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THE WHY: NRA Cancels its 2021 Annual Meetings & Exhibits

Did the NRA cancel the 2021 Annual Meetings & Exhibits due to COVID-19 or controversy?

THE WHY: NRA Cancels its 2021 Annual Meetings & Exhibits

NRA Annual Meeting & Exhibits  (Guns & Ammo photo)

On August 25, 2021, the National Rifle Association (NRA) announced the cancellation of the 2021 Annual Meeting and Exhibits, which were to be held at the George R. Brown Conference Center in Houston, Texas. The reason? The surge of COVID-19 cases.

The decision was announced in a statement on the NRA website and, in part, reads “We make this difficult decision after analyzing relevant data regarding COVID-19 in Harris County, Texas. We also consulted with medical professionals, local officials, major sponsors and exhibitors, and many NRA members before arriving at this decision.”

The last-minute cancelation is another blow to the embattled association, which is already facing mounting litigation costs related to the New York and District of Columbia Attorney Generals’ lawsuits. In a leaked January 2020 recording, NRA’s CEO Wayne LaPierre told the Board of Directors that the litigation costs associated with those suits had exceeded $100 million to that point. (That was more than 18 months ago at the time of this writing.) As a result, NRA cut a reported $80 million in spending to stay in business, which included significant layoffs. LaPierre commented, “We took it down to the studs.”

The NRA Annual Meetings typically include important fundraising events, and now the event has been canceled for two consecutive years. The 2021 cancellation represents a triple-whammy of sorts for NRA. Not only due to its legal spending, but the NRA’s ability to fundraise has been compromised by a growing internal dissent concerning LaPierre’s leadership. Fundraising from member dues declined a reported 34 percent between 2018 and 2019. The cancellation of these meetings will compound those decreases in funds.

Since April 2019, 23 notable former board members resigned from the organization including Pete Brownell, a former NRA President; Julie Golob, a champion sports shooter; Richard Childress, NASCAR team owner; and Duane Liptak, EVP for Magpul Industries, just to name a few. On July 30, 2021, Ted Nugent added his name to the resignation list, as well as Owen “Buz” Mills. Many, though not all, publicly cited the failures in leadership displayed by senior executives or questioned spending. High-profile former leaders also include former President Lt. Col. Oliver North and Chris Cox, the former executive director of the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA). The ongoing controversies have created speculation on whether this year’s NRA Annual Meetings were canceled for other reasons, and COVID-19 happened to be a convenient reason.

Prior to the cancellation, “The Daily Beast” reported, “Multiple gun makers are pulling out of the conference and quietly trying to pressure the NRA to cancel it.” Reading between the lines, the companies’ desire not to participate in the event were due to health and safety concerns for their employees — not for political reasons. Guns & Ammo’s own conversations with trusted sources confirmed that.

“There was no industry coup,” an executive from a major exhibitor told G&A off the record. Though he’d had ongoing conversations regarding the Annual Meeting with many of his counterparts from other companies, there was no secret plan not to attend.

Companies that reportedly announced they were not going to attend due to health concerns prior to the cancellation by the NRA included Benelli, Browning, FN, Kimber, SIG Sauer and Winchester, to name a few.

There is plenty of intrigue surrounding the cancellation of the NRA Annual Meetings, but it appears as though it was unrelated to its controversies. Regardless of the reasons, the cancellation of this event represents another serious blow to the financial security of the still-large and powerful gun-rights group. The timing could not be worse, as American gun owners are facing some of the most direct attacks on the Second Amendment in history. It is important to consider that, despite all the NRA’s struggles, ILA and its employees — who are ongoing advocates for the cause of gun rights — continue to fight in D.C. and throughout U.S. state capitols to support us. The cancellation will further challenge their ability to do their important work, to say nothing of NRA’s safety, competition and training-related programs.

One could argue that, even for NRA’s alleged corruption, failed governance and resulting costs of litigation, it should be able to weather the storm of these pandemic-related cancellations. Though the NRA’s attempted bankruptcy filing in Texas was rejected by the courts, a legitimate bankruptcy could be on the horizon. If NRA ever succumbs to litigation, financial mismanagement, the effects of COVID-19, or even politics, gun owners are the ones who will suffer the consequences.

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