I recently had an opportunity to talk to Judge Phillip Journey, a very busy man who doesn’t seem to be capable of turning down an opportunity to fight for good. Not only is he a judge, a business owner, and a gun rights advocate, but he’s also a long-time NRA reform advocate and a current board member…one who has been shunned by the powers that be and is unlikely to keep his board seat.
While a New York court told New York attorney general Letitia James that she can’t dissolve the organization, James’s claims against the organization’s leadership will go forward and will come to trial later this year or early in 2023. At that point, the judge will have the option of either leaving the NRA alone or letting James appoint someone to run the organization and “fix it.”
Journey wants to give the judge a third option: hand control of the organization over to a group of reformers who can put the NRA back on the right track.
Journey’s Journey In The NRA
Journey says questionable spending at the NRA isn’t a new problem at all. Allegations of fraud, waste, and abuse have been around for decades, as have accusations that the organization isn’t serious enough about fighting for gun rights.
But leadership in previous generations (especially in the 1990s) were able to keep the organization from going belly up, even if it was inefficient and corrupt. It was during that era that Journey was first elected to the NRA’s board, and he participated in an attempt to clean things up then.
The effort, culminating in an NRA meeting some call the “Battle of Seattle” in 1997 fell short — by a single vote — of removing NRA leadership and reforming the organization. After the vote, the leadership purged many reform advocates from the association.
Disaffected outcasts and people who expected better from the NRA left to a large degree, but Journey says he stayed because he’s passionate about the shooting sports.
“We have to make every effort to bring the next generation into the shooting sports.” he said, telling me about his focus over the years and how shooting sports get youth to become passionate about guns. So, he really sees the shooting sports, especially youth shooting sports, as not only fun, but as part of the fight for the future of gun rights in the United States.
After a long time out of NRA leadership, but still involved in the organization, he had a chance to help again, but didn’t know what he was getting into. At one meeting, he said saw the leadership being grilled in a meeting that they had lost control of, and he says he stepped in and pulled their butts out of the fire. This earned him the respect of some of the leadership, who then helped him get back on the board.
He told me there was a lot of luck involved in getting back into leadership, and that he was the only person who was purged in 1997 who ever got back inside. But, he almost turned down the invitation to return to the board when he got ahold of Letitia James’ complaint against the NRA.
He said that when he saw the credible accusations against the organization and the alleged crimes that NRA leaders committed, he literally vomited. The complaint, along with other things he had learned about the organization over the years, seemed likely to end the organization.
“I love the shooting sports, and I knew what was at risk.” he said, explaining why he decided to go ahead and join the board at a meeting in Tucson in 2020. His term as a board member ends in 2023 at the Indianapolis meeting, and he says he seems likely to not be reelected in because he’s now on the outs with the association’s leadership once again, who have raised the required ballot signature thresholds.
His big concern for the future isn’t that the gun rights movement would die off if the NRA goes down, but that the “loss leader” programs the NRA runs, like shooting sports, instructor programs, and others that bring new blood into the gun world wouldn’t be picked up by other organizations. That would lead to a shrinking population of gun owners in the United States in the long run.
How Restore The NRA Got To Where It Is Today
The big turning point for Journey’s drive for NRA reform happened in early 2021. The board, on faulty information, was pressured to approve a new pay package for Wayne LaPierre and the appointment of a Special Litigation Committee to oversee the range of lawsuits against the association and take quick action, which seemed like a good idea at the time.
What he didn’t know was there was already a plan to use the new committee to push through an attempt to put the organization in bankruptcy, with the goal of getting the organization out of New York and away from the lawsuit, without making any real reforms.
When news of this bankruptcy filing came out, Journey knew right away it was a “bad faith” filing. This put him in the unhappy position of having to report that to the New York court, because as a judge himself, he had a duty to all courts to let them know of any bad faith dealings he becomes aware of.
