Non-profit

National Rifle Association

Logo of the National Rifle Association. (link)
Location:

FAIRFAX, VA

Tax ID:

53-0116130

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(4)

Budget (2019):

Revenue: $291,155,464
Expenses: $303,387,315
Assets: $198,746,752

The National Rifle Association of America (NRA) is a single-issue right-of-center advocacy organization that promotes responsible firearms ownership and use. It is involved in firearms-related education, training, and political activism, supporting policies that it sees as furthering the right to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. As of 2021, the NRA claims over five million members. [1]

Founded in 1871, the NRA claims to be “America’s longest-standing civil rights organization,” though this claim is disputed. [2] [3] Today, it is widely considered to be one of the most powerful and influential special interest groups in the United States. Because of its influence and the often politically charged nature of arguments about gun politics, the NRA is frequently targeted by supporters of stronger gun control legislation and has been the subject of boycotts.

The NRA operates as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization, though it is affiliated with several other entities. Most prominently, its affiliates include a political action committee (PAC) called the NRA Political Victory Fund, and a 501(c)(3) nonprofit called the NRA Foundation.

Incorporated in New York and headquartered in Virginia, the NRA filed for bankruptcy in early 2021 as a means of trying to facilitate a proposed re-incorporation in Texas. This was done amid an investigation into the organization’s finances being conducted by New York State Attorney General Letitia James (D), a staunch critic of the organization and supporter of strict gun control laws. James’s office filed a lawsuit in August 2020 seeking to dissolve the NRA due to allegations of financial improprieties. In May 2021, a federal judge dismissed the NRA’s bankruptcy case. [4]

History

The NRA was founded in 1871 to promote rifle marksmanship, after experience during the American Civil War had shown that many Union Army soldiers were not proficient shots. Union Army veterans were instrumental in the NRA’s establishment and early development, and General Ambrose Burnside served as its first president. The organization’s early activities focused on promoting the shooting sports and on holding competitions. [5] For much of the 20th century, the NRA also acted as a vehicle through which the federal government sold military-surplus firearms and ammunition to civilian rifle clubs for marksmanship practice. [6]

In 1934 the NRA created a Legislative Affairs Division, which distributed analysis of firearms-related legislation to members. [7] Congress passed the first major federal gun-control law, the National Firearms Act, that same year, and the NRA worked to limit the coverage of that law to machine guns, silencers, and short-barreled rifles and shotguns. This was considerably narrower in scope than some other proposals that were being put forth at the time. [8] Later, the NRA similarly worked to block several proposed provisions in what would ultimately become the Gun Control Act of 1968, including one which would have created a national firearms registry. [9]

In 1975, the NRA formed the Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) as a response to what it called “the critical need for political defense of the Second Amendment.” [10] By the late 1970s, and particularly in the years following its tumultuous 1977 annual convention (sometimes referred to as the “Revolt at Cincinnati”), the NRA began to shift in a more explicitly political direction, placing an emphasis on fighting against gun control legislation. [11] Membership numbers tripled during Harlon Carter’s tenure as executive vice president from 1977 to 1985. [12]

The NRA’s influence continued to grow throughout the 1990s. Wayne LaPierre became executive vice president in 1991, and according to a 2013 Washington Post report “the NRA flourished” under his leadership. [13] Approximately 600,000 new members joined when Bill Clinton was elected President in 1992, and the organization was active in opposing two major pieces of gun control legislation passed during his first term: the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act and the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. [14] In 1990, the NRA also created the NRA Foundation as a separate 501(c)(3) nonprofit, with the goal of promoting and supporting firearms education and safety, shooting sports, and similar programs. [15]

Well-known film actor Charlton Heston became president of the NRA in 1998 and served in that capacity until 2003. During his tenure, membership increased to four million and the organization was recognized as having been instrumental in George W. Bush’s election as President in 2000. [16] During this period, the NRA became “even more closely aligned with the Republican Party.” [17] Retired U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North served as the NRA’s president from 2018 to 2019. [18]

As of 2021, the NRA’s website claims over five million members, and it remains widely viewed as one of the most powerful special interest groups in the United States. [19] [20]

Programs and Policy Positions

Firearms Training and Shooting Sports

Describing itself as “the premier firearms education organization in the world,” the NRA is heavily involved in training and teaching. Its website claims that more than 125,000 certified instructors train approximately one million civilian gun owners every year. It also provides instructor training and certification to law enforcement, and there are more than 13,000 NRA-certified police and security firearms instructors. The Eddie Eagle program, which teaches children to never handle a firearm in an unsupervised situation, has instructed more than 28 million children since 1988. [21]

