Teaching college at Fort Benning in 2013, I gave 30 soldiers an assignment: “Name your favorite of the Ten Amendments and explain why.” When essays came in a week later, I found one Sixth Amendment (criminal defendants’ rights), two Fourth Amendment (unreasonable searches and seizures), three First Amendment (free speech), and twenty-four Second Amendment (right to keep and bear arms). I should have known, with all military students!
I met NRA official Wayne LaPierre on the AU campus in 1998, he spoke to the AU Young Re-publicans. LaPierre saw me taking a lot of notes. Later, he asked me who I was and if I was a journalist, but he was nice and soft-spoken, in the 7th year of what became a 33-year career with the National Rifle Association.
LaPierre, 74, led the NRA longer than anyone and was very powerful as the CEO and executive vice president. He became a household name, and he was friends with high-level politicians, gun-makers, and lobbyists. Now he faces a legal battle with New York Attorney General Letitia James. LaPierre said he resigned for health reasons, noting he has chronic Lyme Disease.
LaPierre’s reckless spending on personal items, said to be from donors, is a focus of the trial. For instance, he frequented the Zegna boutique in Beverly Hills, even spending some $40,000 in a single May 2004 outing, charging it to an NRA contractor. Plus, his lawyer said LaPierre took private jets because of death threats.
He spent more than $250,000 on travel to, among other places, the Bahamas, Lake Como in Italy, Palm Beach and Reno. LaPierre said these were legitimate business expenses, as he travels a lot to speak on behalf of the association. The corruption case reduced his supporters and increased criticism from other NRA leaders, ac-cording to The New York Times.
“You kept hearing after each deadly incident that Wayne LaPierre isn’t doing enough, and frankly that’s not true,” said Jason Selvig, a prank artist. “The NRA under Wayne LaPierre’s leadership provided thoughts and prayers to victims and their families and maybe these mass shootings would stop happening if we all thought a little bit more and we prayed a little bit more. If we give enough thought and prayers, these mass shootings will stop,” Selvig said sarcastically.
Those remarks were meant as a joke, as NRA provides only “thoughts and prayers” and few sensible or workable ways to stop mass killings. LaPierre later said mass murders such as at Sandy Hook Elementary School were due to “a lack of mental health reform and the prevalence of violent video games and movies.”
LaPierre put forward several ideas about mental health care he said could reduce the number of mass killings committed by people with serious mental health problems. One is “increasing funds for a stricter and more efficient mental health system” and another is “creating a computerized universal mental health registry, to help limit gun sales to the mentally ill.”
I believe in teachers monitoring health care and security at schools. But while the NRA said it would contribute large amounts of money to get that done, the money from NRA came in drivels. For example, the press discovered that only $11,000 was earmarked for mental health activities that would provide quality mental health care to potential mass murderers.
Many people, including me, thought that mental health programs alone could not solve the tragedies of shooters who may have been stopped by such medical interventions. Yet we find that the flawed LaPierre did not keep his part of the deal. His is a Ponzi scheme of a new style.
These NRA shenanigans remind me of a story I told readers in 2022. Running for president in 2016, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee gained attention and votes via an ad with gun lover Chuck Norris. Huckabee did not win the GOP nomination, but his Norris ad was great. I wrote that in the 2022 election to the U.S. Senate, Alabama Republican Jessica Taylor had her own “Chuck Norris.” Her Michigan supporter was a rock star and Second Amendment devotee: Ted Nugent. Taylor’s candidacy soon collapsed be-fore wealthy GOP candidates took the lead.
When I covered NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre’s speech at Auburn University in 1998, no one predicted how famous he would become. Celebrated for promoting gun rights, he was vilified for helping defeat gun control bills. He has many flaws, but he is having a tough time. I wish him well in battling his serious illness.

Greg Markley moved to Lee County in 1996. He has a master’s in education from AUM and a master’s in history from Auburn University. He taught politics as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama. An award-winning writer in the Army and civilian life, he has contributed to the Observer since 2011. He writes on politics, education, and books.