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Well, NRA is Screwed Now

Still want to go down with the SS Wayne, NRA Board? The ship is a-seriously listing now mateys. Look at what the judge said! That filing literally accomplished nothing for them, except to give James more ammunition for her dissolution attempt.

It is time for Wayne to go. I deeply regret to my readers that I ever endorsed any of these fucking cult followers who are keeping their leader in power despite all sound judgement. It is pathetic. The sad thing is, many Board members are frankly too foolish to even know what the right thing is. For nearly all of the people I once endorsed, that is not the case. You know better. Yet you are letting him take the ship down. Throw him overboard and put someone competent at the helm before it is too late.

Human Factors in NRA Troubles

Over at NRA in Danger, here and here. Go read. We always knew things were bad, but holy shit were they bad.

The board has a problem that is similar to LaPierre’s. It, too, is overwhelmed. It is a mass of 76 directors, almost none of which (other than a few retired military) have any experience in administering anything, let alone a $350 million corporation. Most are elected based on their skill at activism or in shooting. For most, it is the highest achievement of their life, their greatest boast, and so it is something to be protected at all cost. In its time, Ackerman McQueen pushed the idea that board membership was something like an award, rather than a responsibility. You receive the award, and show up for meetings where the leadership pats itself on the back and you give applause when the speaker pauses.

Yep. A lot of readers used to ask why I didn’t run for the board. What was the point? Those people individually had no power, and their collective power was only theoretical. No thank you. I have a reasonably good paying career and at the time felt I had more sway as a blogger than I would as an NRA board member.

There was also the sense that the culture of the Board would not agree with my nature. I am not impressed by celebrity or interested in hobnobbing with insiders. I did a lot of that as a blogger, but that’s how you understand an organization. I am not interested in it for its own sake. I don’t need the participation trophy, and I was not going to kiss anyone’s ring to get nominated. Though running by petition isn’t a difficult hill to climb, even now.

One thing I do feel bad about is that I got the Indianapolis meeting very wrong, because I didn’t really know what was going on, since by then I had already largely semi-retired from blogging. We haven’t been to an NRA Annual Meeting for some time, and weren’t talking to people who would know.

Club Economics

The economics of a non-profit gun club is different than the economics of a commercial range, and necessarily so. One big issue with the club life is a lack of recognition that there are economics for a gun club. A gun club is just as much a business as a commercial range, and they are subject to the same forces, both in terms of economics and regulation. But their purpose is different. Their missions are different.

Commercial ranges do not necessarily exist to make money as a range. They exist to get eyeballs in the store and walking past the counter, where most of the revenue is generated. This is not a concern for a gun club, typically. A gun club is really just a pool of people who pool their resources to keep and maintain a place to shoot. I would argue that any shooting facility has a responsibility to the shooting community as a whole. The economics of both commercial ranges and non-profit clubs exist within a shooting ecosystem that needs to be alive and healthy for those institutions to maintain themselves.

Clubs need to be very concerned about what kind of membership they are cultivating because they are very dependent or in some cases entirely dependent on volunteer labor. Every club needs a large pool of people who pay their dues, use the facilities a few times a year, and do little else. These are the people that keep the lights on, because they provide needed revenue without taxing the resources much. But clubs also need to be sure they are bringing in serious shooters, because these are the people who will care enough to volunteer, and that is the lifeblood of a gun club.

I hear a lot of people complain about wait lists to get in, sponsorship requirements, etc. I hear you, but this is in large part because the economics of a club do not allow them to charge the market clearing price for dues (clearing price is the price at which supply will equal demand). The higher you make the dues, the more member turnover you’ll have as the lesser users decide their three visits a year just aren’t worth the dues.

Member turnover for a club is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a curse because bringing in new members is a lot of work, and you’re putting all that on volunteers. If a club were a for-profit enterprise, you’d want to set the price at the clearing rate and hire people to handle the turnover. But the club is not a for-profit enterprise, and few clubs can afford staff. Turnover is a blessing because the initiation fees help the bottom line, and it brings in fresh members with fresh energy and perspectives.

But for those who complain about wait lists, my impression of clubs is that most of them are keeping turnover too low.

All clubs, generally speaking, are charging way less than market rates and filtering incoming members for quality in some fashion. There’s a rumor floating around at my club that we’re looking to become an “exclusive” club with few members and sky-high dues. The shooting economics of the area would never support that, and we do our best to quash rumors like that, but to a large degree every club is exclusive. Exclusivity is a necessary feature if you’re charging less than the market clearing price, which nearly every club is doing. Many clubs choose to do exclusivity by sponsorship: you gotta know somebody.

The more experience I get in management of a club, the less I think of sponsorship as a filter. On one hand, I get it: the volunteer pool is usually smaller than the amount of work that needs to be done, so a filter that spreads a task across the whole membership is appealing. But it’s the wrong filter. The prospectives are usually going to be like their sponsors. So if the sponsor is a marginally safe shooter, chances are he or she will miss those same safety issues with the prospective. My club does a qualification program, but it’s biased toward passing people. In other words, it’s not much of a barrier to unsafe shooters. Additionally, if you don’t have enough volunteers now, because you’re replacing casual shooters with more casual shooters, sponsorship ain’t changing that. So waiting lists abound.