The NRA also encourages participation in shooting sports and competitions. It sanctions more than 11,000 shooting tournaments each year, and sponsors over 50 national championships. [22] It also operates the National Firearms Museum at its headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia, which houses a number of historic and notable pieces. [23]

Positions on Firearms Issues and Legislation

The NRA is a self-described “single-issue organization.” [24] Its lobbying arm, the NRA-ILA, “is involved in any issue that directly or indirectly affects firearms ownership and use.” It requests that NRA members “urge your lawmakers to oppose any and all gun control proposals that have been, or will be, introduced.” [25] The NRA Political Victory Fund is the NRA’s political action committee, which grades and endorses candidates based upon those candidates’ positions on gun policy and legislation. [26]

As of May 2021, the NRA-ILA provides educational information and position statements on approximately two dozen specific topics related to gun policy, provides summaries of existing state and federal gun laws, and issues action alerts on proposed legislation. [27] [28] [29]

Consistent with the Supreme Court of the United States decisions in District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago, the NRA views the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution as protecting an individual right to keep and bear arms “for defense of life and liberty.” [30]

The NRA opposes expanding background checks for firearms purchases beyond what is already required under federal law, opposes waiting periods on gun purchases, and opposes state or federal gun licensing or registration requirements. NRA-ILA. [31] [32] [33] The NRA also opposes restrictions on common semi-automatic firearms commonly called “assault weapons,” and on the ammunition magazines that those firearms frequently employ, as it views such restrictions having no impact on crime and as violating the Second Amendment. [34]

The NRA supports the expansion of provisions allowing for the right to carry a concealed firearm in public, which it views as essential to the fundamental right of self-defense. [35] It also supports firearm preemption laws, which are state laws that prevent localities from enacting stricter gun control restrictions than those enacted by the state government. [36] The NRA also supports federal laws that protect law-abiding gun owners from facing legal repercussions while passing through states or localities that have more restrictive firearms laws than those of the traveler’s origin and destination. [37]

Criticism from Gun Control Advocates

The prominence and influence of the NRA, coupled with the often politically charged nature of the gun policy debate, make the organization a target for individuals and groups that support stronger gun control laws. This has particularly been the case in the aftermath of mass shootings. In 2018, after a mass murder at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a number of companies including Hertz, Delta Airlines, United Airlines, and MetLife cancelled partnerships that they had previously maintained with the NRA. [38]

The NRA is regularly criticized by left-of-center gun control advocacy groups. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and its affiliated Brady Center have supported dissolving the NRA entirely, claiming that it “must be held accountable for decades of directly contributing to America’s gun violence epidemic.” They argue that a 2020 lawsuit filed by Attorney General of New York Letitia James (D) over alleged financial improprieties represents an “opportunity to unite to end the NRA’s reign of terror, once and for all.” [39]

Democratic politicians are also frequently critical of the NRA and its influence. Joe Biden’s 2020 Presidential campaign website claimed that Biden “has taken on the National Rifle Association (NRA) on the national stage and won – twice…[a]s president, Joe Biden will defeat the NRA again.” [40] In the aftermath of a 2017 mass murder in Las Vegas, Nevada, unsuccessful Democratic 2016 Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton tweeted that “We can and must put politics aside, stand up to the NRA, and work together to try to stop this from happening again.” [41]

Leadership

The NRA is governed by a 76-member board of directors, which is large by nonprofit standards. [42]

As of 2021, the NRA’s president is Carolyn Meadows. [43] She had formerly held several other roles within the NRA, including 2nd vice president. Meadows has also served on the board of directors of the American Conservative Union, the American Conservative Union Foundation, and the Council on National Policy, and as member of the advisory board of Republicans Overseas. [44]

Wayne LaPierre has been the NRA’s executive vice president and CEO since 1991. [45] LaPierre has also served on the board of directors of the American Association of Political Consultants, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the American Conservative Union. [46] [47] [48]

Finances

The NRA reported revenues of $352,550,864 in its 2018 tax filings. Contributions and grants accounted for $108,599,726, and program service revenue for $193,010,155. Member dues of $170,391,374 were the source of the majority of program service revenue. [49] The organization ended 2018 with assets of $197,212,080 against liabilities of $181,180,554, for a balance of $16,031,526 in net assets. [50]

