Francis Wilkinson: NRA's LaPierre has to pay. Too bad it's not for all the deaths

Francis Wilkinson, Bloomberg Opinion on

Published in Op Eds

When a New York jury delivered a verdict Friday evening against the National Rifle Association and its longtime leader, Wayne LaPierre, my first thoughts were oddly not about the NRA or all the lives destroyed by the gunplay that the organization did so much to foster. I didn’t think of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who died by suicide, pulling the trigger on a gun that LaPierre had so desperately urged them to buy (to keep them safe from harm). Instead, I thought about the elephant that LaPierre encountered in Africa, and how the animal provided a capstone to LaPierre’s morbid career.

LaPierre, who resigned earlier this year, was found liable for $5.4 million in damages, a result of his years of extravagant grifting, in which he diverted the dues of NRA members, either directly or through intermediaries, to his own luxury vacations, private jet trips and a tailored Italian wardrobe that would shame a Hollywood clotheshorse.

LaPierre never pulled the trigger on his victims. He employed propaganda, fear and politics to shape the most depraved gun laws, and the most deadly gun culture, in the quasi-civilized world.

The case of the elephant, however, was different. A video depicts LaPierre walking through the scrublands of Botswana, his white guide at his side, a cast of locals along to cater to his wants. LaPierre approaches the elephant, who appears no more than a couple dozen feet away. This time, following the guide’s direction, LaPierre pulls his own trigger. The elephant is hit.

“Did we get it?” LaPierre asks. It’s the first indication of LaPierre’s disconnection from the reality around him. “He’s down,” his guide assures him. Someone laughs.

LaPierre then reloads, so he can shoot the elephant again, this time at closer range. He is gunning for peak vacation. They approach the downed animal. “I’m going to point for you where to shoot,” the guide tells LaPierre. LaPierre makes no decisions, exerts no authority. He does what he is told, childlike.

With the wounded elephant before him, what LaPierre is told is this: “Aim low.” LaPierre shoots. The chyron on the video conveys the result: “LaPierre shoots the elephant in the wrong place.” Bumbling, incompetent, fumbling with the lethal device that he has fashioned into an object of worship, LaPierre has failed to deliver the kill shot.

This is where I stop the video. I’ve seen it before, and from this point on it only gets harder to bear. LaPierre misfires yet again. The guide tries to disguise his impatience. The animal’s suffering continues.


The video depicts an idiot on the loose with a gun. And what could be a more apt tribute to LaPierre’s decadeslong NRA reign than that? With LaPierre’s encouragement and assistance, tens of thousands of dimwits, drunks, rage-a-holics, paranoids, domestic abusers and everyday incompetents have been armed and sent into America’s streets, ballparks, schools, churches and bars. The resulting carnage is everywhere.

LaPierre’s alchemy of professional success and moral idiocy has helped rip families and communities to shreds from coast to coast. His comeuppance in a New York courtroom, long overdue, resembles nothing like justice. It’s just dollars. A man who siphoned millions now has to return millions. The lives that LaPierre stole won’t be so easily replaced.

LaPierre must pay a fine for getting caught at the tail end of a long, lucrative grift. The more serious offenses on his ledger, however, are not the stuff of Caribbean seas and Zegna suits. They more closely resemble the work of madmen and monsters.


This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Francis Wilkinson is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering US politics and policy. Previously, he was executive editor for the Week and a writer for Rolling Stone.

©2024 Bloomberg L.P. Visit bloomberg.com/opinion. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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