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NRA leader resigns after claims he misappropriated funds to pay for opulent lifestyle

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The longtime head of the National Rifle Association is stepping down. The NRA announced today that Wayne LaPierre is leaving his post as chief executive of the powerful gun rights group at the end of this month. The announcement about LaPierre's departure comes on the eve of a corruption trial in New York that could upend the NRA. Joining us now with more is NPR's Joel Rose. Hi, Joel.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hi, Juana.

SUMMERS: So, Joel, just to get us started, remind us who Wayne LaPierre is and why this departure is such a big deal.

ROSE: Yeah. LaPierre is really one of the chief architects of the modern gun rights movement. He's led the NRA since 1991. He was part of the inner circle that moved the NRA to a far more hardline stance on gun regulation at a time when mass shootings and other gun violence were rising. LaPierre was once a kingmaker in American politics, hugely influential in Republican circles but also among many rural Democrats. He was also a major target for gun control activists, particularly after mass shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and at a high school in Parkland, Fla. LaPierre rejected attempts to change gun policy in the wake of those shootings and used the specter of more gun controls to fundraise for the NRA.

SUMMERS: Yeah, I mean, he's been quite a fixture. So tell us what exactly happened to bring about this dramatic fall.

ROSE: Well, you have to go back to 2019, which is when claims of mismanagement and corruption began to surface first from dissenters inside the NRA. LaPierre survived that. But there is a corruption lawsuit against him and the NRA that is set to go to trial on Monday in Manhattan. New York's attorney general, Letitia James, launched an investigation and, in 2020, filed this lawsuit. She accuses LaPierre and other current and former officials of misappropriating funds from the NRA, which is a nonprofit. Behind the scenes, the suit alleges, they were basically cheating donors, using contributions to pay for private luxuries, things like no-show jobs for friends and allies. LaPierre denies those allegations. The case has taken several years to get to jury selection, and that started this week.

SUMMERS: Right. So, Joel, did the NRA or LaPierre himself say why he's chosen to step down now?

ROSE: In a statement announcing his resignation, the NRA says Lapierre cited his health as the reason for his decision. LaPierre is 74. He has led the NRA for more than 30 years, since 1991. But, of course, you know, it's hard to ignore the elephant in the room, which is this corruption trial looming over all of this. The NRA says it will continue to fight that lawsuit. And Wayne LaPierre is still a defendant in his private capacity as the case goes to trial.

SUMMERS: OK. Big picture here, Joel, what does all of this mean for the future of the National Rifle Association?

ROSE: You know, it's hard to say for sure. The NRA did win a legal victory earlier in this case. The New York attorney general was seeking to dissolve the organization. And a New York judge shut that effort down. But this legal fight and the scandal for LaPierre personally clearly have been bad for the NRA. They have lost a ton of members. Contributions are way down from their highs. They've had to shut down their media operations. The organization even tried unsuccessfully to file for bankruptcy. This trial will really decide what the future shape of the NRA could be. If the organization loses, it could be subject to significant oversight from the New York attorney general going forward, which would really hobble what it could do as an organization.

SUMMERS: NPR's Joel Rose. Thank you, Joel.

ROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.

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