The National Rifle Association is holding its annual meeting in Indianapolis, IN, this week on the heels of recent reporting about the group’s lawsuit against its own ad agency, ongoing budget problems, and a divided board of directors.
The event kicked off with an evening banquet on April 25 at the Indiana Convention Center and will continue with three days of speakers, seminars, and workshops as well as an exhibition showcasing, guns, ammunition, and firearm accessories. The NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, the organization’s lobbying wing, is hosting the flagship event, the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum, beginning at 11 a.m. on Friday, April 26 at the Lucas Oil Stadium. Speakers for the “stacked” event include President Donald Trump, giving the keynote address, Vice President Mike Pence, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA). Several NRA officials, including Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, NRA President Oliver North and ILA Executive Director Chris Cox will also be speaking.
This year’s annual meeting comes amid multiple reports of a troubling financial situation at the NRA and a fractured board of directors. On April 12, the NRA filed a lawsuit against its ad agency of nearly 40 years, Ackerman McQueen, which also produces the group’s media outlet, NRATV. According to The Wall Street Journal, the lawsuit alleges that the company “was obliged to provide access to records underlying its bills” to the NRA, but “rebuffed or baldly ignored” the group’s requests. The lawsuit also highlights a split between what the Journal described as the “pro-Ackerman McQueen faction” of the NRA’s board, which reportedly includes North and which argues that the law firm leading the lawsuit is charging too much, and those who claim it is money “well spent, because it’s for the survival of the NRA,” which reportedly includes LaPierre.
The Trace, in partnership with The New Yorker, unearthed more than a decade of financial problems at the NRA, as described in a lengthy April 17 article, reporting that “in recent years, it has run annual deficits of as much as forty million dollars” to focus on “messaging” while spending less than 10% of its budget on firearms education, safety, and training. Tax documents mentioned in the article reportedly show “a small group of N.R.A. executives, contractors, and venders” received “hundreds of millions of dollars from the nonprofit’s budget, through gratuitous payments, sweetheart deals, and opaque financial arrangements.” One senior NRA employee went as far as to “describe a workplace distinguished by secrecy, self-dealing, and greed.” Meanwhile, the NRA, “in desperate need of funds, raised its dues for the second time in two years” and cut costs by eliminating “free coffee and water coolers at its headquarters” and freezing employees’ pension plans.
Both of these articles come less than six months after layoffs hit NRATV, a little over a month after former NRA president and current board member Marion Hammer went on record to The New York Times that she and other board members “have questioned the value” of the network. According to a gun rights blog quoted in The Trace, “Hammer, ‘who hasn’t attended a Board of Directors meeting since hell froze over,’ is traveling to Indy to be there when the board meets during the convention: ‘It’s that bad.’”
Here are some highlights from the 2019 NRA Annual Meeting:
Speeches, seminars and other events:
- Trump will give a speech at the meeting for the fifth year in a row.
- The meeting will have a Women’s Leadership Forum on April 26, featuring Fox & Friends favorite Dean Cain as the keynote speaker. Previous speakers have included Fox’s Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson.
- The NRA announced that pro-Trump conservative media pundit Candace Owens will speak at the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum. Owens recently came under fire for saying Adolf Hitler would have been “fine” had he focused only on Germany.
- NRA board member Ted Nugent will attend this year’s meeting. Nugent, a notorious misogynist who spoke during the 2018 NRA Women’s Leadership Forum, has previously blamed school shootings on unhealthy diets, said Parkland survivors “have no soul,” and pushed the conspiracy theory that David Hogg was a “crisis actor.”
- Discredited pro-gun researcher John Lott will give talks throughout the three-day event, with one offering “an in depth understanding about the debate over concealed handguns” and another supposedly debunking “gun control lies,” including “the facts relating suicides to gun ownership.” His organization, Crime Prevention Research Center, will also have a booth in the exhibition hall.
- NRA board member and Fox News contributor Allen West will host the event’s prayer breakfast on April 28. West has a long history of making controversial remarks, such as saying “the Black community was stronger” and “had better education opportunities” during segregation.
- The NRA said “firearms and firearm accessories … will be prohibited” in the stadium during the ILA’s Leadership Forum at the request of the Secret Service due to the president’s and vice president’s appearances. The NRA has long claimed that “gun-free zones” are more attractive for mass shooters than places without such a designation and that they make those in them unsafe.
The exhibition hall:
- Featured products on the exhibition floor include a firearm disguised as a cellphone for “max concealment,” “hip hugger” holsters for concealed carry, and a corset that doubles as a holster.
- U.S. Border Patrol will have a booth on the floor as well. Over the past year, NRATV has pushed conspiracy theories surrounding immigration, encouraged the use of lethal force by Border Patrol agents, and claimed that immigration detention centers are “too nice.”
- The Trump Make America Great Again Committee, a joint fundraising committee of Donald J. Trump For President Inc. and the Republican National Committee, and Women for Trump, a project of the Women Vote Smart PAC, will both have booths on the exhibit floor.
- Conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation, pro-Trump Liberty University, and conservative Hillsdale College will all have booths at the NRA’s exhibition.