From left: R. Lee Ermey, Karl Malone, Ted Nugent, Tom SelleckMother Jones illustration
Looking for news you can trust?Subscribe to our free newsletters.
The National Rifle Association claims to speak for more than 5 million gun owners. Officially, the shots at the nation’s largest pro-gun organization are called by a hush-hush board of 76 directors. (Though gun makers hold a lot of sway, too.) The majority of board members are nominated by a top-down process and elected by a small fraction of the organization’s life members.
The NRA’s unusually large board has low turnover: Since 2015, 10 new members have joined, 4 of them women. Like the group’s membership, the board is largely male: The directors are 83 percent men. (The readers of the NRA’s flagship magazine for its members, American Rifleman, are 85 percent men.) About 90 percent of the board members are white.
Most are hunters or shoot competitively or recreationally. About a third are current or former lawmakers or government officials. About one-fifth are current or former law enforcement officers; nearly one-tenth own, work for, or promote gun companies. (A full list of board members is at the end of this article.)
Here’s a breakdown of the current board’s demographics, based on bios posted (and taken down) by the NRA and other sources:
The board’s geographic makeup also reflects larger trends among America’s firearms owners. Only a handful of NRA board members come from the Northeast, the region with the lowest rate of gun ownership, according to the Pew Research Center. Texas has the largest number of board members, followed by Arizona, Tennessee, and Florida.
Some notable NRA board members include:
Tom SelleckThe Magnum, P.I. star, gun buff, prolific water user, and vocal gun rights supporter was the top vote-getter in 2008’s board election. (Fellow ’80s TV heartthrob Erik Estrada sought a seat on the NRA board in 2011 but eventually withdrew his candidacy when the chips were down.)
Grover NorquistThe president of Americans for Tax Reform is a NRA Life Member and a member of the Fifty Caliber Shooters Association. After the Newtown school massacre in 2012, he echoed the NRA’s line: “We have got to calm down and not take tragedies like this, crimes like this, and use them for political purposes.”
Ted NugentAt the NRA’s 2012 annual conference, the Nuge announced, “If Barack Obama becomes the next president in November again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year,” prompting the Secret Service to meet with the “tiger dick” eating Motor City Madman.
Oliver North“I love speaking out for the NRA in large part because it drives the left a little bit nuts,” said the Iran-Contra conspirator turned conservative pundit, better known as a fan of the Fifth Amendment, not the Second.
Allen WestThe one-term Republican representative from Florida was elected to the board in 2016. West, a former lieutenant colonel, resigned from the Army in 2004 after being investigated for intentionally firing his weapon next to an Iraqi detainee’s head.
Larry CraigThe former Idaho senator sponsored a 2005 law protecting gun makers from liability in connection with their products being used by criminals. He is the longest-serving member of the NRA board.
Karl MaloneIn 2010, the retired NBA player upset some gun fans when he penned a column for Sports Illustrated in which he opined, “The big picture is that guns won’t protect you. If someone really wanted to get you, they would…For you to say you need a gun for your protection? My goodness gracious, how are you living that you need that?”
Patricia ClarkA record-holding shooter, Clark has been on the NRA board since 1999 and is the head of the NRA’s nominating committee, which helps pick the majority of board members. She lived in Newtown, Connecticut, at the time of the school shooting there.
Ronnie G. BarrettBarrett is the founder of Barrett Firearms Manufacturing and the inventor of the .50 sniper rifle, which can penetrate armor from more than 4,500 feet and is legal for civilian purchase in 49 states.
Marion HammerHammer, a former NRA president, helped craft and implement Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which provided a model for similar self-defense laws in 24 other states.
David KeeneKeene is the former president of the NRA and the former chairman of the American Conservative Union. In 2003, his son was sentenced to 10 years in prison for shooting at another driver during a road rage incident.
Carl T. Rowan Jr.Rowan was formerly a cop, an FBI agent, and the vice president of the private security firm Securitas. (He is the son of columnist Carl Rowan Sr., who once caught a teenager swimming in his backyard pool and wounded him with an unlicensed handgun.)
R. Lee “The Gunny” ErmeyThis former Marine gunnery sergeant turned actor is best known for his turn as a drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket (who is gunned down by a suicidal recruit). He’s also a spokesman for Glock.
Robert K. BrownThe former Special Forces soldier and big-game hunter is the founder and publisher of Soldier of Fortune, which was sued in the late ’80s for running want ads for mercenaries and guns for hire.
Below is a list of all current members of the NRA board, as listed in the organization’s most recent publications:
Image credit: Andrea Renault/Globe Photos/ZUMA; Dan Honda/Contra Costa Times/ZUMA; Marc Nader/ZUMA; Lisa Rose/Globe Photos/ZUMA