The National Rifle Association is set to hold its 2022 annual meeting in Houston on Friday, bringing together its top brass and several notable conservatives, including former President Donald Trump, for the first time in three years.
The NRA’s annual meeting was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, but this year the organization is moving ahead with its plans, holding the meeting at a time when both gun rights and the organization itself have come under intense scrutiny, especially after a shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, left 21 dead.
Here’s what we know about the 2022 annual meeting.
When is the meeting?
The NRA’s 2022 Annual Meeting & Exhibits is scheduled to take place from May 27-29, according to the event website. The leadership forum, which the organization bills as “one of the most politically significant and popular events in the country,” will take place Friday afternoon.
Where is the meeting?
The leadership forum will be held in Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center, the same location it was going to be at last September for the 2021 annual meeting.
Who can attend the meeting?
The annual meeting is only open to NRA members. The organization currently has over five million members, according to its website.
Who are this year’s speakers?
Friday’s meeting will feature remarks from eight people, including NRA head Wayne LaPierre and Jason Ouimet, the executive director of the group’s lobbying arm, according to the event website.
Trump will also speak at the event. The former President, who maintained a close relationship with the gun lobby and its activists throughout his presidency, spoke at the 2019 event, which marked his fifth consecutive speech to the annual meeting.
In addition to Trump, Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, and Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw, also a Republican, are also scheduled to speak at Friday’s meeting. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, both Republicans, will also deliver remarks.
What are the security measures?
The NRA said that because Trump will be at the event, the US Secret Service “will take control of the General Assembly Hall and have magnetometers in place before entry.”
Attendees are prohibited from bringing “firearms, firearm accessories, knives, and other items,” including backpacks and selfie sticks.
What has happened since the 2019 meeting?
Friday’s annual meeting will take place at a time when gun rights and the NRA have come under intense scrutiny, with supporters of gun control turning their attention to the organization this week after an 18-year-old gunman fatally shot 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, before he was killed by law enforcement, officials said.
The NRA condemned the shooting in a statement Wednesday, calling it a “horrific and evil crime.”
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The National Rifle Association is set to hold its 2022 annual meeting in Houston on May 27, bringing together its top brass and several notable conservatives, including former President Donald Trump, for the first time in three years.
“Although an investigation is underway and facts are still emerging, we recognize this was the act of a lone, deranged criminal,” the group said. “As we gather in Houston, we will reflect on these events, pray for the victims, recognize our patriotic members, and pledge to redouble our commitment to making our schools secure.”
The massacre is the deadliest shooting at a school since the Sandy Hook massacre in Connecticut in 2012 that left 26 people dead, including 20 children aged between 6 and 7 years old.
The NRA has also been in a fight to remain afloat after New York Attorney General Letitia James sued to dissolve the NRA for allegedly misusing charitable funds. In March, a New York State Supreme Court justice blocked James’ attempt to dissolve the organization but allowed her suit against it to move forward.
And observers are also awaiting a decision from the US Supreme Court in the biggest Second Amendment case it has taken up in more than a decade. The justices are considering whether to strike down a New York gun law enacted more than a century ago that places restrictions on carrying a concealed gun outside the home.
What happened at the last annual meeting?
At 2019’s annual meeting, Trump announced that he would not ratify a United Nations arms trading treaty and then signed a message to the Senate in front of an audience of NRA leaders.
The meeting was also notable because then-NRA President Oliver North told members during it that he would not be renominated president of the group following a dispute with LaPierre. The announcement was made in a letter in which North said he hoped he would be renominated for a second term but, “I am now informed that will not happen.”
Already a controversial figure due to his involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal, North joined the NRA at a critical juncture for it as it responded to renewed calls for gun control in the wake of the 2017 school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
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The National Rifle Association (NRA) has gone through a metamorphosis since its founding after the Civil War. Created to improve marksmanship among soldiers and recruits, it at first cooperated with the federal government on concealed weapon permits and other laws regulating firearms.
Over time, however, the NRA grew into a powerful organization that opposed almost all gun control measures. It created a lobbying arm, raised a substantial war chest, and developed largely unrivaled influence over lawmakers. The NRA actively helped to block efforts to ban assault rifles after the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, when a gunman killed 20 first-graders and six staff members.
More recently, a gunman killed at least 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, 2022. The NRA’s role was further put under the microscope given that the mass shooting occurred just days before the organization’s annual meeting in Houston, less than 300 miles away from Uvalde, and its speakers list included Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Senator Ted Cruz, both of whom exert tremendous political power over the issue of gun safety and have been adamant supporters of the NRA.
Gun control groups such as Everytown for Gun Safety, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, and March for Our Lives have been challenging the NRA’s primacy among politicians and at the polls in recent years. In 2020, New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit demanding its dissolution, alleging top leadership diverted funds for their personal use. Five months after that lawsuit was filed, the organization filed for bankruptcy, which was blocked by a judge as was James’ original lawsuit in 2022.
