Gun Groups & Secret Societies

NRA created a new policy this weekend that no member is allowed to take photos in their membership meetings.

No selfies that tell friends and family, “I’m actively part of a gun rights organization!”

No opportunity to share that they are part of the 5 million some number strong for the Second Amendment.

No grassroots-led effort to say, “this is us, this wonderfully diverse crowd with people age 1 to 101.”

No photo reports from the membership about great awards such as oldest and youngest life members in attendance.

All ended in favor of becoming a secret society where active participation and documentation are shunned.

Why? So that Wayne LaPierre won’t have to see anymore embarrassing videos released anymore of members who disagree with him.

I suspect this means there’s zero chance of live streamed coverage again, despite that being a staple of previous meetings to encourage more engagement among members from all walks of life who couldn’t make the trek out to member meetings. They certainly have gone without it for 2 years despite the fact that every other group I’ve ever been part of has used this time to expand what they live stream to members.

Granted, there’s also the PR angle that NRA likely doesn’t want it well documented how empty their meetings are – which wouldn’t be the case if they weren’t actively trying to restrict access. And, from a PR angle, it does also keep out photos that show just how little demographic (age, race, gender) there really is at NRA events I’ve attended, despite far more diversity in the shooting sports and the larger gun community.

But keeping out those who would be supporters and want to be visible supporters doesn’t help the cause, it doesn’t help membership, and it doesn’t help the organization.

They can’t tell people they should brand themselves, “I’m the NRA” and then turn around and tell people to keep everything a secret.

People can’t share their excitement about news released in the Board meetings anymore because they seize phones. Once upon a time, Sebastian & I were the only ones to report on attendance in any way that got attention, and we did so from phones inside the meeting. Then they said no phones. And the reports were…rather creatively done. Sometimes with the help of someone who was allowed to have a phone and frequently with one of us outside of the room while the other wrote down the numbers and wildly flapped an arm out the door to get it posted.

If anything, this type of secrecy about even the basics of being a member of an association like NRA makes me want to end mandatory NRA membership at local gun clubs. One of the biggest issues we battle on the ground with new gun owners is that the younger ones view everything as a transaction. We are now teaching in our orientation some basic concepts of civil society and how one participates in the kinds of groups – like gun clubs – that make up our community social structure.

NRA trying to sell themselves as strictly an organization average people buy a card to say, “I’m in the club,” while simultaneously trying to keep people from actually participating as individual members is not helping that education. There are plenty of other groups that gun owners can turn to for those types of transactions. If NRA doesn’t want to be different and special, then why should anyone bother? Clearly, based on their ridiculous decline in participation in the association’s business, it seems that many of their own voting members are also saying it’s not really worthwhile to truly be a member.

Lowest NRA Participation

We’ve reached a record low in NRA member participation since I started keeping stats from one of the early NRA meetings I attended back in 2006.

There haven’t been this few voters since 2011, even though they reportedly sent a record high number of ballots in 2021.

It would seem that people are checking out and tuning out of NRA as a group worth participating in, even if they technically pay the dues. Why pay the dues if they are checked out of the group? Probably for most of the reason I know most members locally – some gun ranges mandate membership. Or people just think it’s something they should do even if they don’t really follow what NRA is up to.

The big question is whether these signs that their own members are tuning NRA out indicate they will tune them out for midterm elections and other key action items. I’ll be honest, I’ve never tracked NRA election participation to success on initiatives outside of internal politics, so that would be interesting.

Consider this – more voting members were interested in bylaws & Grover Norquist than in this year’s candidates.

In an average year since 2006, 6.2% of voting members care enough to vote. This year, that’s 3.8%. In an average year, 117,062 voting members care enough to cast ballots. This year, only 97,899 did. In an average year, the top vote getter pulls – on average – 92,519 votes. This year, the top vote getter pulled in fewer votes than the “first loser” did several years.

The percent of ballots that had the top winner and last winner on them was lower this year than past, so that also indicates a diversity of voting interests, or more bullet voting.

