Head of America's National Rifle Association resigns ahead of trial

Wayne LaPierre is a well-known figure in the US gun rights debate, pushing for ever greater access to weaponry even as tolls mount from mass shootings

NRA chief Wayne LaPierre speaks at an event last year. AP
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The head of the US National Rifle Association resigned on Friday, days before a civil trial begins over allegations he diverted millions of dollars from the powerful gun rights lobby to pay for personal travel and other lavish perks.

Wayne LaPierre, 74, cited unspecified health reasons for his decision to step down from the NRA on January 31.

He is a well-known figure in America's gun rights debate, pushing for greater access to weaponry even as mass shootings become a near-daily phenomenon.

In 2012, after the Sandy Hook mass shooting that killed 20 young children and six adults, he said schools would be better protected by having armed guards and he claimed that the “only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”.

Mr LaPierre, who has led the NRA for more than 30 years, and three other current and former NRA executives have been sued by New York Attorney General Letitia James, who has accused them of using the non-profit organisation as a “personal piggy bank”.

Their civil trial is scheduled to begin in New York on Monday.

Ms James has accused Mr LaPierre of using NRA funds to fuel a lavish lifestyle that included spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on private jets and luxury holidays.

The 150-year-old NRA is the leading promoter of US gun rights and has focused its efforts since the 1970s on battling gun restrictions.

Mr LaPierre has defended himself, saying in previous testimony that cruising the Bahamas on a yacht was a “security retreat” because he was facing threats after mass shootings. He conceded not reporting the trips on conflict-of-interest forms, testifying: “It’s one of the mistakes I’ve made.”

Robert Spitzer, a political science professor at the State University of New York-Cortland and author several books on gun politics, told the Associated Press: “He’s been the leading political force of the NRA for over 30 years.

“He has been the leading edge of the very sharp political voice of the organisation.”

Updated: January 05, 2024, 9:20 PM