreme Court’s Bruen ruling.

To do that, I got a leading Second Amendment scholar to join the show. Robert Leider, an associate professor at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia School of Law, explains why even broad gun restrictions continue to make it into law, and challenges have been less successful than many might have expected. He lays out the “asymmetry of legal liability” at the center of the dynamic.

Leider argues lawmakers, like the ones behind California’s expansive new “gun-free” zones, are engaging in what he calls “loopholing.” He said they are attempting to disregard the Supreme Court’s purpose in Bruen by finding ways to create the same effect as the laws it declared unconstitutional by using slightly different tactics. He argued there are some ways to address this beyond normal challenges, such as removing qualified immunity protections for those enforcing the new laws.

But he also said gun-rights advocates are relying too much on court action in their push against new restrictions. Enforcement of California’s new law has been barred again since we recorded the show, but Leider argued the outcome of the fight over the preliminary injunction–which he noted only technically applies to named plaintiffs–is not nearly as important as people make it out to be.

Plus, I explain the implications of Wayne LaPierre stepping down as head of the NRA.

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


A collection of AR-15s on sale at a December 2023 gun show
A collection of AR-15s on sale at a December 2023 gun show / Stephen Gutowski

Analysis: Another Failed Gun Registration Effort [Member Exclusive]
By Jake Fogleman

We found out this week few people in Illinois complied with the state’s registration requirement, but that’s the outcome that should have been expected.

Just one percent of Illinois gun owners registered now-prohibited AR-15s and similar firearms before the state’s ban officially took effect, according to updated data from the Illinois State Police. In total, 29,357 individuals out of 2,415,481 active Firearm Owner’s Identification (FOID) card holders registered 68,992 firearms, 42,830 “accessories,” and 528 entries for “ammunition” by the time the window closed at the end of the year.

That’s almost certainly lower than what lawmakers were hoping to achieve with their sales ban and registration scheme. The fact that so few went along with the plan, despite the threat of potential criminal penalties, suggests a concerted effort on the part of many gun owners to engage in civil disobedience against a law they opposed from the start.

It wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened. When New York expanded its existing assault weapons ban to include mandatory registration requirements with the 2013 SAFE Act, only an estimated four percent of affected gun owners actually registered their weapons with the state in the years after the law went into effect. When Connecticut enacted its assault weapon ban and registration mandate following the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, the state estimated that 372,000 prohibited weapons were in civilian hands. By the close of its registration period the next year, the state had received only around 50,000 registration applications. Similarly, a 2018 iteration of California’s assault weapon ban requiring registration for existing owners was met with just a 3-5 percent compliance rate, according to an estimate by the Firearms Policy Coalition.

Most recently, when owners of pistols equipped with stabilizing braces were given a choice to either register them with the ATF, surrender them, or face federal felony charges, only somewhere between 0.6 and eight percent of estimated brace owners agreed to register them before the ban took effect last year.

Even internationally, gun registration and confiscation initiatives have faced massive compliance shortfalls. New Zealand’s 2019 semi-automatic gun ban and confiscation mandate collected less than half of the estimated stock of affected firearms in civilian hands, and Canada’s ongoing quest to mimic those efforts is facing similar reluctance on the part of gun owners.

Of course, it’s inherently difficult to estimate how many people comply with a registration or round-up of an unknown number of firearms. And there may be reasons beyond principled opposition to the underlying law that lead some gun owners not to comply, such as a lack of knowledge about the law’s enactment or how to follow it.

It’s impossible to say with total certainty how much of Illinois’ low registration count can be attributed to intentional non-compliance. The state requires all gun owners to be licensed under the FOID card system, not just those in possession of “assault weapons.” It stands the reason that not every FOID card holder in the state-owned a weapon or accessory covered by Illinois’ new hardware ban, leaving those gun owners exempt from being required to enter a registration affidavit in the first place.

The state also lacks concrete data on the number of previously legal firearms and accessories that were in civilian hands at the time of the registry window. Melaney Arnold, a public information officer for the ISP, told The Reload that the agency had no information on “how many FOID card holders have items covered under the Protect Illinois Communities Act.”

However, there are several reasons to think that the registration count was as low as it seems at first glance, regardless of the caveats of the FOID system.

One is simply that the AR-15, the primary target of the state’s ban and registry, is the most popular rifle in the country. Recent survey data indicates that around 24.6 million Americans own at least one AR-15 or similar rifle. And while no state-specific survey data exists, a crude adjustment of that number based on Illinois’ share of the national population suggests just under 918,000 AR-15 owners reside in the Land of Lincoln—a total that far exceeds the 29,357 who registered anything with the state.

Furthermore, Illinois’ assault weapon ban extends well beyond AR-15s to include more than 170 semi-automatic rifles, pistols, and shotguns by make and model, as well as other unnamed weapons that include certain cosmetic and ergonomic features. A basic semi-automatic handgun that happens to have a threaded barrel, for instance, or a semi-automatic hunting shotgun that has a pistol grip or adjustable stock could easily fall under the ban’s criteria, greatly expanding the pool of firearms affected and, by extension, the gun owners who would need to register them.

Finally, the lack of widespread registration came against the backdrop of law enforcement leaders in the majority of the state’s counties loudly declaring that they had no intention of enforcing the law against otherwise lawful gun owners. That, coupled with the uncertainty over the law’s constitutionality prompted by gun-rights lawsuits and the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision, could easily have swayed gun owners to take their chances by not going along with the state’s demands.

Regardless, civil disobedience in the face of gun bans paired with registration or even confiscation has clearly been a constant theme among gun owners. The experience of Illinois’ assault weapon ban rollout and registration scheme met the same fate as most similar efforts have before it.


That’s it for now.

I’ll talk to you all again soon.

Thanks,
Stephen Gutowski
Founder
The Reload

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