Newsletter: NRA Warning Signs Flash Ahead of Trump Event

Former President Donald Trump is slated to speak at the NRA’s Outdoor Show in Pennsylvania later today. I’ll be there in person to cover the event. So, look for an update on that in the Reload Member’s Newsletter on Sunday.

But, before Trump addresses the NRA faithful, we have a new story about the uphill climb the group faces in trying to help him get back to the White House. It’s starting 2024 in a deep money hole. And insiders claim the group has lost many more members, even if there’s strong disagreement over just how many.

But it isn’t necessarily all bad news for the gun-rights group. It’s still a bit ahead of the gun-control groups on funding. And we have an in-court report from new contributor Joseph Brucker that the judge in their corruption trial is considering agreeing to drop some of the charges involved.

We also have several big developments in the court system. Hawaii’s Supreme Court completely rebuked the United States Supreme Court in a ruling that declared there is no such thing as an individual right to keep and bear arms, setting up a potential showdown. The Biden Administration also asked the nation’s highest court to take up its “ghost gun” ban. And Contributing Writer Jake Fogleman explained how the judge who struck down California’s ammo background check law left the door open to purchase permits.

Plus, an independent gun store owner in New Hampshire describes why he’s unhappy with his voting options on the podcast. And I give my own personal update from my time at the NRA’s trial.

Also, The Dispatch is back as a sponsor, and they have a 90-day free trial for anybody interested in their original hard-news reporting!

A sign offering free admission to the 2022 Great American Outdoor Show for those who buy an NRA membership
A sign offering free admission to the 2022 Great American Outdoor Show for those who buy an NRA membership / Stephen Gutowski

NRA Low on Cash Headed into 2024 as Directors Claim Further Loss of Membership
By Stephen Gutowski

The National Rifle Association faces a long road to match its previous election spending levels as insiders fight over how many members remain.

The NRA’s war chest has a bit more than a fifth of the money it spent in the 2016 election and a bit more than a third of what it did in the 2020 election, according to its most recent FEC filings. Those filings were from the end of 2023, which gives the NRA about nine months to try and fundraise to close those gaps by the election. But the downturn in the group’s membership and, as a result, revenue makes the trip down that road even harder to complete in time.

Last year, internal sources and documents showed the NRA had shrunk by over a million members from a 2018 high of nearly 5.5 million to about 4.3 million. Owen “Buz” Mills, a longtime NRA board member who has clashed with leadership since corruption allegations surfaced in 2019, now says the group’s membership has shrunk by another million.

“From those with whom I have spoken and from the figures I have seen, I could testify to 3 million members +/- a few,” Mills told The Reload after making a similar claim in an interview with Guns Magazine. “This is down 40% from the 5 million+ members we had in the 2016 to 2019 era.”

An NRA spokesperson disputed Mills’ count, calling it “flat out false.” However, the group did not offer an official estimate of its membership.

Click here to read more.

The muzzle of a shotgun barrel on display at the 2023 NRA Annual Meeting
The muzzle of a shotgun barrel on display at the 2023 NRA Annual Meeting / Stephen Gutowski

Analysis: The Implications of the Crumbley Conviction [Member Exclusive]
By Stephen Gutowski

This week saw a potential landmark ruling holding a parent responsible for a mass shooting carried out by their child.

Jennifer Crumbley, whose son murdered four fellow students at his Michigan high school in May 2021, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter on Tuesday. The jury held her responsible for the killings not because she actively planned or participated in them, but because she didn’t do enough to stop them. The decision represents the first time a jury has held a parent responsible for a school shooting they weren’t actively involved in.

It raises a host of questions for gun owners and parents across the country.

If you’re a Reload Member, click here to read the rest. If not, join today for exclusive access to this and hundreds of other pieces!

The National Rifle Association seal on display at the 2022 Great American Outdoor Show
The National Rifle Association seal on display at the 2022 Great American Outdoor Show / Stephen Gutowski

Judge Considers NRA Request to Dismiss Charges in Corruption Case
By Joseph Brucker

Manhattan, New York – Judge Joel Cohen said he will hear further arguments on whether to drop certain charges against defendants in the NRA’s civil trial.

The NRA and individual defendants filed for a directed verdict after New York Attorney General Letitia James (D.) finished her phase of the case on Monday. For a directed verdict to be issued the judge would have to find that the AG has so failed in making her case that a rebuttal is not necessary–effectively notching an automatic win for the defense on the charges at issue. The defendants argue much of the AG’s case should be discarded because she either failed to establish certain NRA insiders were “whistleblowers” under the law or because some of the individuals she is pursuing, such as General Counsel John Frazer, aren’t subject to the law she is using.

Click here to read more.

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Pistol holsters on display at a 2023 gun show
Pistol holsters on display at a 2023 gun show / Stephen Gutowski

Hawaii Supreme Court Rejects Major Second Amendment Rulings in New Gun-Carry Decision
By Stephen Gutowski

The Aloha State’s highest court upheld a man’s gun-carry conviction on Wednesday after rejecting landmark decisions from the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS).