His reform effort had already filed with the court asking the judge to allow his group, Restore the NRA, to take over and rebuild the association. But when the bankruptcy was dismissed, his organization’s motion was dropped as part of that case.
Between A Rock and a Hard Place
The New York courts refused Letitia James’ request to dissolve the NRA, which seemed like good news on the surface, but Journey tells us that the truth is actually much bleaker for the association.
If the NRA somehow manages to win its fight with the state of New York, they’re still on a seemingly unrecoverable downward trajectory. News of waste, fraud and abuse makes the average NRA member wary to donate or renew membership, so the organization is losing both members and money at an alarming rate. If the NRA’s corrupt leadership doesn’t change things fast, the organization could very well be doomed regardless of what happens in the New York case.
But, the NRA is probably going to lose in court.
“There is no doubt in my mind that James meets her burden of proof.” he said, referring to the case she’s brought against the NRA. That means not only would the organization’s leadership be removed, but James — a rabid NRA foe — would get to appoint someone to run the NRA and “reform” it.
If, by some miracle, James backs out of her campaign promise to destroy the NRA, and makes a good faith effort to actually fix it, Journey says that’ss the part where “the bottom’s gonna drop out.” With members knowing the NRA is being run by a puppet of the State of New York, the hemorrhage of cash and members would turn into a torrent, and the organization would die a quick death rather than slowly bleeding out as it would under its current leadership.
Either way, Judge Journey thinks the NRA’s current leadership is doomed. “I think they’re all going to prison.” he said. The civil case against the NRA brought enough evidence of tax evasion, money laundering, and mail/wire fraud to light that it’s unlikely LaPierre and those who aided him won’t face criminal charges and likely conviction.
What To Fix The NRA
Journey’s plan at this point is to give the judge in New York a third option. Rather than leaving the NRA with its current corrupt leadership or putting it in the hands of the malicious Letitia James, he hopes to get the court to give it back to the association’s membership.
“I don’t want to spend the rest of my life doing this,” he told me. His goal, instead, is to stay on long enough to “have the NRA run by members and for members” and then “walk away.”
His goal is for the organization to return it to its mission, abide by the law, and provide high quality services for members. More importantly, he doesn’t want to run it. He wants a reform committee to be in charge of fixing the organization and he wants NRA members to be in charge of where the organization goes next, rather than letting that be done by a small cabal of people connected to LaPierre and those who prop him up.
Judge Journey didn’t say where the organization should go next, largely because he feels that’s not up to him. He wants the NRA membership to make those decisions.
Like many readers, that answer wasn’t very satisfying to me, but keep in mind that a reformed, open and honest NRA would be in a much better position to accept criticism and become a more effective organization of gun owners. That would be a ripe environment for everyone from hard core gun rights activists to members who want the organization to be more inclusive and less political to actually have a say.
How Gun Owners Can Help
I was initially of the opinion that letting the NRA die might be the best move. Its damaged, discredited leadership, terrible reputation, and its image — however accurate — of Negitiating our Rights Away, mean that other organizations would have a chance to step in and do those things better. But fixing the NRA would be advantageous in that existing programs and connections could be kept intact without a disruptive period of chaos where other groups would try to build them from scratch in the void left behind by the NRA’s dissolution.
So this seems like an effort that could be worth supporting, especially if more good people get involved ASAP.
Getting the court to accept a call for reform rather than giving the NRA over to the tender mercies of Letitia James is going to take money. Judge Journey is obviously familiar with the law himself, but he’s going to need a team of lawyers to fight both James and existing NRA leadership if he’s going to make the reform effort a reality. You can learn more about Journey’s effort and see if you’d want to support hit at the Restore the NRA website.
It’s probably also a good idea for organizations and individuals with ideas for reform to get involved now instead of waiting for new NRA leadership to coalesce around new ideas. It’s going to be up to a lot of current members and gun owners to help be a part of fixing an organization as big as the NRA.