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Six years after Parkland, the NRA is a 'shell of what it once was'

Parkland survivor and activist David Hogg speaks to the crowd during in the second March for Our Lives rally in support of gun control on Saturday, June 11, 2022, in Washington. The rally was a successor to the 2018 march organized by student protestors after the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Manuel Balce Ceneta
/
AP
Parkland survivor and activist David Hogg speaks to the crowd during in the second March for Our Lives rally in support of gun control on Saturday, June 11, 2022, in Washington. The rally was a successor to the 2018 march organized by student protestors after the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

The National Rifle Association has lost more than a million members in the years since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Organizers with the gun control group March For Our Lives say it's proof that survivors from Parkland and beyond "are a force to be reckoned with."

For years, the National Rifle Association has served as a bulwark against gun regulations — even as some experts say gun violence has reached epidemic levels.

And for three decades, Wayne LaPierre led the NRA and became one of the country’s most influential voices on gun policy. But his leadership has come to an end, thanks in part to the movement started by student survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

From its beginnings, March For Our Lives has targeted the NRA — an organization that had been seen as “an untouchable and seemingly all-powerful political juggernaut”, in the words of MFOL.

Activists pledged to hound the NRA until it no longer exists.

When Parkland survivor and MFOL co-founder David Hogg took to the podium during the group’s historic first rally in Washington, D.C. back in March of 2018, he captivated the crowd of hundreds of thousands of people.

“When politicians send their thoughts and prayers with no action, we say — 'No more!'” Hogg yelled as the crowd chanted with him.

“And to those politicians supported by the NRA, that allow the continued slaughter of our children and our future, I say, 'Get your resumes ready!'” Hogg said.

The crowd roared.

Six years after Parkland, the NRA is in turmoil.

Wayne LaPierre resigned last month ahead of a corruption trial in New York. He and other executives are accused of misusing millions of dollars of the nonprofit’s funds for personal expenses like exotic vacations and custom-tailored suits.

READ MORE: Longtime NRA leader Wayne LaPierre steps down

The case in New York was spurred in part by complaints that March For Our Lives made back in 2018, accusing the NRA of corruption.

“All it took was some meddling kids and a whole lot of determination to take down one of the largest and most powerful lobbying machines in American history,” March For Our Lives said in a statement following LaPierre’s resignation.

The NRA issued its own statement on the longtime leader's resignation, thanking LaPierre "for his service."

"Wayne is a towering figure in the fight for constitutional freedom, but one of his other talents is equally important: he built an organization that is bigger than him," said NRA President Charles Cotton. "[T]he NRA will continue to thrive — with a renewed energy in our business operations and grassroots advocacy. Our future is bright and secure."

WLRN’s Kate Payne spoke with Makennan McBryde, a legal associate at March For Our Lives, about the role the group has played in taking down the NRA. Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

WLRN: What did you all make of the resignation of Wayne LaPierre, after three decades leading the NRA? I wonder what were the group texts like when the news broke?

MCBRYDE: Oh yeah it was definitely immediately sent in our staff channel. It was shocking but also not, I would say.

From demanding legal action to campaigns that highlighted their illegal and immoral activities, March For Our Lives took on the NRA time and time again. And since we marched in 2018, they’ve lost over a million members.

The NRA today is really a shell of what it once was. And they’ve really learned the hard truth that young people and survivors are a force to be reckoned with.

This is not just a fad. It’s not just a moment. It really is a movement that’s bringing about real change. And I think Wayne LaPierre’s resignation and everything that’s going on with these trials is a real symbol of that for everyone in our movement. So definitely the staff channel was popping off when we got this news.

Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association, leaves a courtroom during a break in New York, Monday, Jan. 8, 2024. The longtime head of the National Rifle Association is resigning, just before the start of a New York civil trial.
Seth Wenig
/
AP
Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association, leaves a courtroom during a break in New York, Monday, Jan. 8, 2024. The longtime head of the National Rifle Association is resigning, just before the start of a New York civil trial.

You mentioned the NRA has lost more than a million members in recent years. And it has cut back substantially on its core activities of education and training, in part to divert the organization’s revenues towards fighting these legal battles, like the one that Wayne LaPierre is facing. I wonder if you all have seen a difference in the group’s political impact and reputation during this time?

For a long time, the vast majority of Americans have supported common sense gun safety reforms. People are on board with background checks. They’re on board with assault weapons bans. And the NRA has kept diverging from what the American citizens want to protect themselves and to keep their families and their communities safe. They want these laws. And the NRA instead just decided to peddle more money into Congress members to stop them from representing the people that they have a duty to protect.

They’ve definitely lost people in the process, once you start getting Buffaloes and Uvaldes back-to-back and all of these tragedies just flooding our news streams. It’s impossible for Americans, for gun owners, for NRA members themselves on the ground in their own communities to see this happen and not think that this institution has a part in it.

Even with the NRA in turmoil as it is, there is still considerable resistance to gun control among lawmakers. There is no more federal assault weapons ban. No federal law requiring universal background checks. Here in Florida, state lawmakers are considering rolling back a law that was passed in direct response to Parkland — to allow people under 21 to buy a gun. What do you make of that? 

Oh my goodness. So much to make of it. I think that a lot of people hone in on the NRA as this massive lobbying force and all the money that they have. But it’s become more than that. Where their real power has been derived in recent decades is the political mobilization that they’ve managed.

They may not have as many NRA members anymore but they do have very politically active ones. That’s really what’s also holding these lawmakers in the palms of their hands. It’s not just campaign donations it’s also them threatening lawmakers with electoral retribution — that they will not have their NRA members vote for these lawmakers if they support common sense gun safety legislation.

And so that’s where we still see this lag. Yes the NRA may be bleeding money, their corruption may be finally coming to light from the underbelly. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t still have a more intangible political power among their base. And so what that means for March is we’ve really been trying to show people what the NRA has done. That this all has been one big manufactured effort and really break apart that political mobilization.

The NRA as an organization is one issue. But as March For Our Lives makes this pivot, how do you address those broader cultural beliefs around guns that are really deeply held in this country?

I mean for us, obviously we’re a youth-centered and run [organization]. And that’s so important for us. And like I said before, the NRA has been able to amass this political influence outside of the money they have because they’ve mobilized a base that knows how to be politically engaged. And that’s important for us to do too, for young people.

That’s really our mission now. I would never underestimate the power of education — of educating the next generations that are growing up with the brunt of this gun violence epidemic of how we’ve gotten here, how our leaders have failed us, and how these bodies like the NRA ... but not even just the NRA — naming the gun manufacturers that are behind the NRA. That’s so, so important.

I’ve never been more inspired than by the generation of young people that we have today. And so many political leaders have said that. That young people at this moment in time are so fed up and have so much power within them to make change. And it’s up to us to do that.

Copyright 2024 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

As a Tallahassee native, Kate Payne grew up listening to WFSU. She loves being part of a station that had such an impact on her. Kate is a graduate of the Florida State University College of Motion Picture Arts. With a background in documentary and narrative filmmaking, Kate has a broad range of multimedia experience. When she’s not working, you can find her rock climbing, cooking or hanging out with her cat.
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