Newsletter: A Deep Dive into the NRA’s Finances

This week we published a series of exclusive pieces.

By virtue of being the only reporter to actually show up to the NRA’s oversight meetings earlier this month, I was the only one to receive their financial report for 2020. I also have a copy of the 2018 report. Between the two, The Reload was able to take a comprehensive look at how the NRA’s finances have developed over the past four years.

The gun-rights group managed to climb back into the black, but it came at a high cost to its most essential programs. Plus, the pandemic and various legal fights have cut into its ability to operate at the same level it did just a few years ago.

We tell you what the numbers on their political and gun safety operations say, as well as what the NRA has to say about them. The third piece in the series is only for members. So, make sure you pick up a membership to check it and all the other exclusive content out!

I’ll even make it easier on those of you on the fence about joining. Let’s have a FLASH SALE. The next 50 people to buy a monthly or yearly membership get 20% off!

Grab one before they’re gone, folks.

The other exclusive we broke this week dealt with the fast-approaching Virginia governor’s race. I unearthed controversial comments by candidate Terry McCauliffe (D.) where he attacks gun shows, and admits Attorney General Mark Herring (D.) trashed gun-carry reciprocity deals despite having no evidence they were causing a problem. Check out the piece for his full comments.

Plus, we take a look at a new win for gun-rights advocates in federal court and the story of a new gun owner from an unexpected place. I also talk to The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer about guns and race in America, as well as his feud with a Supreme Court justice.

NRA Headquarters
NRA Headquarters / Stephen Gutowski

NRA Finished 2020 in the Black Due to Massive Spending Cuts After Revenue Falls, Legal Costs Skyrocket
By Stephen Gutowski

The NRA’s finances stayed above water in 2020. But only because it continued to make significant spending cuts.

The gun-rights group ran a surplus of just over $40.5 million last year, according to a copy of its financial statements obtained by The Reload. That makes 2020 the second year in a row where the NRA spent less than it brought in, reversing a years-long trend of operating in the red. But the better books came at the cost of deep cuts to most of its key programs.

The group’s 2020 spending was down more than $54 million, or about 15.3 percent, from 2019. It’s down over $124 million, or about 29.3 percent, compared to the group’s financial statements from the last election cycle in 2018. The cuts affected core areas of the group’s activities, with tens of millions less being spent on legislative programs, training, and member services compared to the previous election cycle. Revenue fell by eight figures too, down $19.4 million from 2019 and $78.2 million from 2018.

While revenue and spending fell, the group’s legal expenses rose. The NRA’s 2020 legal spending increased by $245,892 from the previous year to more than $46 million. The NRA noted the total includes audit and tax expenses but declined to break out the numbers more specifically. It also said those fees were spent on a variety of legal costs, including activism.

“This includes work in support of the Second Amendment, such as the Supreme Court case in which the NRA is involved,” the gun-rights group told The Reload.

The report provides further insight into the group’s legal spending. While the overall increase in legal spending was modest, the group’s spending on legislative and fundraising legal expenses fell by $8.8 million but its administrative legal costs rose by more than $9 million to over $42.5 million. Those costs are likely associated with the NRA’s failed bankruptcy filing and ongoing fight against a New York corruption suit that threatens its continued existence.

To read more, click here.

The National Rifle Association's logo
The National Rifle Association’s logo / Stephen Gutowski

NRA’s 2020 Member Dues, Political Spending Fell by Millions from Previous Election Years
By Stephen Gutowski

The NRA’s membership dues and political spending has not been immune to the broader challenges faced by the leading gun-rights organization.

As with the group’s overall balance sheet, 2020 dues rebounded alongside legislative spending from 2019. However, records obtained by The Reload show, it fell significantly compared to the previous election year.

The NRA benefited from an increase of about $6.7 million in members’ dues between 2019 and 2020 but was still down more than $50 million from 2018. Similarly, the group’s 2020 spending on legislative programs, which encompass most of the group’s political spending, increased by more than $13.1 million compared to the non-election year of 2019. However, its spending fell by nearly $7 million from 2018.

The decreased political spending likely impacted how effective they were during the 2020 election. While its financial and political backing helped Donald Trump rise to the presidency in 2016 and Republicans hold the Senate in 2018, it could not help either repeat those feats in 2020. Its decision to operate at a $54 million surplus that year likely limited its spending in the elections.

The political spending and dues decline also comes after years of internal turmoil and legal troubles sparked by allegations top NRA executives, including Wayne LaPierre, funneled millions of dollars of the group’s money towards their personal expenses.

Click here to read more.

The NRA guide to the basics of pistol shooting
The NRA guide to the basics of pistol shooting / Stephen Gutowski

NRA Spending on Safety Training Fell 43% in 2020, Hit Multi-Year Low [Member Exclusive]
By Jake Fogleman

The National Rifle Association’s spending on firearm safety and training, one of its core offerings, has cratered.