Which brings me to another component of club economics: programs. Small clubs tend to be much more dependent on programs for revenue. I run a relatively large club of 1300 members. For us, programs revenue is drop in the bucket. Almost all of our income comes from dues and guest fees. This is probably the same for most every club close to our size.

Running healthy shooting programs is a must though, because much like the commercial range exists to draw in shooters past the gun counter, programs exist to draw serious shooters into the club. Matches and shooting events are a recruiting tool to help bring in people who make shooting a big part of their lives, and thus are more likely to get deeply involved with the volunteer and social life of a club. A club that isn’t running healthy programs is a dying club. One force I’ve had to battle in my own club is the desire to cloister the club off from the outside world, which would slowly kill it. Adam Smith said there was a lot of ruin in a nation, and the same is true for gun clubs, believe me.

A place to shoot is pure gold to our shooting community. Without places to shoot, everything we do is for naught. So they have to be saved, as best we can. I know there are fuddy duddy clubs out there whose current caretakers are determined to let die with them. We can’t save them all. But it’s worth it to spend the time and energy to save what we can, and I hope that by sharing some of what I’ve learned with the larger community, I can help with that in some small way.

More From the Ack-Mac Complaint

I’ve been going through the amended complaint as I have time, and a few things stand out. For one, it seems that there is great effort for pinning all the wrongs in Wayne. It looks to me, reading between the lines, that Wayne got along with Angus McQueen, but maybe didn’t get along so well with his son Revan, who took over the business.

I’m intrigued by this accusation:

LaPierre also structured certain “back-scratching” relationships to siphon money to pet projects that the NRA would otherwise be prohibited from financially supporting. Upon information and belief, the NRA makes improper expenditures to directly support Youth for Tomorrow, by making charitable contributions to a third-party charity that in turn donates the money to Youth for Tomorrow, an organization for which Susan LaPierre acted as President.

But even more by this one:

Brewer’s relationship with Angus was toxic from the outset. . For over 20 years, Brewer has had a strained relationship with Angus and a resentful, disrespectful attitude toward him and other McQueen family members. In fact, his personal history of animosity with the McQueen family, his anti-gun political sentiments, and his parade of prior ethical violations raised numerous eyebrows among NRA officials. Brewer was often disrespectful to the McQueen family, voicing frequent professional criticisms about AMc, slow-paying for the services his law firm received from AMc, and vocalizing his disdain for AMc’s relationship with the NRA due to his own political sentiments against Second Amendment rights. Indeed, Brewer has had 20 years, as a family member and AMc client, gaining key insight into AMc’s business strategy and the personal lives of the McQueen family. In that role, and as a McQueen family member, he apparently saw something that he coveted: the prestigious public-relations work that AMc provided to the NRA.

Keep in mind who the source is here, but if there’s any merit to this accusation at all by AMc, we’re in a lot of trouble. A LOT. Bitter and I have speculated whether Wayne might honestly be losing it. He’s at an age where mental decline is not out of the question.

The Continuing Daytime Soap Opera

John Richardson notes and amended complaint by Ack-Mac in their suit with NRA. What a mess this whole thing is. And John is right. We’ll be the ones paying the price. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my involvement with non-profit management, the following things are priorities, in order:

  1. Keep grifters away from money. Or for smaller organizations, don’t let financially distressed people assume positions of power if you can possibly help it. NRA is big enough, the pot is going to be temping for even a well-to-do grifter. For smaller outfits, you can help things by trying to promote people who have enough money that the smaller outfit’s funds aren’t enticing enough to be worth the trouble.
  2. Be wary of narcissistic assholes. Often they are hard workers and quite talented. But they are never worth the bullshit they are going to bring to the table.
  3. Cultivate a competent management team who will take projects and own them, and who you can count on to do things right. This is probably the hardest part, but it’s superseded by the other two. Don’t accept grifters and narcissists, even though they might help you. Honest hard workers are worth their weight in gold. That goes double if you’re not paying them.
  4. Everybody has an agenda. Know what agenda the people who are close to you really have. Be clear about your goals too.

Which of these things has Wayne and the NRA Board done right? How many violate all three of these “rules?”

This is an Awful Idea

I’m reasonably OK with the NRA reincorporating in Texas, but I think “Certain executives are relocating to Texas, and will use this office space in connection with the NRA establishing a principal place of business in the state” will be a disaster for NRA. It would be a disaster for any organization. Ask Boeing how well having their executives far away from the people who do the work has worked out for them?

NRA has to stay in the DC area. If they are worried about Virginia’s gun laws, look at West Virginia, parts of which are turning into suburbs for long-haul commuters to DC. At least then they won’t be too far from where the worker bees need to be.

I think NRA is looking at Texas because that’s where Wayne wants to be (or maybe at least where Mrs. Wayne wants to be), and instead of just retiring like a normal person in his 70s, he’s going to drag the whole organization along with him.

