Since rising to the top administrative position at the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre has become one of the world’s most-recognized faces in gun rights advocacy.
LaPierre has served as executive vice president and chief executive officer of the NRA since 1991. He has worked for the NRA since 1977. LaPierre’s position as top administrator of the nation’s largest gun rights organization has thrust him into the public eye, particularly in politics. As a result, he is both revered by fellow gun rights advocates and a lightning rod for criticism from supporters of gun control.
Wayne LaPierre: Beginnings
After obtaining a masters degree in government from Boston College, LaPierre entered the lobbying industry and has been a figure in government and political advocacy for his entire career.
Before joining the NRA in 1977 as a 28-year-old lobbyist, LaPierre served as a legislative aid to Virginia Delegate Vic Thomas. LaPierre’s initial job with the NRA was state liaison for the NRA Institute of Legislative Action (ILA), the organization’s lobbying arm. He was quickly named the NRA-ILA’s Director of State and Local Affairs and became executive director of the NRA-ILA in 1986.
Between 1986 and 1991, LaPierre became a central figure in the gun rights niche. His move to the NRA’s executive director position in 1991 came as gun rights became a central theme in American politics for the first time since the 1960s. With the passage of the Brady Bill in 1993 and the Assault Weapons Ban in 1994, and the resulting fallout of the new gun control laws, the NRA experienced its greatest period of growth since its foundation in 1971.
LaPierre’s salary as the NRA’s CEO has been reported at figures ranging from $600,000 to nearly $1.3 million, usually by critics of the NRA.
LaPierre has also served on the boards of directors of the American Association of Political Consultants, American Conservative Union, Center for the Study of Popular Culture and the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation.
An accomplished author, LaPierre’s titles that include “Safe: How to Protect Yourself, Your Family, and Your Home,” “The Global War on Your Guns: Inside the UN Plan to Destroy the Bill of Rights” and “The Essential Second Amendment Guide.”
Wayne LaPierre: Praise
LaPierre is often revered by gun rights advocates because of his uncompromising defense of the Second Amendment in the face of gun control proposals and anti-gun political leaders.
In 2003, LaPierre took on CNN after the cable news giant aired a segment featuring Florida sheriff Ken Jenne, a former Democratic state representative, and his advocacy for an extension of the Assault Weapons Ban, which was set to sunset in 2004. The segment showed two AK-47 rifles being fired at cinderblocks and a bulletproof vest in an attempt to show how one, purported by CNN to be a target of the AWB, packed more firepower than a civilian model.
As a result of criticism from LaPierre, who charged CNN with “deliberately faking” the story, the network ultimately admitted that the second rifle was being fired into the ground by a deputy sheriff rather than being fired into the cinderblock target. CNN, however, denied knowledge of the target switch.
In the aftermath of 2011’s so-called “Fast and Furious” scandal, in which AK-47s were allowed to be sold to Mexican drug cartel members and later implicated in the deaths of two U.S. border agents, LaPierre became critical of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s handling of the matter and later called for Holder’s resignation.
One of the staunchest critics of President Barack Obama’s administration, LaPierre said before the president’s election that Obama harbored a greater “deep-rooted hatred of firearm freedoms” than any other presidential candidate in the NRA’s history. In 2011, LaPierre declined an invitation to join Obama, Holder and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for talks on the subject of guns.
Wayne LaPierre: Criticism
Not everyone has been amused by LaPierre’s sharp tongue, however. LaPierre’s statement about ATF agents involved in the Ruby Ridge and Waco assaults being “jackbooted thugs” led former President George H.W. Bush, a lifetime member of the NRA, to resign his membership in 1995.
Five years later, even Charlton Heston — the NRA’s president at the time and perhaps its most beloved spokesman ever — called LaPierre’s statement “extreme rhetoric” after LaPierre said President Bill Clinton would tolerate a certain amount of killing if it meant strengthening the case for gun control.