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Why Did NRA Cancel?

This post is pure speculation without any special insight or feedback from sources. Take what you want from it, but I have a few opinions and thoughts on possible reasons given that there was no mandate to cancel like there was last year. I’d love to turn comments on for this post to allow for discussion, but I think readers know why we can’t have nice things anymore thanks to trolling.

Was it for the money?

The Reload continues to fall back on the fact that the full convention is NRA’s largest single fundraiser in pretty much every post Stephen has written about the topic. As Jim Shepherd noted in The Outdoor Wire, NRA wasn’t going to give refunds to companies that pulled out of exhibiting. They would get to keep that money if they had a hall and a vendor just didn’t show up. In theory, the money made from exhibitors should have covered the costs of running the exhibit hall and then some.

However, with building news about the number of withdrawn vendors, it’s possible that the costs of the other events would surpass what they would expect to make from a crowd that was already predicted to be less than half of normal. I was seeing 35,000 as a predicted attendance batted around the interwebz, and that assumed full exhibit hall, no restrictions, and a full weekend of activities. If word of mouth about reduced exhibitors managed to knock another 10,000 off of that prediction, I don’t know enough about their financial obligations & forecasting to know if that would drive it into the territory of losing money or not.

Was it for the optics?

As I found in some old documents I forgot I grabbed earlier this year and those that started getting archived as rumblings began, the number of vendors who were suddenly missing from Monday morning’s exhibitor maps & lists (that were deleted as word spread) was more than what Gutowski was able to find or even The Daily Beast mentioned. We’re not talking the kind of outfits who pick up the 10×10 booths only when the meeting is nearby, but names any casual gun owner would expect to see there. (Kudos to Bearing Arms for finding more vendors who were removed from the exhibitor list before the notice that the whole thing was off.)

I snagged a partial image of the last public exhibitor map with the empty booths, and in my opinion, it would have been impossible to conceal the empty space unless you had a massive team working 24/7 to sell it to another vendor, rearrange booths from the edges, and give freebie spaces to people just to make it look less empty. Even then, I don’t know how feasible that would be since presumably exhibit hall guides were likely completed and on their way to being printed if not already printed and vendors likely designed advertisements around their previously assigned booth numbers. (Smith & Wesson was advertising their booth number on social media.) This may not have been possible to get vendors on board with moving around or for them to tolerate excessively cheap discounts given to new vendors in the desperation to fill space. It could creative a narrative that it’s bad to do business with NRA if they screw over those who committed and paid early only for them to practically give away booths to those who wouldn’t commit.

The Board & Wayne LaPierre are desperate to look like NRA members stand by them, so visibly empty halls with far fewer attendees in already wide aisles would make for press photos they may believe they can’t afford.

Add to this that the ILA Leadership Forum, at least anytime I checked the pages, never had more than the big Texas politicians (Abbott, Cruz, Cornyn, and Crenshaw) along with Mark Robinson from North Carolina listed. It appeared that they couldn’t get commitments from big national names to attend which would have, again, signaled a loss of influence and interest that NRA can’t really afford to be a story.

I’m sure that NRA had additional insights into these risks by the number of advance ticket sales to ticketed events. There’s never any report on how those do, so there’s no way to verify if they were anywhere close to hitting any breakeven point. Whatever costs for cancellation are, those are likely private so there’s no way to know how much they’ll have to pay out in broken contracts plus refunded tickets.

They also likely had data from cancelled hotel rooms. I noticed that over the weekend, their official housing partner was still advertising reasonable rates for rooms in the Hilton right across the street from the convention center where several of the events were going to be taking place. Even Jim’s sources who wanted to remain anonymous mentioned they already cancelled hotel rooms. Even as some vendors just weren’t going to tell NRA that they weren’t coming, they would have had data from those partners that exhibitors were backing out. The people seeing those now empty rooms at their hotels are locals who likely know people who were planning to attend, and they’d be able to report about how many vacancies they were seeing now which might convince some people who were interested that it wouldn’t be worthwhile.

Potential Loss of Power

There’s very little that members can actually do at the member meeting since the initial big Board revolt was wise enough to put in safeguards making it nearly impossible to recreate their work. However, NRA knows there would be a huge press interest in their meeting of members due to the drama of their last meeting in 2019. Yes, they technically met in 2020, but there was basically no press coverage of it. The sh*tshow that has become NRA internal politics now would attract press attention no matter what. That means that any challenge at all would be highly covered and scrutinized by people they generally don’t want scrutinizing their business.

However, the biggest issue is that even though there are reports that Wayne uses NRA funds to fly out supporters to stack votes for his preferred candidate, those people may not be enough to outweigh those willing to show up calling for change.

