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NRA Loses 300,000 Members Since January, Records Show

August 1, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The National Rifle Association lost more than 300,000 members this year, almost one-tenth of its total, at a time of both highly publicized controversy and rising influence in Congress.

The five straight months of membership declines, following a brief increase in January, left the group with just under 3.2 million members at the end of June, according to internal NRA documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The defections come at a pivotal time for the group whose finances have become precarious, accentuating the need for every membership dollar.

Issues that drew sometimes unwanted attention to the organization included an NRA fund-raising letter that called federal law enforcement agents ``jack-booted government thugs,″ prompting former President Bush to cancel his membership. Last month, it was revealed that the NRA paid for consultants helping Republican congressional aides probe the Waco disaster and that an NRA staffer told prospective witnesses she was part of the Waco hearing team. Witnesses said they believed she worked for Congress.

Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s executive vice president, said the group remains in good shape and that its membership crept back up over the 3.2 million mark in July. He blamed the dropoff on an increase in dues late last year that boosted the minimum annual membership fee from $20 to $35.

``What you’re seeing with membership is related to the increase in dues and the planned cutback in membership promotion until we could see what kind of impact the dues increase would have,″ LaPierre said. ``We don’t need to increase membership right now. What we’ve wanted to do is stabilize and keep our membership.″

LaPierre conceded that sustaining membership is vital in the NRA’s current financial condition.

At the end of 1994, LaPierre said, the group had almost $52 million in cash and investments. But $39 million was pledged as collateral for the NRA’s new headquarters, meaning that it had roughly $13 million in cash it could actually use before other obligations were calculated.

Given the expense associated with membership recruitment _ much of which is done through direct-mail advertising _ LaPierre estimated that the group wants to keep its membership near 3 million people.

NRA Treasurer Wilson Phillips said some members dropped out because they don’t feel any urgency to send money given that the Republican-led Congress agrees with the NRA on most gun issues.

``The rest of this is cyclical,″ Phillips said. ``Any organization is going to go up and down a little bit.″

Underscoring the NRA’s support in Congress is a letter House Speaker Newt Gingrich sent Tanya Metaksa, the group’s chief lobbyist, assuring her that no gun-control legislation would move through the House as long as he is speaker. In the two years before Republicans won control on Capitol Hill, Congress banned assault-style firearms and passed the Brady law calling for background checks and five-day waits on handgun purchases.

The documents obtained by the AP show that since the membership-recruitment drive began in earnest in 1992, there have been just six months when the group’s membership experienced a temporary drop _ none of them consecutive.

The greatest single decline was a loss of 50,257 in June of 1994, a drop of 1.4 percent of the NRA’s membership at the time. The NRA regained that membership within 30 days.

But the membership numbers for 1995 tell a different story. The NRA began the year with 3,454,430 members. It gained 55,576 in January for a total of 3,510,006.

The slide began in February. It lost 37,891 members that month, 84,402 more in March and another 76,575 in April.

After the publicity about the ``jack-booted government thugs″ letter and Bush’s resignation, the NRA lost 78,764 members in May and 45,495 more in June. That left the group with 3,186,879 members on June 30. The five-month loss totaled 323,127, an average drop of just under 2 percent per month.

If that loss rate resumed following last month’s stabilization, the membership would drop below 2.8 million by the end of the year.

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