The only sitting member most reformers bullet voted for on the main cast of characters was Buz Mills, and he came in 6th. I’m not in a position to pull my past election reports to see how that compares to his past performances. Not that it matters since he resigned anyway.

Which…by the way…despite the public resignation, NRA didn’t actually declare him resigned from the board and therefore didn’t have to fill his seat before this board meeting. Odd.

UPDATE: NRA In Danger has a report from on the ground that said this was basically the worst attended meeting even in light of tighter COVID restrictions last year. They also managed to find the local newspaper that NRA was using for their official notice, but that notice did not run in time. The first notice they found from early September was for the Houston meeting, not the one they just had. And based on the publication schedule, they would have had just enough time to run it for 3 issues if the next two issues that should have already been released had it.

How these leaders keep claiming success when there are record numbers of gun owners and yet membership is dropping and participation in the longer term members is in free fall…I just don’t understand.

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.


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.

Continue reading “The Year Without Petition Candidates”

NRA Election Participation

Once again, I’ve got the data on member participation in NRA elections. Unlike attendance, these stats aren’t record breaking – not the lowest, not the highest. Just about average.

In terms of total votes cast, 5.67% of eligible voters who received ballots returned them. That’s on par with previous years, as you can see in the chart. The lowest vote participation I’ve ever documented in 2006 was 5.12%, and the highest was the 2016 regular board election at 7.76%.

Of course, there’s also the context to consider of how many ballots went out. As we add more voting members to NRA’s member roster, it becomes harder for any one board member to reach individual voters who may feel inspired to vote after meeting with them or learning more about them. This is the record number of ballots mailed based on my data – 199,245 more than last year. That means more life members and members who have stuck with the organization for at least 5 consecutive years.

Of course, these charts just look at ballots returned. Of the ballots mailed back, 3.98% were invalid for a variety of reasons. This is up a bit from the last few years, but down substantially from 2013. Unfortunately, they stopped separating out my favorite invalid statistic – ballots from previous years. Who has these and remembers to send them in during the exact voting period the next year?? Last year, it was 24 people.

At first glance, I thought that people may be voting for fewer than 25 candidates, as the top vote getter this year (Ronnie Barrett) was only on 71.7% of valid ballots. That’s the lowest percentage I’ve recorded. The previous low was 2015 at 76.52%, so the same cycle of candidates. Most of the other lows I’ve recorded have also been during this same cycle of 3 year terms, so I think it’s just the lack of a really huge celebrity that spreads out votes more. (That’s not a bad thing!)

For the “last winner,” the lowest vote getter to still get a seat on the board, there were some interesting observations. The last winner was on just over half of the ballots – 54.46%. That’s not the lowest percentage I’ve seen, but the 2nd lowest and definitely close. What is more interesting is that those who did not win seats were much farther behind the pack than I’ve ever documented before. In my years of data, the top person who still lost is usually just under 1,000 votes away from the person above. This year, that gap was huge at a difference of more than 3,000 votes. So those who didn’t make it on the board this year were much farther behind as a group than they have been in at least a decade.

NRA Meeting Attendance – 2018

Attack gun rights, inspire more people to fight for gun rights. This is an equation you think that gun control supporters would have figured out. Once again, we see this play out in the NRA Annual Meeting numbers with a new record-setting attendance.

A total of 87,154 members attended the NRA convention in Dallas this year.

From the time I started attending in 2004, the event has grown by just over 42% in terms of attendance. It was about 7% larger than Atlanta for members who came out.

Russians! Everywhere!

You’re not going to believe this, but there are RUSSIANS exhibiting on the NRA floor. Hawking ammunition, those RUSSIANS are. Shifty bastards …

Tul Ammo is exhibiting on the exhibit floor at NRA’s Dallas Annual Meeting! Anything to keep the NRA/Russia narrative alive, I guess. But this is stretching. Yes, Russian Ammo manufacturers US distributors will exhibit where they can find shooters. Stunning, I know.

Whether an individual shooter feels OK about funding Tsar Vladimir’s military adventures I’ll leave up to individual shooters and the State Department, which even ABC has to admit has not slapped any sanctions on Tul.