A Brief History of Wayne

I am not an expert on NRA history, but I’ve read a lot and talked to people who have been around for most of the history of the modern (post 1977) NRA.

Wayne succeeded Warren Cassidy, who I understand cost NRA significant sums in settled sexual harassment lawsuits, and was generally not well liked. Wayne was selected because he was boring, and not the type anyone figured would cause that kind of trouble for The Association. As best I can tell, Wayne is not a womanizer. While there’s accusations flying around about other top NRA folks, I think they made a good choice if they didn’t want a repeat of Cassidy.

However, Wayne was not without controversy, and he pretty immediately saw challenges from hard liners. Many of the accusations leveled against Wayne by that coalition weren’t always wrong. I don’t know too many people who would argue they didn’t have a lot of points. That pretty much set up the struggle in the NRA that would continue through to the early 2000s, between the pragmatic wing of the NRA and the hard liners.

Wayne was basically a policy nerd. He was not a charming figure. So he needed help, which came from Ackerman McQueen. The Wayne LaPierre everyone knows today was largely their creation. It was Ack-Mac who helped Wayne cultivate his public image and establish himself.

I don’t know whether Wayne could have survived all these years if it wasn’t for the widely held view that the alternative was the hard liners. Many NRA folks, myself included, viewed that a hard-line takeover of the NRA would result in the organization’s political irrelevance. You don’t always get a choice between winning and losing. Sometimes the choice is whether you get lube or not.

I don’t think Wayne has ever been an ideal leader, and he’s long past his expiration date. The financial malfeasance seems a lot worse than I realized, and I think many realized. We knew the relationship with Ack-Mac had become toxic. But I think everyone figured Wayne would retire and Chris Cox would move into the EVP role, and there would be some needed change. That’s not what happened, and NRA is now in heap big trouble.

The one thing I’d warn our opponents of is that NRA’s members haven’t disappeared. We are still out here and paying attention, and figuring out how to organize around this mess, and around the networks of censorship now established via unfriendly tech monopolies. NRA’s political power didn’t come from Wayne, or the NRA Board. It came from us, and you still have to get past us.

More on NRA’s Bankruptcy

John Richardson has the details. I no longer have the time to get as far into the weeds as John is going, so he’s been a great resource in all this. Additionally, my contacts in the NRA were all pushed out during Wayne’s purge of Chris Cox and his circle. So I have no real insight as to what’s going on anymore.

I don’t know who the “good guys” are, or if there even are any in this awful mess. I don’t write much about it because to be honest, it all makes me sick to my stomach.

John notes:

I have always held that this bankruptcy filing was a gamble. Wayne and Brewer are too clever by half and I think the result will not be to their liking.

I think they had a choice between awful and even more awful, from their perspective, so they chose awful. I’m not sure Wayne, or NRA, is getting out of this easy.

Wayne’s been past his shelf life for some time, and in my opinion out of his league. It’s always seemed to me that he needed someone to tell him what to do, and that went from being Angus McQueen to to Bill Brewer.

I keep going back to this: they knew exactly where to hit us.

Coverage of NRA’s Bankruptcy

John Richardson has excellent coverage, starting here with the opinion of an expert in bankruptcy law. Head over to John’s site and keep scrolling.

I’m starting to wonder if the only goal of Brewer’s law firm is just to keep adding more and more complexity to NRA’s lawsuits so as to extract more and more fees. Because I haven’t been able to see the sense in this strategy. I am not an expert, by any means, in bankruptcy law. In fact, I know next to nothing about it. But given we now have an opinion from someone who does, I’m now really wondering what Brewer’s strategy is here. Maybe it’s a Hail Mary. Who knows. But either way, I think things are a lot worse than we’ve been lead to believe.

I’m actually wondering if we might see a split in the NRA… NRA North and NRA South? With NRA North being the pieces of the original NRA that have been picked up by others, and NRA South being Wayne and Bill, Inc?

I am fairly certain Tish James isn’t just going to let NRA transfer everything to Texas without a flight, and it’s hard for me to see how this is going to improve NRA’s position, let alone give them trump card over James.

These are definitely the crazy years.

NRA Files for Chapter 11

And it’s moving the corporate entity to Texas. Any bets on how much of Wayne’s mistakes get buried in that bankruptcy? Any bets on whether there’s new bylaws that will, de jure, end NRA as a member controlled organization? (I recognize that, de facto, membership control has been tenuous for some time). Will NRA move to Texas? We know Wayne has wanted to.

Leticia James will actually have a say in the dissolution of a New York non-profit. So I’m sure she has a next move, and I doubt this is over.

Finally, I will say this: my club has a provision requiring members to belong to the NRA. I am no fan of Bill and Wayne’s NRA, but I haven’t been willing to move on that issue, because if there was a power struggle, I wanted to be able to throw our weight behind the not-Wayne faction. It’s also a massive PITA to get bylaw changes done.

But if the door closes on members having the ultimate say, if it becomes just another group run by grifters who’s sole purpose is perpetuating the graft, if there’s no hope for a different NRA beyond Wayne and whoever he chooses to be his successor, that changes the calculus. Right the ship. My patience is not infinite.

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