By Jeff Knox
At the NRA’s Annual Meeting of Members in Atlanta last weekend, NRA leaders doubled-down on their strategy of treating the membership like children or mushrooms. As a concerned and involved NRA Endowment member, I submitted a resolution that was critical of NRA leadership for their handling of the recent bylaw election. The main focus of the resolution was that the NRA leadership displayed a serious lack of respect for the membership by not giving members an opportunity to hear dissenting opinions and debate the amendments on their merits prior to voting on them.
My objective was to foster debate about this issue and allow the membership to act as the owners of their Association. But rather than allow that discussion, the leadership silenced dissent by claiming that there were “technical flaws” in the resolution, and declaring it “out of order.”
The “technical flaws” were bogus, based on a distorted reading of Robert’s Rules of Order, and an intentional mischaracterization of a clause of the resolution. Even if they they were valid, the proper course under Robert’s Rules should have been either to bring the issues to my attention as the maker of the motion, and give me an opportunity to correct them, exactly as they did with another, less controversial resolution I submitted, or allow the resolution onto the floor where any flaws could be amended using the normal deliberative process. Instead, they simply declared the whole resolution out of order and went on to the next item of business.
The only resolution actually voted on by the members, was one I submitted calling for commemoration of 2017 as the 40th anniversary of the Cincinnati Revolt. It called for members to express their desire that the association recognize and celebrate this important milestone in the Association’s history by publishing feature articles and other media presentations commemorating the event as a way to educate younger NRA members about our history.
Even with this relatively uncontroversial resolution, President Cors moved quickly, going straight to the vote without offering opportunity for debate or discussion. Under Robert’s Rules, the maker of a motion or resolution always has the right to speak about it before a vote is taken, and technically, should read the resolution to the body, but that’s not the way it happened. It could be argued that President Cors is not a parliamentarian, and simply made a few mistakes in his conduct of the meeting, but it seemed that the mistakes always tended to the benefit of the establishment, and the detriment of the members. But ignorance is a lame excuse since a professional parliamentarian sits at the President’s elbow during the meeting.
Some other members offered a pair of resolutions, and in both cases, a member of the Board of Directors immediately rose to move that the resolution be referred to a committee of the Board, rather than allowing the members to vote on it. In the first instance, that motion to refer passed without discussion, and in the other, the member who submitted the resolution requested permission to withdraw it.
As soon as that resolution had been dealt with, the same member of the Board who had risen on the other issues rose again, this time to move that the meeting be adjourned. President noted that he had been informed that a member of the Executive Council, former President David Keene, had expressed a desire to raise a point of personal privilege, and asked that the motion to adjourn be held briefly to allow Mr. Keene to raise his point of privilege. There was no objection, and Mr. Keene was given the floor.
Former President Keene expressed his feeling that he had been personally insulted – along with the rest of the Board – by the suggestion that NRA leadership does not respect the members. He pointed out that he and the current leadership of the organization frequently remark on the fact that the power of the association is derived from the membership, and give credit to the membership for the achievements the association makes in the political and legislative arenas. He concluded by declaring that they all have the deepest respect for the members, and reiterating that it was insulting to suggest otherwise.
While I could have tried to respond with a personal privilege point of my own, I was quite sure that the attempt would be met with a ruling that I was out of order, and the attempt would have served no purpose. Instead, I approached Mr. Keene directly and apologized for causing offense, assuring him that it was not my intent, but I pointed out that declaring respect, and demonstrating respect are two very different things. Regardless of how thoroughly the bylaw amendments might have been discussed and debated within the Board, not giving the members the courtesy of full disclosure of the facts, and not allowing any expressions of dissent from the leadership position, is not a demonstration of respect. Further, filling the magazine with repeated arguments supporting and encouraging a “Yes” vote, without providing any opportunity for any other opinion to be expressed, also failed to demonstrate respect for the members. I got the distinct impression that he was not convinced.
The National Rifle Association is a wonderful organization with incredible power, and even greater potential. I believe that every gun owner and lover of liberty should be a member. Having dedicated the better part of my life to working for a strong, effective, member-driven NRA, I’m deeply disappointed that the leadership – both past and current – insists on “unity” and “conformity” over full disclosure and debate. Rather than providing the membership with the information they need to make an informed decision, and trusting them to come to the best decision, they treat them like mushrooms – kept in the dark and buried in BS – giving them only the information they choose, and holding their hands as they guide them across the street. That’s not respect.