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Longtime NRA leader Wayne LaPierre steps down

Wayne LaPierre, CEO and executive vice-president of the National Rifle Association, addresses the NRA convention in Indianapolis in April.
Darron Cummings
Wayne LaPierre, CEO and executive vice-president of the National Rifle Association, addresses the NRA convention in Indianapolis in April.

Updated January 5, 2024 at 4:59 PM ET

The longtime leader of what was once the nation's most powerful gun rights group is leaving his post just a few days before the start of a civil trial over allegations of corruption and mismanagement.

Wayne LaPierre steps down as he and other former NRA officials stand accused of misappropriating millions from the nonprofit to bankroll opulent lifestyles that included private jets, luxury vacations, and expensive dining. LaPierre has denied those allegations in a New York court.

In a statement Friday, NRA President Charles Cotton said LaPierre, who is 74, is resigning for health reasons. The gun group says it will continue to defend itself in the lawsuit brought by New York State.

LaPierre will leave his post at the end of the month.

"With pride in all that we have accomplished, I am announcing my resignation from the NRA," LaPierre said in a statement on the NRA's website.

"I've been a card-carrying member of this organization for most of my adult life, and I will never stop supporting the NRA and its fight to defend Second Amendment freedom. My passion for our cause burns as deeply as ever."

In response to the news of LaPierre's imminent departure, New York Attorney General Letitia James called the end of the Wayne LaPierre era "an important victory" but vowed to continue to the legal case against the gun rights lobby.

"LaPierre's resignation validates our claims against him, but it will not insulate him or the NRA from accountability," James said in a statement. "All charities in New York state must adhere to the rule of law, and my office will not tolerate gross mismanagement or top executives funneling millions into their own pockets," she said adding, "Our case will move ahead, and we look forward to proving the facts in court."

The trial is scheduled to start on Monday. James's lawsuit aims to ban LaPierre and the other executives from serving in leadership positions of any not-for-profit or charitable organization conducting business in New York.

For more than three decades LaPierre has shaped the NRA's strident stance against almost every effort to regulate firearms even in the face of horrific mass shootings at schools and malls that have become painfully routine in the U.S.

He set the tone upon taking control of the NRA leadership in 1991, warning that "jack-booted government thugs" were coming after the guns of law-abiding Americans under the guise of controlling gun violence. He later criticized those who support gun control measures in the wake of mass shootings as "opportunists" who "exploit tragedy for gain."

LaPierre played the leading role in expanding NRA's power and influence as a lobbying and political force. He enlisted celebrities including film star Charlton Heston to make powerful, emotional appeals that any effort to limit gun ownership and sales amounted to an unconstitutional infringement of Second Amendment rights.

In 2000, Heston, who at the time was the president of the NRA in a largely ceremonial role, told NRA convention goers that Democrats and other gun control proponents were enemies of freedom. With LaPierre smiling nearby, Heston then raised a replica flintlock long rifle above his head and declared what would become a popular five-word NRA slogan in the LaPierre era: "From my cold, dead hands!"

But in recent years the NRA has been deeply shaken by financial troubles, dwindling membership and ongoing questions about LaPierre's leadership and spending. The turmoil alienated some longtime rank-and-file members as concerns about the direction of the organization grew.

The group's financial woes forced it to cut back on many popular programs including educational outreach, initiatives with law enforcement and support for shooting sports events.

An NRA effort in 2021 to declare bankruptcy failed. A federal bankruptcy judge dismissed the case, ruling that the gun rights group had not filed it in good faith.

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Eric Westervelt is a San Francisco-based correspondent for NPR's National Desk. He has reported on major events for the network from wars and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to historic wildfires and terrorist attacks in the U.S.