The last time that NRA had to partially cancel a convention – the Denver event slated to take place right after Columbine happened – members turned up in solidarity for the meeting to the issue and not blaming law-abiding gun owners for the criminal actions of sociopaths. The government was trying to issue demands for NRA to cancel their meeting, despite not having any authority to make those calls. The only major event that year was the membership meeting in the mood to stand by their organization.

But 2021 is not 1999.

Wayne has pissed off regulators and many casual members, not to mention the building influence of the people he has always pissed off. The populism he stoked isn’t so forgiving of the report (however meaningless it was then & discredited it may be now) that he used membership dollars rather than his own money to buy fancy suits. Even those generally more forgiving of such reports are getting tired of the fact that the perception is he’s leading NRA into fights it doesn’t need to have.

The current leadership relies on casual members who they can more easily influence to outvote the members they view as “troublemakers” in the meeting to shut down business. But casual members come for the exhibit hall and the other activities and view the member meeting as a sideline event they attend for novelty and some cheerleading speeches. It would be a substantial risk that any of them would turn out for some solidarity with Wayne & the current Board for cancellation of the “fun” events over a virus they are getting tired of hearing about.

Combine that with the news that they were not planning to hold an election for the 76th Board of Directors seat even though there were likely a reasonable number of write-in votes for two candidates that they don’t report numbers on…there’s definitely a door open for what the current leadership may consider “trouble” of members asserting they have certain rights.

Ultimately…

It’s likely a combination of all three elements – worry about the optics of support & popularity that could come out of a member meeting that mostly “troublemakers” may attend, the actual optics of a massive convention hall with obviously empty booths, and the reduced membership who would attend and give to an event like that. They wouldn’t want to risk member backlash at a meeting without the promise of member cash to raise desperately needed funds.

NRA Meeting Off

While I was driving, word came out that the NRA Annual Meeting & Exhibits are fully cancelled.

It probably saves them embarrassment since I just found in my files I forgot I had from earlier in the year a better showing of just how many exhibitors attendees would typically expect were refusing to attend.

Interestingly, you would only know this if you’re part of the online gun community because NRA’s Annual Meeting website hasn’t been flipped over to announce the news yet.

I’m going to take a guess that they did some calculations that made them realize they’ll lose more money having the event than if they cancel now, even without the protection of any force majeure clauses related to government closures.

I am curious about the annual meeting of members, though. There was always chatter that Denver had to happen after Columbine because of New York laws. And when they did have the protection of force majeure at work on last year’s annual meeting, they still opted to plan another one.

What bothers me is that I can’t help but wonder if this is also in part due to potential of unfilled board seats since they literally ran out of people willing to be on the board combined with the fact that they now get to use the excuse to play around the dates petition candidates have to get on the ballot. Maybe I’m too cynical in my opinion there, but it’s not like there isn’t reason to be these days.

NRA Exhibits – Down by 1.4 Acres So Far

The surge in COVID cases and concerns on getting sick while traveling are causing exhibitors to pull out.

The Daily Beast reported earlier that several big industry names were already planning to skip the NRA Annual Meeting, despite NRA still advertising at the time that they would be present.

I mentioned to several folks at the time that if report was accurate (which I had some information that indicated it likely was to at least some degree – I didn’t have company names), that would equal .9 acres of suddenly empty spaces in the exhibit hall based on the map NRA was promoting.

Since The Daily Beast report, the NRA has now removed the attendee-focused maps and exhibitor lists. And, based on the map available through other access, you can see how many massive booths are now slated to be completely empty. The featured image on this post is a screenshot from the middle section of the interactive map. All blue booths are now available for use.

The new total of planned empty space is just a smidge under 1.4 acres because some makers have pulled out who weren’t in the initial report, in addition to many small vendors based on the suddenly empty spaces.

I had a long post that I trashed on NRA’s avoidance of talking about COVID. I opted not to publish because people are just getting stupid angry about it right now and I didn’t see it getting any better with the official approval of a vaccine today. However, as someone who has planned way too many events during this time, the worst possible thing you can do and the biggest drama is caused by not talking about it. Even if you make clear that you expect people will make the best decisions for themselves and their family, ignoring it does not make the situation go away. I have found that even more cautious and anxious people feel better just knowing what the expectations are so they can make the decisions that fit with their widely varying risk tolerance.

I hope that people going are going more for the politics of NRA internal issues than industry previews since NRA is trying to hard to hide how many members of the industry are pulling out. People hoping to see everything that NRA has traditionally advertised will be deeply disappointed and may not realize that it may no longer be worth their time.

UPDATE: NRA staff found the one version of the exhibitor map that was left open to the public (though it took quite a bit of clicking to find it) and have now removed it so that attendees can no longer see how many major exhibitors are pulling out of the event.

