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.
“As a result of the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, NRA has experienced disruptions to daily operations. Economic uncertainties have arisen which are likely to negatively impact revenues. COVID-19 forced cancellation of all competition events, 2020 and 2021 Annual Meetings of members, 2021 [Great American Outdoor Show], and reduction in the number of fundraising banquets held by the Foundation’s Friends of NRA program. Other financial impacts could occur, though such potential impact is unknown at this time.”
The NRA told The Reload its nation-leading training programs were hindered by covid restrictions. But it said they remained active and are poised to increase as restrictions are removed.
“We also held many competitions, sponsored charitable programs, and advanced plans for more firearms training classes as states open up and lift restrictions,” it said.
However, previous years’ consolidated financial reports from the group obtained by The Reload show declines in spending on safety, education, and training every year since at least 2017. In 2018, the group spent $32.7 million on its safety and training programs, down from $42.6 million in 2017. Overall from 2017 to 2020, spending on safety, education, and training per year by the NRA and its affiliates has declined by 62 percent.
Those cuts to spending on safety and training have coincided with a massive rise in administrative legal spending by the NRA. Since 2017, the group’s spending on administrative legal costs per year have increased by 900 percent as of 2020, likely due to the group’s ongoing legal battle against a New York corruption suit that seeks to dissolve the organization.
The cuts also happened dispite the NRA Foundation, which supports the group’s training operations, retaining nearly $120 million in net assets. Though, that number had fallen by about $10 million from 2019.
The group argued it hadn’t “lost a beat.” And it pointed to a number of recent successes in its safety and training operations. It said it added three new programs to its online hunter education program, bringing the total up to 13, and its online Refuse to Be a Victim course has already certified 239 new instructors in 2021. It also said its Hunters for the Hungry program has grown.
“The Hunters for the Hungry program currently has 51 member affiliates,” the group said. “In cooperation with the Hunters’ Leadership Forum, Hunters for the Hungry launched a subsidy program, making $50,000 available to wild game processors. To date, the program has approved 15 subsidy requests, totaling $22,000, that will help process over 90,000 pounds of donated meat to provide meals to over 1 million individuals and their families.”
The NRA also said its safety and training programs are poised to increase in the coming months. Its law enforcement firearm instructor development schools are booked through next year and training materials are up.
“NRA training and material sales remain on a record pace compared to the last year. We also recently relaunched the NRA FIRST Steps Pistol Orientation program with updated branding and refreshed course materials,” the group said. “To meet the needs of our instructors, we also launched the NRA Training Forum – a venue for Instructors, Counselors, and Coaches to freely discuss and share information about firearms training.”
The NRA has historically been prolific in its efforts to create gun safety and training programs. It was originally founded as a marksmanship organization and was an early champion and promoter of shooting sports and hunting among the American populace. In recent years, it’s built out the largest firearm instructor certification and gun training program in the country.
“In civilian training, the NRA continues to be the leader in firearms education,” the group’s website says. “Over 125,000 certified instructors now train about 1,000,000 gun owners a year. Courses are available in basic rifle, pistol, shotgun, muzzleloading firearms, personal protection, even ammunition reloading. Additionally, nearly 7,000 certified coaches are specially trained to work with young competitive shooters.”
The group also famously created a campaign, featuring the mascot Eddie Eagle, to help promote safe practices for parents and young children when they encounter firearms.
“Since the establishment of the lifesaving Eddie Eagle GunSafe® Program in 1988, more than 28 million pre-kindergarten to fourth grade children have learned that if they see a firearm in an unsupervised situation, they should ‘STOP. DON’T TOUCH. RUN AWAY. TELL A GROWNUP,'” the group’s website says.
But the group’s investment into its safety and training programs faces an uncertain future. After a failed bankruptcy gambit, the group is likely out of options for avoiding a legal battle with New York Attorney General Letitia James (D.). The lawsuit could result in a significant restructuring of the organization, and possibly even its dissolution. Either way, the group’s rise in legal spending is likely to continue, potentially at the continued expense of its safety and training services.
Stephen Gutowski contributed to this report.