This week’s New Yorker magazine includes a major article by one of my favorite gun journalists, Mike Spies, about the financial mess at America’s ‘first civil rights organization,’ otherwise known as the NRA. Since I happen to be a Patriot Life Member Benefactor of the NRA (I actually have a plaque signed by Ollie North) and have been a member since 1955, obviously I have more than a passing interest in the goings on at the home office in Fairfax, and according to Mike, the goings on ain’t very good.
According to Mike, in a detailed and lengthy report, the NRA’s leadership has not only been hiding the extent to which serious amounts of organizational money have been flowing into the coffers of various PR companies, but it appears that these companies may be nothing more than business entities founded and run by Board and staff members of the NRA itself. Worse, the payments to these outfits have been so large that the NRA is facing a financial squeeze that could ultimately jeopardize the existence of the gun-rights organization itself.
This is hardly the first time that mainstream media has carried articles on financial undoings within the NRA. Spies quotes Brian Mittendorf, a Professor at Ohio State, who says that the organization has been spending money it really doesn’t have for seven of the past eleven years. In fact, Mittendorf published these details last year, and other media venues have carried the same news. What these stories all miss, however, is the fact that the NRA’s current financial problems aren’t basically caused by having given too much money to Schmuck-o in 2016 or investing heavily in video programming with costs running far ahead of returns. The serious financial issues facing the boys in Fairfax has much more to do with a fundamental shift in the behavior of gun owners and the inability of the NRA to adjust to this new view.
In 1978, Florida passed its concealed-carry (CCW) law, which basically gave every resident of the Gunshine state who could pass a background check the right to walk around with a gun. Over the past 40 years, what is called ‘shall-issue’ CCW has become law in 43 of the 50 states. But the licensing difference between just buying a gun as opposed to carrying one around, is that in the latter case, most ‘shall-issue’ states require some kind of training before the CCW is approved. And here is where the rubber has now met the road.
Because in the olden days, the NRA held a monopoly on gun-training, and the NRA certified trainers, of whom there used to be more than 100,000 around the country, were the organization’s shock troops when it came to recruiting new members, as well as responding in force whenever a political situation, such as a debate over a gun law, required that gun owners show up and make some noise.
Given the appearance of the internet, the emphasis on face-to-face gun training, indeed face-to-face training for any skill or work requirement has gone down the tubes. Instead, everyone now goes to a website, pays a fee, watches a video and then takes an online test. In that respect, the NRA is hardly the only training organization which fell behind the curve. Take a look at the online training offerings of Butler Community College in Kansas. The school has six campuses throughout the state, but you don’t have to ever show up at any physical location in order to qualify for hundreds of job-related certifications. Now take a look at the NRA‘s online training website. It’s a joke.
The article by Mike Spies gives lots of details about how the NRA invested enormous financial resources in the internet, but what it fails to point out is that by promoting personalities (Dana Loesch, Colion Noir) instead of training, they went the wrong way. Judging from the emails I receive every day, I’m still not sure that the boys in Fairfax recognize their mistake.