by Jeff Knox
(January 24, 2017) I usually try to avoid using this venue as a stump for talking about the politics inside the NRA. I generally write an annual article offering my suggestions for Board of director candidates and leave it at that, but this year, the NRA Board of Directors has introduced some sweeping bylaw amendments that every NRA member should be concerned about.
Every year at this time, a third of the NRA’s 76-member Board comes up for election. This year, a slate of fifteen bylaw changes is being proposed by “unanimous recommendation” of the Board of Directors. These bylaw changes, presented without debate and no dissenting opinions, are claimed to continue the spirit of the “Cincinnati reforms,” and according to press releases put out under NRA President Alan Cors’ name, to give more power to the members.
Quite to the contrary, the proposed bylaw changes destroy the last vestiges of the reforms enacted during the Cincinnati member revolt of 1977. They remove power from the members, further consolidating control over the Association within the Board’s inner circle and staff.
For most of the past century through 1977, the NRA ballot typically contained 25 names for 25 Board vacancies, unless someone died in office in which case the ballot carried 26 names for 26 vacancies. The names on the ballot were chosen by the Nominating Committee, which was tightly controlled by an inner circle of the Board and staff. No petition process existed. In short, the process was as insular closed as the Russian Politburo of the Cold War.
This slate of bylaw changes puts the NRA firmly on the road back to the “Russian ballot” of days gone by, and locks the Association on that course.
In 1977 a group of members and renegade Board members, upset by the NRA’s reluctance to fulfill its duties in the political arena, and the closed electoral system that made change all but impossible, staged a member revolt at the Annual Meeting of Members in Cincinnati. Operating under the bylaws and not-for-profit law, an insurgent team of members and rebel Board members including Neal Knox and Harlon Carter, moved a slate of bylaw changes that reorganized the organization’s structure and imposed a petition process to get access to the ballot. The members, already angry at a proposal being floated by the NRA brass to move the headquarters out of Washington, were primed to join the rebellion. The meeting lasted from 10:00 in the morning Saturday to 4:00 Sunday morning.
In subsequent years, those member-empowering bylaw amendments have been chipped away. Each strike of the chisel was made with assurances that the latest change would “protect the Cincinnati reforms.” The current proposal paves the way to wipe away the last vestiges.
The proposed bylaw amendments would soon put the petition process out of reach of most members, returning to a closed system that virtually guarantees control of the Board by staff and incumbents.
When Dad wrote the current standard, he set the threshold at 250 voting members. That number was deemed achievable an average member who wanted to take a hand in NRA affairs as a Board member. In this internet age, gathering 250 qualified signatures has become somewhat easier, but setting the bar at anything higher than about 500 would take the process out of reach of most members.
The Board proposes setting a threshold at 0.5% of the voters in the past year’s election. The new threshold will be around that acceptable 500 number, but that’s only true as long as less than 6% of eligible members cast ballots. If turnout were to go up to just 8%, the number of signatures required to qualify for the ballot would go up to close to 900 – beyond the reach of an average member.
As an Endowment Life Member of the NRA who has been very active in NRA politics for almost four decades, I’m very troubled by the key provisions of this bylaw change proposal, and I am urging all voting members to Vote “No” on this proposal. While some of the proposed changes are mostly cosmetic, and others seem logical, the overall effect of the proposed changes is to take power away from the members, and this is an all-or-nothing proposition. You can’t get the good without also accepting the bad – and that’s unacceptable.
If you are an NRA member, I urge you to take a look in your February 2017 issue of your NRA magazine to see if there is a voting package bound into the middle of it. If there is, go to the back of the package where you will find 2 ballots and an envelope. One ballot is for voting on the Board of Directors, the other is for voting on the proposed bylaw amendments.
Whether you vote in the Director election or not, be sure to completely fill in the circle next to the word “No” on the bylaw ballot, put it in the envelope, sign it, and drop it in the mail.
“As the NRA goes, so go our gun rights.” My dad first penned those words more than thirty years ago when the NRA was embroiled in another of its internal struggles. The NRA management likes to think that a placid, compliant NRA is good for gun rights. That is not true. The organization was born out of strife and is at its best when there is tension. For its leaders to relax into complacent incumbency will not yield an NRA that is willing to press the strategic advantage we have now, nor dig in and fight the hard battles that will come when the political pendulum moves the other way.
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For the Board of Directors election, I am recommending just 3 candidates, and no others. They are Sean Maloney, Adam Kraut, and Graham Hill. There are others on the ballot who are also good, but they don’t need my help.