Total expenses in 2018 were $355,275,317. Of that, $250,904,765 was spent on program services, $56,278,967 on management and general expenses, and $48,091,585 on fundraising expenses. Major itemized expense categories included $63,864,842 for salaries and related employee compensation costs, $51,702,278 for outside professional services (such as legal and fundraising) costs, $50,197,599 for advertising and promotion, and $62,702,161 for additional member communications. [51]

As a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization, the NRA is not required to disclose its donors. In supplemental information provided in its 2018 tax return, it explained that “the vast majority of contributions to the NRA comes from millions of small individual donors.” It also noted that gifts from companies and executives in firearms-related industries “typically comprise less than 5% of the NRA’s contribution revenue every year.” [52]

Executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre was the NRA’s highest-paid officer in 2018, with reported total compensation of $2,224,427. Then-NRA-ILA executive director Chris W. Cox received $1,392,668 that same year. [53]

Political and Lobbying Spending

According to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, during the 2020 election cycle the NRA made $28,459,949 in independent expenditures, 65.02% of which was spent against Democrats and 34.95% in favor of Republicans. During the 2016 cycle it made $52,582,309 in independent expenditures, 68.03% of which was against Democrats and 31.96% for Republicans. [54]  In 2016, it ranked among the top ten outside spending organizations by total amount spent. [55]

The NRA paid $2,200,000 in lobbying expenditures in 2020, $3,220,000 in 2019, $5,076,000 in 2018, and $5,122,000 in 2017. [56] According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the NRA employed 18 lobbyists in 2020, compared to 26 in 2017. [57]

New York Lawsuit and Texas Bankruptcy Case

In August 2020, Attorney General of New York Letitia James (D) filed a lawsuit seeking to dissolve the NRA, the most severe sanction available against a non-profit organization in New York. [58] James alleged the “diversion of millions of dollars away from the charitable mission of the organization for personal use by senior leadership, awarding contracts to the financial gain of close associates and family, and appearing to dole out lucrative no-show contracts to former employees in order to buy their silence and continued loyalty.” These actions, according to the allegations, may have contributed to the loss of more than $64 million for the organization in three years. [59]

Elizabeth Schmidt, a professor specializing in nonprofit organizations, commented that New York’s complaint in the lawsuit “reads like a textbook case of [board] governance failure,” due to allegations that board members neglected to follow proper procedures, ignored obligations to oversee internal controls, and failed to review related-party transactions. She noted that approximately one-fourth of the NRA’s directors appeared to have had contracts or deals with the organization, and opined that “had the NRA’s board done its job, I doubt the gun group would be in all this trouble.” [60]

The NRA vowed to fight the lawsuit, calling it a “baseless premeditated attack on our organization and the Second Amendment freedoms it fights to defend.” [61]   It filed a countersuit against Attorney General James, arguing that James was “weaponizing” her office for politically motivated reasons. [62] Observers noted that James had made numerous remarks critical of the NRA in the past, including calling it at various points a “terrorist organization,” a “criminal enterprise,” and “an organ of deadly propaganda masquerading as a charity for public good.” [63]

In January 2021, the NRA filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in Texas, where it intends to reincorporate. [64] According to the Wall Street Journal, it filed for bankruptcy in order to prevent the state of New York from placing it into receivership, as well as to help facilitate the process of its Texas reincorporation. [65] Court papers indicated that the NRA had total assets of approximately $203 million against total liabilities of about $153 million, and observers questioned whether this apparent financial strength would undermine its bankruptcy case. [66]

Considerable attention was paid to the spending habits of senior NRA officials during the bankruptcy proceedings. According to National Public Radio, “testimony included examples of the nonprofit organization’s tax-exempt funds being used for wedding expenses, private jet travel and exotic getaways.” Executive vice president Wayne LaPierre admitted to staying on a luxury yacht owned by a NRA vendor during trips to the Bahamas, and having failed to disclose this conflict of interest to the organization. Other testimony from LaPierre’s private travel consultant, who was paid $26,000 per month, indicated that she altered private jet travel invoices at his instruction in order to conceal actual destinations. [67]

In May 2021, a federal judge dismissed the NRA’s bankruptcy case after determining that it had not been filed in good faith. The judge noted that “the vast majority of the board of directors, the chief financial officer, and the general counsel” were excluded from the process of deciding to file for bankruptcy, and that the NRA’s case looked “more like cases in which courts have found bankruptcy was filed to gain an unfair advantage in litigation or to avoid a regulatory scheme.” [68]