To see how the NRA became what it is today, Stacker compiled a timeline of its history, from its founding to its current court battles. All information was gleaned from historical records, primary documents, and news and legal accounts.
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Union Army veterans Col. William C. Church and Gen. George Wingate worried about the poor marksmanship among their troops. They founded the National Rifle Association to teach rifle skills. Fellow Civil War veteran Gen. Ambrose Burnside, who was also a former governor of Rhode Island and U.S. senator, became the organization’s first president. The group is chartered by the state of New York.
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With $25,000 from New York state, the NRA bought part of what was the Creed family farm to use as a rifle range for the New York State National Guard. Renamed Creedmoor, the range opened a year later and began holding annual matches. Nearby streets are named after weapons: Winchester Boulevard, and Range, Musket, Pistol, and Sabre streets.
The range was bought by the state in 1907 and closed.
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The National Revolver Association, part of the NRA, first proposed requiring a permit to carry a concealed weapon in the 1920s. Other aspects of the NRA’s legislation: adding five years prison time if a gun was used in a crime, prohibiting the sale of a gun to a non-citizen, imposing a one-day waiting period before a purchaser could take possession of a gun, and opening records of gun sales to police. Nine states quickly adopted the legislation.
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The NRA helped President Franklin Roosevelt draft the Natinal Firearms Act, a response to Prohibition-era violence. Machine guns, sawed-off shotguns, and other weapons were taxed and were required to be registered. “I have never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons,” NRA President Karl T. Frederick told Congress. “I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.” But he refused to go along with restricting the sale of pistols.
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The NRA came out in strong support of California’s Mulford Act, which banned the open carry of firearms. The law was passed after armed Black Panthers began patrolling to guard against police brutality. Two dozen Black Panthers carrying weapons entered the state Capitol in May as lawmakers considered the legislation before being disarmed by the state police.
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Congress imposed new restrictions on gun sales with the Gun Control Act following the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, his brother, Robert Kennedy, and civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. The new law limited mail-order gun purchases, required all weapons to carry serial numbers, and restricted felons, those who abused drugs, and those who were mentally ill, from buying weapons.
Provisions it did not include: a national gun registry or licenses for all gun carriers. The NRA had opposed them, raising President Lyndon B. Johnson’s ire, who called it “a powerful lobby, a gun lobby.”
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Agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, or the ATF, killed a member of the NRA who was hiding a cache of illegal weapons. In response, the NRA created a lobbying arm called the Institute for Legislative Action. A Texas lawyer named Harlon Carter, who had led the Border Patrol in the 1950s, was chosen to head it.
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A hardliner named Harlon Carter ran up against older members of the NRA who tried to curtail his power by cutting his staff. He organized a takeover at the NRA’s annual convention in 1977 and became the group’s executive vice president. Another hardliner, Neal Knox, took over the Institute for Legislative Action. Suddenly, the NRA group opposed all types of gun control.
"You don’t stop crime by attacking guns,” Carter said. “You stop crime by stopping criminals.”
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The NRA made its first endorsement for president in 1980 and wound up backed a winner: Ronald Reagan. As governor of California, Reagan had signed the Mulford Act into law. He was a lifelong member of the NRA but supported some gun control measures—particularly after the attempt on his life that wounded his press secretary, Jim Brady.
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The NRA saw years of lobbying succeed with the passage of the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act. It rolled back restrictions on buying, selling, and transporting weapons across state lines that were included in the 1968 Gun Control Act. The pull off the passage of the legislation, the NRA donated $1.4 million to candidates for Congress during the 1984 elections.
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When John Hinckley tried to kill President Ronald Reagan in 1981, he also shot press secretary Jim Brady in the head. Twelve years later, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act passed, requiring a background check for those buying firearms. The electronic National Instant Criminal Background Check System went online in 1981. The NRA argued unsuccessfully in court that the Brady Act and the NICS were unconstitutional infringements on states’ rights.
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The NRA opposed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which banned the manufacture, ownership, or transfer of AR-15s and other semiautomatic weapons. Another provision limited magazines to 10 bullets. It was prompted by a number of mass shootings, including one on the Long Island Railroad in New York and another at a law firm in San Francisco.
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After the Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colorado, the NRA continued to oppose a waiting period for handgun purchases and a limit of one gun a month for individual purchases, but said it would consider background checks at gun shows and bar juveniles with felony convictions from buying guns. It also went forward with its annual meeting in Denver, though it was scaled down and was met by protests.
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Actor Charlton Heston, NRA president from 1998 to 2003, famously stood before NRA members at the group’s 2000 convention, raised a rifle over his head, and said, “From my cold dead hands.” Heston was rallying them against the presidential candidacy of Vice President Al Gore. “I want to say those fighting words for everyone within the sound of my voice to hear and to heed, and especially for you, Mr. Gore,” he said. “From my cold, dead hands.” The phrase was from a slogan the NRA used on a series of bumper stickers.