The organization’s spending on safety, education, and training dropped from $28.4 million in 2019 to $16.4 million last year, a 43 percent decline, according to the group’s latest consolidated financial statements obtained by The Reload. Last year’s decline is just the latest, and most sizeable, in what’s become a multi-year trend of reduced spending on training programs by the organization.

This precipitous decline in outlays for training and education is a bad sign for a group that touts itself as being “recognized nationally as the gold standard for safe firearm training, developing millions of safe, ethical, responsible shooters and instructors,” and “the premier firearms education organization in the world.” The cuts to core NRA offerings such as training and political spending, in addition to the ongoing turmoil stemming from corruption allegations levied against NRA executives, could make it more difficult for the nation’s leading gun-rights group to recruit and retain members.

The group’s 2020 consolidated financial report explains how its fundraising was impacted by the pandemic.

If you’re a Reload Member, click here to get the full scoop. If not, join today for access to this and other exclusive content! FLASH SALE: The next 50 customers get 20% off!

A sign details the rules at an outdoor shooting range
A sign details the rules at an outdoor shooting range / Stephen Gutowski

Federal Court Halts Enforcement of Zoning Ordinance Against Pennsylvania Gun Club
By Jake Fogleman

After three years and two federal appeals court decisions, a Pennsylvania gun club will finally be able to operate.

A federal judge ruled in favor of the owner of the Greater Pittsburgh Gun Club on Wednesday by issuing a preliminary injunction against Robinson Township. The order prohibits the Pittsburgh-area township from enforcing its restrictive zoning ordinance banning the use of center-fire rifles and requiring non-profit status for all gun clubs to operate in the area.

“Although the courts owe ‘substantial deference’ to local zoning decisions, restrictions on rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment must still satisfy intermediate scrutiny,” U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn J. Horan said in her ruling. “At this stage and for purposes of the Motion for Preliminary Injunction, the Township has not provided evidence that the challenged Ordinance provisions…in fact serve the asserted government interests of health, safety, and welfare.”

Click here to read more.

Terry McAuliffe at George Mason University on March 18th, 2019
Terry McAuliffe at George Mason University on March 18th, 2019 / Screenshot

McAuliffe in 2019: Gun Shows’ Worst Thing We Have,’ Tried to Create Hidden Legal Liability for Private Gun Sellers
By Stephen Gutowski

During a little-noticed symposium, Virginia Democrat Terry McAuliffe slammed gun shows and revealed he hoped a 2016 compromise bill would put private gun sellers at legal risk.

The current gubernatorial candidate and former governor called gun shows the “worst thing we have” during a 2019 lecture at Geroge Mason University reviewed by The Reload. He decided the inability of the state to pass a law requiring all gun sales to require a background check and claimed private sellers advertised the lack of checks on “big signs’ at the shows.

“The worst thing we have, folks, are these gun shows,” McAuliffe told the audience at the school’s Haynes Lecture Series on March 18th, 2019. “Has anyone ever been to a gun show? They’re unbelievable, aren’t they? I’m talking thousands of people. Hundreds of tables. Hundreds, as far as the eye can see, with any kind of gun you want to buy, with big signs, ‘we don’t do background checks.’ So, you can go any one of these in Virginia and buy any gun you want today, folks. Today, you could do this.”

He went on to say he had an ulterior goal while negotiating a 2016 deal with Virginia Republicans to expand recognition of out-of-state gun-carry permits while stationing state police at gun shows to allow anyone to conduct a background check during a sale. In addition to helping private gun sellers do voluntary checks, he said he hoped the option would create a hidden legal liability for those who decided not to take advantage of the offering.

Click here to read the full piece.

Podcast: The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer on Guns and Race in America
By Stephen Gutowski

This week, I talk to The Atlantic’s Adam Sewer about how guns and race interact in America both historically and in the modern-day.

He talked about his recent back and forth with Supreme Court justice Samuel Alito over Texas’s new abortion law. We disagreed over whether the same tactic of deferring enforcement to civil suits brought by regular citizens rather than government actors will be tried out by gun-control advocates in some parts of the country. He thinks it won’t because activists fear review by the court, but I’m not so sure.

From there, we discuss the court’s upcoming gun-carry case and the racist history of various gun-permitting laws in America. He explains why a majority of Black Americans support gun-control measures despite a widespread acknowledgment those laws will be disproportionately used against members of their community.

Then we talked about Beto O’Rourke’s plans to run for governor in Adam’s adopted home of Texas. We discuss the political practicality of Beto’s famous pledge to take everyone’s AR-15s and AK-47s.

We also discuss the rise in minority gun ownership and what it means for the future of gun politics in America.

Plus, I give on-the-ground insight into the re-election of Wayne LaPierre to run the NRA. I was the only reporter sitting outside the board meeting where LaPierre faced his first challenge in years, and I give the details of what went down. And I share the latest gun sales numbers for 2021 now that they’ve passed 2019’s full-year total.

You can listen to the podcast on your favorite podcasting app or by clicking here.

You can also watch the video podcast on our YouTube channel.

