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Former senior NRA official breaks ranks in new book, supporting universal background checks

Author says NRA fuelled toxic debate appealing to paranoia of members 'in a way that has torn at the very fabric of America'

Oliver O'Connell
New York
Thursday 03 September 2020 20:26 BST
Virginia rally: Thousands protest against gun control bills

The former second in command at the National Rifle Association has broken ranks from the organisation by voicing support for universal background checks and ‘red flag laws’.

Joshua Powell, who was fired by the group at the beginning of the year says in a book to be published next week that the NRA is more focused on money than the Second Amendment it claims to defend, and that it has stood in the way of any constructive dialogue regarding gun violence.

“The NRA fuelled a toxic debate by appealing to the paranoia and darkest side of our members, in a way that has torn at the very fabric of America,” he writes.

In his memoir Inside the NRA, Mr Powell, who was chief of staff to chief executive Wayne LaPierre, describes his former boss as a woefully inept manager, but a skilled lobbyist, according to The New York Times.

The book, subtitled A Tell-All Account of Corruption, Greed, and Paranoia Within the Most Powerful Political Group in America, reportedly focuses a great deal on Mr LaPierre.

Mr Powell says that he “couldn’t run an organisation on a fiscally sound basis to save his life” and that last year he had considered stepping aside and asking former governor Mike Huckabee or former representative Jason Chaffetz to take over as head of the group.

Mr Powell says that he does not personally believe universal background checks would be effective in stopping criminals from obtaining guns. However, given the organisation's roots in championing gun safety and education, he feels that it has limited its long-term growth as a group by ignoring that the majority of gun owners support such checks.

He says “the NRA is not in step with the majority of gun owners” on the issue.

On red flag laws which allow the police to confiscate weapons from people deemed to be a threat to themselves or others after warnings from friends or relatives, he is in favour provided there is a process involving medical doctors and psychiatrists as well as bipartisan oversight.

The Times reports that Mr Powell says that Mr LaPierre was skilled at being able to head off even modest gun control measures, and that much of the group’s talk of school safety in the wake of massacres such as Sandy Hook was largely empty rhetoric.

When president Donald Trump indicated support for tough new gun laws after the massacre in Parkland, Florida, his mind was changed during a meeting with Mr LaPierre. Mr Powell writes that the president was reminded who had helped elect him.

For years the NRA has been the subject of headlines alleging infighting, corruption, and even infiltration by a Russian agent. The timing of the book is especially poignant given that New York’s attorney general Letitia James recently filed a lawsuit to dissolve the organisation.

Both Mr Powell and Mr LaPierre were among four people named in the suit which seeks millions of dollars in restitution.

NRA officials said in August that the upcoming book was an attempt to discredit the organisation and for Mr Powell to salvage his own image after misuses of expenses led to his termination.

“It’s not surprising Mr Powell would try to save his failing career by peddling fiction about the NRA," said Carolyn Meadows, the NRA's president.

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