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The federal assault weapon ban was allowed to expire in 2004. Congressmen and women who voted for the ban were opposed by the NRA at the polls.
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The NRA pushed for immunity for gun manufacturers from civil lawsuits rising out of crimes committed with guns. The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act was signed by President George W. Bush and derailed attempts to hold manufacturers liable for crimes. The NRA praised the law as “a vitally important first step toward ending the anti-gun lobby’s shameless attempts to bankrupt the American firearms industry through reckless lawsuits.”
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The NRA challenged an order from the New Orleans police chief to his officers to confiscate firearms from residents after Hurricane Katrina flooded the city. The NRA won a temporary injunction. Later, the Disaster Recovery Personal Protection Act barred the seizure of firearms during emergencies.
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After 20 first-graders and six adults were shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, by a gunman using a semiautomatic weapon, the NRA again rejected demands for more gun controls. The group’s executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, instead called for armed police officers in every school in the country and announced an NRA training program. The Washington Post reported some senior officials in the group thought it should take a less confrontational approach.
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Following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, President Barack Obama pushed to reinstate the ban on assault weapons. Although a majority of Americans backed tighter gun controls, the NRA instituted a campaign to “Stop the Gun Ban.” The U.S. Senate voted it down, 60 to 40.
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After the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the NRA released a video saying “the mainstream media love mass shootings,” accusing journalists of using them “to juice their ratings and push their agenda.” The organization again resisted calls for stricter gun laws. A student-led group called March for Our Lives grew out of the tragedy to challenge the NRA and organized massive protests in Washington D.C. and across the country calling for new gun control laws.
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Retired U.S. Marine Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North accused the NRA’s executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, of ousting him as president. North had alleged financial misbehavior by the group’s leadership. LaPierre in turn accused North of threatening to release “damaging” information about him in a letter to NRA board members, some of whom subsequently resigned. Meanwhile, New York Attorney General Letitia James began investigating the organization’s tax-exempt status and its charitable foundation.
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Also in 2019, a Russian gun rights activist Maria Butina was sentenced to 18 months in prison after pleading guilty to conspiring with a Russian official to infiltrate the NRA. The FBI said her goal was to use the NRA to establish contact with officials and influence U.S. foreign policy in favor of Russia. She was released in October and deported to Moscow.
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New York Attorney General Letitia James in 2020 filed a lawsuit to dissolve the NRA, accusing its leaders of diverting millions of dollars from the organization to pay for their lavish lifestyles. Their failure to manage the NRA’s funds had contributed to a loss of more than $64 million in only three years, she charged. Among the alleged misappropriation of funds: trips to the Bahamas and private jets.
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The NRA tried and failed to use bankruptcy laws to evade Letitia James’ attempt to shut the group down. A federal bankruptcy judge ruled in May that it could not use a bankruptcy claim “to address a regulatory enforcement problem.” Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said the NRA would keep fighting for gun rights. James tweeted: "The @NRA does not get to dictate if and where it will answer for its actions, and our case will continue in New York court... We sued the @NRA to put an end to its fraud and abuse, and now we will continue our work to hold the organization accountable."
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In early March 2022, a judge blocked New York Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit attempting to put the NRA out of business. In his 42-page decision, Justice Joel M. Cohen of the New York County Supreme Court in Manhattan wrote, “The Complaint does not allege that any financial misconduct benefited the NRA, or that the NRA exists primarily to carry out such activity, or that the NRA is incapable of continuing its legitimate activities on behalf of its millions of members.” He continued: “The Complaint does not allege the type of public harm that is the legal linchpin for imposing the ‘corporate death penalty’.”
While James’ attempt to dissolve the NRA was blocked, Cohen did say that 14 of James’ other claims could move forward, including potentially ousting longtime CEO and Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre (pictured here). “[James’] allegations concern primarily private harm to the NRA and its members and donors, which if proven can be addressed by the targeted, less intrusive relief she seeks through other claims in her Complaint,” Cohen wrote. According to his decision, James described LaPierre’s abuse of power, exploitation, and “general disregard for corporate governance” in “meticulous detail.”
After the judge’s ruling, James tweeted that she is reviewing her legal options. Though she said she was disappointed by the result, she hopes to continue to expose the alleged “fraud, abuse, and greed permeate through the NRA and its senior leadership.”
NRA President Charles Cotton also released a statement in response to the judge’s decision. “The message is loud and clear: the NRA is strong and secure in its mission to protect constitutional freedom,” he said. Meanwhile, despite the NRA’s attempted bankruptcy filing, their lobbying expenditures are on track with $650,000 in the first quarter of 2022 versus $870k during the same period in 2021, according to Open Secrets.
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