Open beer bottles
Photo by Thomas Picauly on Unsplash

Study: Alcohol Abuse Linked to Higher Risk of Gun Suicide
By Jake Fogleman

New research shines a light on potential risk factors for the country’s leading cause of gun death.

Researchers from the University of California Davis Violence Prevention Research Program published a new study this month examining whether there was an increased risk of suicide for handgun purchasers with past drug and alcohol charges. The study found that male gun owners with a history of alcohol-related crimes were at a much greater risk for suicide. The researchers, however, found no link between a history of drug charges and an increased risk of suicide.

“In this longitudinal study of men who legally purchased a handgun in California in 2001, those with prior alcohol charges at the time of purchase were at higher risk of suicide, including firearm suicide, for over a decade later,” the study said. “Risk was greatest among those with two or more alcohol arrests or convictions, among those whose last alcohol charge was in the year prior to their purchase in 2001, and in the two years following the index handgun purchase.”

The researchers were hopeful that the study results could help lead to future policies of suicide mitigation among gun owners and those with substance abuse issues.

“This study helps us better identify the populations at elevated risk of suicide, which can, in turn, inform clinical interventions, firearm policy and substance use prevention and treatment efforts,” Julia Schleimer, the lead author of the study, said in a press release. “For example, clinicians might counsel patients who have alcohol dependence and who own firearms about risk reduction strategies like safe firearm storage and temporary firearm transfer.”

Click here to read more.

David Chipman testifies at a 2019 House Judiciary Committee Hearing on assault weapons
David Chipman testifies at a 2019 House Judiciary Committee Hearing on assault weapons / Screenshot

Analysis: The Problem With the Media Narrative on David Chipman’s Failed ATF Nomination [Member Exclusive]
By Stephen Gutowski

President Joe Biden’s failed ATF pick has been on a bit of a media tour lately. This tour has been wrapped in a particular narrative. But it’s one with several problems.

In most major media stories about David Chipman’s nomination being pulled, he is made out to be the victim of a smear campaign orchestrated by the gun industry and a single holdout senator. It’s a narrative Chipman himself has forwarded in interviews with The New York TimesUSA Today, and The Trace.

The main villain in this play is the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF). The industry trade group has begun to overtake the NRA in some circles of the gun-control movement. And the ATF nomination has been painted as the group’s coming of age.

The key moment in Chipman’s nomination that led to his downfall, we’re told, is when the NSSF shared a Daily Mail report about his time at Waco in the aftermath of the disastrous government raid on a cult compound. That report included a false accusation that Chipman was pictured standing in front of the ashes of the compound. After the picture was confirmed by the DOJ not to be a picture of Chipman, NSSF removed it from its website.

But the damage was already done, according to Chipman and those covering him. That false picture combined with an unsupported claim he lost his gun seriously harmed his chances. Or so we’re told.

That’s a huge stretch, though.

If you’re a Reload Member, click here to read the full piece. If not, join today for access to this and other exclusive content! FLASH SALE: The next 50 customers get 20% off!

Sherri Shepherd on The View / Screenshot
Sherri Shepherd on The View / Screenshot

Guest Host of The View: I Felt ‘Empowered’ By Becoming New Gun Owner
By Jake Fogleman

More evidence of the changing face of gun ownership was presented this week–from the unlikeliest of sources.

Comedian and actress Sherri Shepherd appeared on “The View” this Tuesday as a guest co-host. During one segment, she described her recent decision to become a new gun owner to a skeptical panel. Shepherd described her feelings during the early stages of the pandemic and summer’s civil unrest as the impetus for her decision.

“Yes, I did. I bought a 9mm gun,” Shepherd said. “During the quarantine, I felt really helpless. I’d get these little alerts in my neighborhood app about ‘it’s going to be a march through the neighborhood,’ and I started feeling like, ‘How am I going to protect my son if something happens?'”

Shepherd describes an experience familiar to many who decided to become first-time gun owners in 2020. Uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and anxiety over racial tensions were some of the most commonly espoused reasons for the record surge in new gun sales in 2020. Her experience also aligns with reports of significant increases in first-time ownership among women in particular, a demographic historically underrepresented in gun ownership statistics.

Click here to get the full story.

Outside The Reload

SIG SAUER Will Not Exhibit at SHOT Show 2022 | The Truth About Guns | By Dan Zimmerman

Black People Formed One of the Largest Militias in the U.S. Now Its Leader Faces Prosecution | The Trace | By Alain Stephens and Will Carless

KY AG Says Cities Can’t Stop Employees From Carrying Guns At Work | Bearing Arms | By Tom Knighton

Vice Hit With $300M Suit From Controversial Gunshot Surveillance Company | The Daily Beast | By Lachlan Cartwright and Maxwell Tani

Goldman Joins Retreat From Texas Muni Business After Gun Law | Bloomberg | By Amanda Albright and Danielle Moran

That’s it for this week in guns.

If you want to hear my analysis of these stories and more, make sure you grab a Reload membership to get the exclusive analysis newsletter every Sunday! Act fast before the discount sells out!

I’ll see you all next week.

Stephen Gutowski
The Reload

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019


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