The Year Without Petition Candidates

I had to submit a new request for NRA bylaws because I realized two major issues:

  1. I can’t figure out exactly who will be on the board (assuming write-in candidates don’t win) after this election. So I went to check my copy of the bylaws of the NRA.
  2. In checking the bylaws, I realized that the Board can unilaterally change how certain board members are elected and appointed without any notice to the membership.

What? That seems…problematic given the history that’s been well on display in their current legal fiascos.

I’ll be honest, I don’t realize how I never noticed it. Though, unless you’re on a bylaws committee charged with reviewing every little detail and seeing how it all works together, it’s easy to miss because it’s only something disclosed via font & format, not by direct statement. I do realize that they cleaned this section up in the bylaws provisions I did support, but the provision was there long before 2017 and did not change in any meaningful way. Supporting the bylaw amendments in 2017 didn’t change that they’ve been able to do this for a while.

So, a most recently passed bylaws copy has been requested and should be on its way – assuming Kathy the chat bot monitor actually did what was requested. Given how much I had to support “her” in the request after so long waiting for any response at all, I’m not overwhelmingly confident.

It would be interesting if they are trying to put up roadblocks to sending members documents they are entitled to receive because when I used the Membership Services links to request the report of the Committee on Elections, they spent a couple of weeks sending my requests through unrelated divisions.

Given the number of problems I’ve witnessed with departments at NRA in collapse, there’s just as much chance it’s incompetence as malice. But, given what I’m asking for directly relates to information needed to challenge the powers that made this bed, the latter can’t be taken off of the table. Neither answer is good for the state of the association.

But back to the Board – who will even be on the board next month? That’s what I wanted to know.

To figure that out, we have to try and figure out who is on the board today – which isn’t the same list published in the most recent official journal.

Why isn’t the most accurate list of Board members much help? You might think it’s because of the significant number of resignations, and that’s part of it. But it’s also because people who have been appointed to fill certain seats are only allowed to serve until Annual Meeting weekend. For all of the recent NRA board resignations that happened after ballots were printed (and more rumored possible forthcoming resignations), they will require another appointment until the next election cycle.

However, the bylaws the Directors cannot change without the members say they can only pull from the most recent election’s losers. That’s a problem for the NRA board and how little they actually thought about the situation they were facing.

See, they have 0 petition candidates and the Nominating Committee’s infinite wisdom only selected 30 candidates for what they assumed would be 25 seats. I’m sure they patted themselves on the back super proud of not needing more candidates since they didn’t need to beat down petition candidates this time. (They didn’t give those candidates enough time to collect petitions, even though the election timeline they used to cut that off wasn’t ever realistic – I have my doubts it was done in good faith. I don’t assume most things done by the board are done in good faith after some recent discussions.)

Now if they have 30 candidates for 25 seats, what’s the problem? Math and corruption are their problems.

(more…)

Remington Settlement

I have to respond to this, because setting folks straight was my schtick for a while.

Please note that Remington, as a company, filed for bankruptcy. The Remington that’s left is just a brand that’s been sold to other companies, namely the firearms business to The Roundhill Group, and the Ammo Business to Vista Outdoors. Neither of these owners has anything to do with the settlement, or the bankruptcy estate, who is making the settlement offer. The Bankruptcy Estate is basically the dead shell of Remington, and is pretty much now controlled by lawyers. So don’t blame Roundhill or Vista, or anything else Remington if you’re unhappy with the settlement. The Remington that was being sued, and the Remington offering the settlement, is dead Remington, which doesn’t have anything to do with the companies that bought up the various assets in the bankruptcy.

So Long, Ted Nugent

Ted Nugent has resigned from the NRA Board to be national spokesperson for Hunter Nation. God help them. If only this wasn’t because all the rats are leaving the sinking ship.

Wayne LaPierre a Bigger Risk Than Fire and Brimstone

According to The Reload, Lloyd’s of London is dropping all coverage for the NRA’s Board of Directors through their officers and directors insurance plan. As Phillip Journey, NRA Board Member, told the outlet, “I mean, if Lloyd’s won’t insure you, who the hell will?”

Well, here’s another way to look at it: What does Lloyd’s of London consider less risky than the leadership of Wayne LaPierre, Carolyn Meadows, Charles Cotton, and Willes Lee based on the fact that they will offer policies to these alternative risks?

Pele, the Volcano Goddess of Hawaiian mythical culture.

That’s right, Lloyd’s was willing to sell insurance to the residents of Leilani Estates who lived on top of an active volcano with a habit of making the earth open up and spew red hot lava at people and property. The decisions by the current NRA leadership are more risky than your front lawn turning into the fire above every few decades.