I’ve seen other stories talking about how Torshin and his assistant have been seen at high-end events:

The pair has popped up at the Golden Ring of Freedom Dinner, an exclusive event for donors who have given $1 million or more, and hospitality suites for lifetime members. Butina has also attended the women’s luncheon hosted by the wife of Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s executive vice president. Tickets start at $250 a head, according to sources familiar with the event.

You don’t necessarily have to donate a million or more to the NRA to get into these events. I’ve been to high-dollar events just through contacts who could get me in, and I’ve never donated anywhere close to that kind of money. I am not a big money donor to the NRA. To be a big money donor to the NRA requires having big money in the first place, which I don’t.

I suspect that NRA was interested in cultivating that relationship based on the fact that NRA and the Putin Administration have something in common: opposition to the UN Arms Trade Treaty. That was a significant issue when they started attending. It would not shock me if that was the common interest that made that relationship useful to both sides. I should note that this is rank speculation on my part. I have no direct information one way or another, because it’s not like people were running around screaming “The Russians are here! The Russians are here!” or were even talking about it. NRA has a handful of foreign attendees every Annual Meeting, and it’s not unusual.

We Go Through This Every Friggin’ Year

For the dozenth time already… NRA does not ban guns at its convention.

NRA bans guns at it’s convention, they say. For crying out loud, even Snopes, who often gets gun issues wrong or fails to grasp some nuance, has called this as the bullshit it was as far back as the Nashville convention. I don’t know if the Parkland kids are aware of this, because to be honest, they seem pretty ignorant, and the people handling them are unabashed liars when it comes to this kind of thing.

But for the benefit of those kids who probably don’t know better: The President and Vice President travel with heavy contingent of armed security. Their armed security, in the form of the Secret Service, insist on creating a security perimeter around the people under their protection. Within this perimeter, the Secret Service are the only people permitted to possess weapons. This is not NRA’s doing: when the President or Vice President come to speak to us, this is part of the deal. The Secret Service will insist on it. You can carry everywhere at the NRA Annual Meetings except where the Secret Service, State Law, or venue rules disallow it. I won’t attend events in venues that ban guns where the security is bullshit. Secret Service security isn’t bullshit. Is it perfect? No. But it’s reasonable given technological and sociological constraints.

Sadly, I can’t be at NRA Annual Meeting this year. But I have been in this security perimeter in past conventions. Since by default, they also protect me, I am somewhat OK with putting my personal security in the hands of the Secret Service when I have attended these kinds of events. I have noticed agents with bulges in their jackets that would indicate they are probably carrying a submachine gun. I can’t typically carry that kind of hardware, so I feel relatively sure these folks are capable of acting in my stead should the balloon go up in the vicinity. Also, everyone who enters the perimeter is screened. The venue is screened. Everything is screened. They meet two of my three S’s necessary for a hypothetical temporary constitutional disarm.

I don’t travel within a security perimeter everywhere I go, in ordinary life. Almost none of us who aren’t Important People do. Security is a luxury good. The richer and more powerful you are, the more of it you can afford.

Most of us live in the realm of no security, or security theater. There is a difference between this and real security. Mike Bloomberg might be able to afford armed security, and is probably even providing it for the Parkland Kids, but I and most other people I know can’t afford that kind of thing. Most security you see on a day to day basis is total bullshit and might as well not exist. I’ve been in situations where “security” went through Bitter’s purse, but missed the guy that was with her that walked in with a loaded gun. I don’t apologize. Your security is bullshit if that’s what the policy is. In fact, I’ve gotten so used to that bit of security theater I hardly sweat it when I realize that’s the situation. If you want to exclude weapons you need to work harder, because none of that is going to stop someone intent on hurting people. You know that. I know that. It might make people who don’t think feel better about the situation, but that doesn’t change it: your security is bullshit.

Thinking back, the last venue I can remember that banned guns was Charlotte, and NRA hasn’t been back there since. That was State Law at the time, and since then North Carolina has improved a great deal. I can’t remember the last time I was on the convention floor unarmed. So can we dispense with this piece of bullshit? No. I know we can’t. The lie is too useful. But it is a lie.