(AP) — With the country’s gun debate at a critical juncture, a normally routine meeting of the National Rifle Association has taken on greater significance as it convenes this week in Washington, D.C.
President Trump and congressional Republicans are weighing measures in the aftermath of mass killings in Texas and Ohio. Democratic presidential candidates in Thursday’s debate pointedly called for action, with former El Paso Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s vowing, “Hell yes, we’re gonna take your AR-15, your AK-47.”
Corporate America also has been speaking up. In a Sept. 12 letter to the U.S. Senate, top executives at 145 companies urged for an expanded background check system and “red flag” laws.
The NRA’s legal battles and internal strife have deepened since the last time its board met in April. It has even been labeled a domestic terrorist organization by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, prompting a lawsuit from the NRA.
Even the location of the meeting, typically an under-the-radar annual affair, came with controversy. The original plan was to hold the gathering, which is not open to the public or most rank-and-file members, in Alaska. But that drew criticism from some for being an unnecessary expense and a way to avoid scrutiny.
Just weeks ago, at a cost of about $100,000, it was switched to Washington. The NRA said it was critical to be close to Congress, where some lawmakers are pushing for background checks for private gun sales and several senators made a fresh pitch to Trump to break gridlock over gun control.
“If they are in Alaska, it would make it impossible for NRA’s officers and senior staff to be engaged in the fight for your rights in the nation’s capital,” Marion Hammer, a former NRA president and one of its most prominent board members, wrote in a post on an NRA website.
At its annual spring meeting, former board president Oliver North and several vocal members sought a review of NRA finances and operations. Then North stepped down and a handful of the board’s 76 members resigned after publicly calling for greater scrutiny of operations.
Members have been especially critical of CEO Wayne LaPierre racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses for clothing and travel. The organization has also been accused of straying too far from its original mission and taking radical political stances, prompting it to eliminate its controversial TV network.
David Dell’Aquila, who has donated about $100,000 to the NRA and pledged the bulk of his estate worth several million dollars, filed a suit this summer against the NRA claiming it has misused donations. He also has created a website that calls for wholesale changes in leadership, including the ouster of LaPierre.
The meeting began Wednesday, but the board won’t formally gather until Saturday. It’s not clear what action, if any, the board could take.