Intelsat 1 – A 1965 Satellite

The work to even get something ready to launch in 1965 was a massive risk. Not that it’s risk free today, but there are decidedly fewer exploding videos of space-related matter these days compared to those years. Yet Lloyd’s thought, yes, this is a risk we will insure! The current NRA leadership? Nope, too risky!

But to NRA, this is all just fine. They’ve just set aside just $5 million to cover all 76 directors. That doesn’t seem like nearly enough to me, but that’s just my opinion. People willing to speak off of the record to The Reload admit there isn’t much hope in finding coverage so this is likely the only solution moving forward.

Corrupting Influence of Paying Board Members

NRA’s bylaws do not permit Board members to be paid, but that’s been ignored outright, or done via state associations: NRA makes a grant to a state association, which conveniently pays the board member. A lot of folks are surprised by how compliant the NRA Board has been, but I suspect in many cases that’s being accomplished with the threat that those Board members may be required by the NY courts to pay some or all of that money back. Imaging if you had to pay, say, ten years of back salary? It would financially ruin most people. You’d probably be willing to listen to someone who came along telling you they could help you avoid that eventuality.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years is never to underestimate people’s ability to live in their own reality if the actual reality is too threatening for them. It’s human nature. But human nature is why we have institutional controls to prevent this kind of situation.

I’m a big fan in non-profit of a strict “no compensation for board members” rule. Board members should only be reimbursed for reasonable expenses associated with their service to the corporation. Not too long ago, my club implemented such a rule via board policy, and we did have a director with a landscaping contract. He did a good job. Our new outside contractor is slightly more expensive. I hated to vote in favor of ending that. But it had to be done. At some point, we need to get that in the bylaws so it can’t easily be undone by a future board.

You create systems that are resistant to corruption, so clued-in members have certain processes and procedures they are accustomed to which make graft more difficult. If a future board starts dismantling those systems, it should raise a red flag.

NRA Ballots: What To Do

I fully endorse John Richardson’s ballot. Vote for Owen Buz Mills, and that’s it. Write in Frank C. Tait, Wayne, PA, and R.B. Rocky Marshall Jr, Boerne, TX. The rest of them need to come to their senses and show Wayne and Bill the door, and start reestablishing trust and competence in the Association.

What the LTC Data Can Tell Us

I just wrote about the trends in my own county’s license to carry a firearm issuance and noted that year-over-year, the numbers were up more than 65%. So you’d think that I’d be cheering this piece at The Reload for covering the statewide numbers and looking at how Philadelphia County was out of whack with the rest.

But I’m not.

Why? Because while I did look at year-over-year data in my post, it was presented with very important contextual information – like the closure of offices, shifting demand, and where we stood compared to 5 years ago which matters for looking at trends. Now that still isn’t the entire picture, but it puts the 65% increase into an important context that takes into account those with expiring licenses from 5 years earlier. (If everyone renewed exactly when they needed to do so, that is responsible for 42% of the issuances in 2020.) And the introduction of an online application may have shifted more early 2021 renewals into 2020 – all data we won’t be able to see in trends until next spring.

Are license issuances up? Without question. The questions are on how much.

And here’s why The Reload’s piece leaving out information about the shifts in demand bothers me. Because how you present data can change the picture of things quite a bit.

Take the graph below. In red, I used Stephen Gutowski’s model of strictly looking at year-over-year data to plot change in demand on my county since 2004. (I have my county’s historical numbers saved for easy calculations, but not the statewide data.) According to his method, our county’s issuance rates have gone on a wild ride of a low of -26.1% decline (2014) to the high of 65.1% growth (2020) with repeated declines in 2019, 2017, 2014, 2010, 2008, and 2004.

But that steadier blue line? That’s the rate of change on issuances for rolling 5 year periods – the period that licenses are valid in Pennsylvania. That shows a much steadier rate of change from a low of -4.8% (2004) to a high of 16.8% (2013) with small declines only in 2018, 2006, and 2004.

And, if you want raw numbers, here are the rates of currently valid licenses for the same county over the same period (total of previous 5 years of issued licenses). This trend line looks very different than the rates of change in issuance…

Why does this look so different than even my tamer rolling 5 year numbers above? Because of the way it accounts for surge years. The end of 2012 and 2013 were incredibly high due to the political fallout and threats following Sandy Hook in late 2012, so we saw a license issuance drop in 2014 because all of those new licenses issued 1-2 years prior were still valid. That doesn’t mean that all of those newly licensed people disappeared. They should be part of the numbers through at least 2018 when those 2013 LTCs expired. (We did actually see a very small drop between 2017 and 2018 – not all of those people who got their licenses opted to renew them, clearly.)

So while year-over-year data has a place in analysis of where we stand with the right to bear arms movement and possible sympathetic voters in Pennsylvania, it’s not the whole picture and no one should get too excited by extreme swings up because they are usually followed by slight drops later on.

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