In March 2022, a New York state judge rejected the New York Attorney General’s attempt to dissolve the NRA, ruling that the allegations against the organization did not warrant that penalty. The judge allowed much of the lawsuit to proceed, noting that if the allegations were proved there were other remedies available.[69]

References

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  2. National Rifle Association. Website Homepage. Accessed April 28, 2021. Available at: https://home.nra.org/ ^
  3. National Association of the Deaf. “Oldest Civil Rights Organization in the U.S.” Accessed April 28, 2021. Available at: https://www.nad.org/oldest-civil-rights-organization-in-the-us/ ^
  4. Jake Bleiberg and Michael R. Sisak. “Judge Dismisses NRA Bankruptcy Case in Blow to Gun Group.” The Associated Press. May 11, 2021. Available at: https://apnews.com/article/nra-bankruptcy-dismissed-a281b888b64d391374f24539a820d60f ^
  5. National Rifle Association. “A Brief History of the NRA.” Accessed April 20, 2021. Available at: https://home.nra.org/about-the-nra/ ^
  6. Walls, David. “The Activist’s Almanac.” (New York. Fireside. 1993), pp. 192. ^
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  13. Joel Achenbach, Scott Higham, and Sari Horwitz. “How NRA’s True Believers Converted a Marksmanship Group Into a Mighty Gun Lobby.” The Washington Post. January 12, 2013. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/how-nras-true-believers-converted-a-marksmanship-group-into-a-mighty-gun-lobby/2013/01/12/51c62288-59b9-11e2-88d0-c4cf65c3ad15_story.html ^
  14. Joel Achenbach, Scott Higham, and Sari Horwitz. “How NRA’s True Believers Converted a Marksmanship Group Into a Mighty Gun Lobby.” The Washington Post. January 12, 2013. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/how-nras-true-believers-converted-a-marksmanship-group-into-a-mighty-gun-lobby/2013/01/12/51c62288-59b9-11e2-88d0-c4cf65c3ad15_story.html ^
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  68. Jake Bleiberg and Michael R. Sisak. “Judge Dismisses NRA Bankruptcy Case in Blow to Gun Group.” The Associated Press. May 11, 2021. Available at: https://apnews.com/article/nra-bankruptcy-dismissed-a281b888b64d391374f24539a820d60f ^
  69. Michael R. Sisak. “Judge Blocks NY’s Bid to Shutter NRA, But Lawsuit Continues.” AP News. March 2, 2022. Available at: https://apnews.com/article/business-new-york-lawsuits-manhattan-national-rifle-association-ab050b840a1930b7b316ac71741077e7 ^
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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: December - November
  • Tax Exemption Received: April 1, 1944

  • Available Filings

    Period Form Type Total revenue Total functional expenses Total assets (EOY) Total liabilities (EOY) Unrelated business income? Total contributions Program service revenue Investment income Comp. of current officers, directors, etc. Form 990
    2019 Dec Form 990 $291,155,464 $303,387,315 $198,746,752 $189,092,595 Y $109,439,440 $134,011,736 $3,926,185 $7,543,034
    2018 Dec Form 990 $352,550,864 $355,275,317 $197,212,080 $181,180,554 Y $108,599,726 $193,010,155 $1,193,705 $7,673,480 PDF
    2017 Dec Form 990 $311,987,734 $329,831,651 $196,125,681 $171,175,478 Y $98,026,531 $146,955,303 $840,627 $5,120,736 PDF
    2016 Dec Form 990 $366,889,703 $412,737,440 $217,136,587 $181,021,897 Y $124,433,466 $181,265,880 $1,022,199 $5,165,232
    2015 Dec Form 990 $336,709,238 $303,534,567 $214,839,625 $139,481,463 Y $94,982,032 $180,255,185 $1,108,539 $8,538,155 PDF
    2013 Dec Form 990 $347,968,789 $290,550,357 $229,468,040 $154,559,962 Y $96,400,372 $183,474,187 $1,476,905 $5,157,474 PDF
    2012 Dec Form 990 $256,290,928 $254,161,078 $160,497,536 $149,276,146 Y $86,429,504 $115,517,205 $600,185 $2,970,133 PDF
    2011 Dec Form 990 $218,983,530 $231,071,589 $149,826,381 $144,162,625 Y $59,382,983 $109,729,088 $831,749 $2,824,084 PDF

    Additional Filings (PDFs)

    National Rifle Association

    11250 WAPLES MILL ROAD
    FAIRFAX, VA 22030-7550