Hawaii’s Supreme Court reversed a lower court decision that found charges leveled against Christopher Wilson for carrying a gun without a permit violated his rights. Instead, the court ruled its state constitution provides no gun-rights protections whatsoever. That’s despite it including a provision protecting the right of the people to keep and bear arms identical to the one in the federal Constitution.

“Article I, section 17 of the Hawaiʻi Constitution mirrors the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution,” the Hawaiian court wrote in Hawaii v. Wilson. “We read those words differently than the current United States Supreme Court. We hold that in Hawaiʻi there is no state constitutional right to carry a firearm in public.”

Click here to continue reading.

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

Biden Administration Asks SCOTUS to Take Up ‘Ghost Gun’ Case
By Jake Fogleman

The legal status of the ATF’s rules surrounding unfinished gun parts will be the next gun-related case taken up by the Supreme Court if the Department of Justice (DOJ) has its way.

The Biden Administration filed a petition for certiorari with the High Court on Wednesday in the case VanDerStok v. Garland. The petition asks the Court to overturn a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision and rule that the ATF has the authority to legally redefine what constitutes a “firearm” under federal law to include unfinished gun parts.

“Under the Fifth Circuit’s interpretation, anyone could buy a kit online and assemble a fully functional gun in minutes— no background check, records, or serial number required. The result would be a flood of untraceable ghost guns into our Nation’s communities, endangering the public and thwarting law-enforcement efforts to solve violent crimes,” the petition reads. “The Court should now grant certiorari and reverse.”

Click here to read the full piece.

Podcast: An Interview With a Gun Voter Unsatisfied With His Options
By Stephen Gutowski

This week, we’re changing pace a little bit.

We tend to interview subject matter experts on whatever the biggest story of the week is. But with the election in full swing, I want to make sure we’re paying attention to that. And I think it’s especially important to take a look at those gun owners who don’t necessarily fit into traditional partisan boxes, especially since that group appears to have grown over the past several years.

That’s why when I saw a short but interesting profile of Ben Beauchemin in a New York Times report during the lead-up to the New Hampshire primary, I thought it would be good to interview him. Luckily, he agreed to come on.

Plus, I give my firsthand report of what it was like inside the NRA’s corruption trial up in New York City this week.

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.

Ammunition on sale at a gun show in Virginia during July 2023
Ammunition on sale at a gun show in Virginia during July 2023 / Stephen Gutowski

Analysis: Federal Judge Strikes Down Ammo Background Checks, Leaves Door Open on Purchase Permits [Member Exclusive]
By Jake Fogleman

A fan-favorite judge among gun-rights advocates knocked out the Golden State’s ammunition background check system on Wednesday. But he also hinted an alternative proposal could pass legal muster.

US District Judge Roger Benitez issued a permanent injunction against California’s criminal background check requirement for ammunition purchases and interstate sales restrictions after finding that they ran afoul of the Constitution’s Second Amendment and dormant Commerce Clause.

“In the end, the State has failed to carry its burden to demonstrate that the ammunition background check laws ‘are consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation,’ as required by Bruen,” he wrote in Rhode v. Bonta. “Therefore, California’s ammunition background check system laws are unconstitutional and shall not be enforced.”

But while Benitez had little doubt about the Constitutional infirmity of a point-of-sale background check system for ammunition, he expressed far more openness to a less burdensome permitting system designed to achieve the same goals.

If you’re a Reload Member, click here to read more. If not, buy a membership today for exclusive access to this piece and hundreds of others!

Outside The Reload

California ammunition background check law can remain in effect, appeals court rules | Reuters | By Nate Raymond

Virginia House passes assault weapons ban | Richmond Times-Dispatch | By Dave Ress

Federal Judge Rejects a Challenge to the Gun-Free School Zones Act | Reason | By Jacob Sullum

Is gun violence really the leading cause of death for children? | The Washington Post | By Glenn Kessler

Mother of Michigan School Shooter Ethan Crumbley Found Guilty of Manslaughter | The Wall Street Journal | By Joe Barrett

First gun control bills of the new session arrive at the Colorado Capitol | Denver Gazette | By Marianne Goodland

Gun bills mostly stalled in Florida Legislature, stymieing both sides | Tallahassee Democrat | By James Call

Washington’s expansive gun-free zones disarm workers caught in the D.C. crime wave | The Washington Times | By Kerry Picket

Excise tax on guns and ammo introduced by Maryland lawmaker | Maryland Matters | By William J. Ford

That’s it for this week in guns.

If you want to hear expert analysis of these stories and more, make sure you grab a Reload membership to get our exclusive analysis newsletter every Sunday!

I’ll see you all next week.

Stephen Gutowski
The Reload

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