The National Rifle Association is Laying Off Staff, Cutting Salaries and Reducing Hours Amid COVID-19 Outbreak

The National Rifle Association (NRA) is laying off employees and reducing salaries across the board in the largest personnel shake-up since the non-profit organization ousted its president at the annual meeting of members in 2019.

In a note that was distributed via email to the board of directors and executive council Monday afternoon, CEO Wayne LaPierre announced that his organization "faces extraordinary challenges resulting from COVID-19" and must institute several workforce adjustments, including "the elimination of certain positions," imposing a four-day workweek for hourly employees and 20 percent pay reductions across the board "while maintaining current workloads."

The email, relayed to the board by the NRA's general counsel, John Frazer, was obtained by Newsweek.

In response to a request for comment about whether LaPierre himself would be subject to the belt-tightening, the organization's outside counsel, Brewer, Attorneys and Counselors, said in a statement that "salary adjustments announced today apply to all levels of the organization."

"In addition, some senior staff members are voluntarily taking deeper cuts," the statement added.

Wayne LaPierre
Wayne LaPierre, NRA vice president and CEO, speaks to guests at the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum at the 148th NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits on April 26, 2019, in Indianapolis, Indiana. Scott Olson/Getty

LaPierre's compensation rose by 57 percent in 2018, the most recent year for which tax filings are available, to $2.15 million.

Though LaPierre cited the COVID-19 outbreak as the chief reason for the personnel changes, the announcement comes during an undeniable cash-crunch at the gun-rights group. Tax filings show that in 2018, the NRA's net assets declined by nearly $9 million to $16 million, their lowest levels in six years.

It was not immediately clear how the COVID-19 outbreak would impact the NRA's bottom line. In 2018, contributions, transfers, gifts, grants and member dues comprised around 80 percent of the organization's revenues.

The NRA was recently forced to announce that its annual meeting of members, set to take place in Nashville, Tennessee, in mid-April, would no longer be able to convene.

"We sincerely regret the need for this action," the group said in an earlier statement. "We were ultimately guided by our responsibility to help ensure the safety and well-being of our NRA members, guests, and surrounding community."

On Monday, LaPierre struck a similar tone, acknowledging that his organization had to "address immediate financial challenges and... plan for long-term impacts to ensure the viability of our organization."

"Unfortunately, these changes will necessitate the elimination of certain positions on either a temporary or, in some cases, permanent basis," he added.

The staffing reductions will be effective Sunday and schedules were adjusted to ensure "the maintenance of benefits eligibility" for hourly employees.

"Although we are unable to predict how long these pay-related adjustments will remain in effect, or the long-term financial impacts of COVID-19, they are intended to be temporary," LaPierre's note continued, further encouraging affected employees to "contact any germane state or federal agency to determine eligibility for any additional aid."

Laid off NRA employees will be among the hundreds of thousands of Americans in recent weeks who have suddenly found themselves in one of the worst economic contractions in U.S. history. The Department of Labor reported that in mid-March, unemployment claims spiked to 281,000, the highest level since 2017.

Monday's statement from the Brewer firm noted that the COVID-19 epidemic and its accompanying nationwide lockdown have "caused a major disruption to our fundraising activities."

"Based on state or local restrictions and guidance from public health authorities, we have been forced to cancel all Friends of NRA banquets across the country, other planned events, special programs, gun shows, recruitment stations, and various other streams of expected income," the statement added.

Conservatives Gather At Annual CPAC Event
The booth of the National Rifle Association of America is seen at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference at Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center February 26, 2020, in National Harbor, Maryland. Alex Wong/Getty

The coronavirus outbreak represents just the latest fiscal crisis for the NRA, whose flagging finances amid an ethics and governance scandal have required the organization to take steps to shore up its balance sheet. The Trace has reported, for example, that free coffee was eliminated at the group's headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia.

The NRA and its charitable foundation are currently being investigated by the attorneys general for New York and the District of Columbia over alleged violations of their tax-exempt status, which requires that no insider derive a personal benefit from non-profit assets.

Critics have accused the NRA of engaging in profligate spending, a claim that was bolstered by the organization's former president, Lt. Col. Oliver North, who has fallen out with the NRA, as has its former public relations firm, Ackerman McQueen.

The three have since become entangled in a legal morass spanning multiple states, with accusations of deception and betrayal playing out in various lawsuits. North wrote in a letter during the final days of his tenure as president that invoices from the Brewer firm, the NRA's outside counsel, were "draining NRA cash at mindboggling speed."

During the first quarter of 2019, the firm was being paid nearly $100,000 per day for its legal services. Brewer's defenders have noted that the NRA's voluminous litigation has racked up significant wins, including against the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco for policies targeting gun-rights supporters.

Turnover at the NRA in recent months has jeopardized its ability to remain among the country's most politically influential organizations; and the fact that 2020 is an election year will only amplify the consequences of Monday's announcement. The NRA spent a record $55 million on the 2016 presidential election, $30 million of which went to supporting then-candidate Donald Trump.

Eight directors on the group's board have resigned since last May.

During a period of months in the fall of 2019, after a pair of especially gruesome mass shootings, the NRA was put on the defensive, pressured to demonstrate its continued political leverage during a time when many gun-rights supporters have become disaffected with the group. There appear to have been some moderate successes: The New York Times reported that the group secured concessions from Trump in a private phone call just as talk of new gun controls on Capitol Hill appeared viable for the first time in years.

But questions remain about whether the group can retain its unrivaled political influence in Congress, where a sitting U.S. representative, Don Young (R-AK), also serves on the NRA's board. Top officials at the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA), its lobbying arm and connection to Washington D.C., departed last year. One of them, Chris Cox, the division's former top lobbyist, was mentioned in a lawsuit against North, where he was accused of participating in a conspiracy to oust LaPierre.

David Lehman, NRA-ILA's general counsel who had been filling in for Cox amid the staffing deficit, left in August.

"Over the years, we've weathered more tough times than most," LaPierre concluded in his note Monday. "But we will rise from this stronger and well positioned to lead the fight to protect our Second Amendment, the First Amendment, and all our constitutional freedoms during the crucial upcoming elections and for years to come."