FRIDAY, MAY 31, 2024
 
 
Doug Hamlin is the new Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Rifle Association. NRA photo.

Less than two weeks ago, the National Rifle Association held their 153rd Annual Meeting in Dallas. Unlike many before it, this one without retired/disgraced former EVP/CEO Wayne LaPierre. His “retirement” and the embarrassing revelations that followed in a New York courtroom have cast a pall over the future survivability of the organization and the Dallas convention. But at the conclusion of the Board of Directors meeting and elections, the NRA’s much-maligned“reformers” had won key slots on the Board of Directors and a new Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer - this one nominated from the floor - had defeated the Nominating Committee’s choice to replace LaPierre.

Doug Hamlin, New EVP/CEO Doug Hamlin is no stranger to the NRA, having headed the NRA’s Publications Division for the past ten years. But his isn’t one of those names we’ve seen splashed across the headlines.

Today, in the first interview since assuming that top slot, Hamlin speaks with OWDN publisher Jim Shepherd about his first ten days on the job, plans for the immediate future, and hopes of convincing disenfranchised former NRA supporters to give “NRA 2.0” another chance.

QA Outdoors
All right, Doug Hamlin, let's, let's get right into it.

You sent an email to the employees of the NRA this week, that said, “I'm humbled and honored to be sending you the email as the EVP CEO.” You know, these people, you've worked with them for 10 years. You're not an unknown entity at the NRA. And you're supported by “the reformers” wanting to change the way the NRA has operated for years. But you have a foot in two camps. How do you how do you move through that?

Doug Hamlin
The one thing about NRA is it's a…. how do I say it… somewhat isolated. And in the publications division, I stayed in my lane, focused on the business, I was asked to manage. And I did the best I could at that.

Fortunately, I was able to stay out of a lot of the things that were happening peripherally. I didn’t engage in those areas. My eyes and ears were open and I saw what was going on. But I suffered like the rest of the staff for the last five years with all of these distractions. But I just stayed in my business. And that was a blessing. Because the folks that I get to work with in the publications division, are first rate, the best people I've ever worked with in the industry. And I've been in the industry on and off for a long time.

QA Outdoors
Okay…some people will look at that the initial changes, and the lack of other changes or the fact that everything didn't change and say “it's not enough”. There are always some people that are never going to be satisfied with what's happened.

But I read a comment that said you were just “reshuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic.”

What do you say to them? How do you at least get them to open their minds as to what's going on now? Is this the start of the next 153 years of the NRA or are we simply continuing the last five years of the NRA?

Doug Hamlin
We're we're going to reposition ourselves. One of the things I'm setting as a priority is to create more op -ed material and put that information out there in places in the mainstream media, if you will, where we did not engage in the past.

And the objective is to quote “make us the good guys” unquote.

I mean, when you look at NRA members and who we are over the last 153 years, we're we're blue collar folks, like my parents, we’re military veterans like myself. We have jobs. We have families. We’re community leaders. And we don't talk about that enough.

So the objective is put our messaging and our brand in places where we haven't been -to go on offense. To make ourselves available to places like you, Jim, and others in your industry.

That's where we have to start to retool this thing, and to make ourselves available out there in mainstream, too. And to welcome back the folks that have been dissatisfied based on the billions of dollars and anti NRA publicity that's been focused against us the last five years.

Little by little, we will rebuild what we’re doing. And the way we’re going to do that is through our “Friends of the NRA banquets.” Right now, we have 700 plus, we used to be over a thousand. The goal is to get back to that, to touch 1,000 communities instead of 700.

Same thing with our clubs and associations - our state clubs and associations. We've got over 8000 clubs that are affiliated with us.Over 3,000 of those folks are part of what we call the NRA Business Alliance.

Again, we want to welcome folks back.

We want to highlight who we really are. And we want to be available to talk about ourselves in a positive way. We want to go on offense.

Right now, we can’t. Because of certain things happening around us, we still have to be very careful, for the obvious reasons about what we say and who we say it to.

QA Outdoors  
There's also a concern. ... well, I'm just going to ask it. What's your financial status? We’re talking about transparency, how bad is the financial status.

Doug Hamlin
I will say up front, we're gonna make it. But this is a crisis management situation. I won't sugarcoat it. I've been in business as CEO at a lot of different places for a lot of years. This is a classic turnaround.

But we have we have the the brand… we have the staff…they’re completely into it. They’re behind us. They want to win..they just need leadership.

Let me show you some…. we had the board meeting a week ago Monday. We had the open elections… There was a motion from the floor to have those proceedings open to the public, which, which was pushed through.

That was step one to this transparency thing that we're trying to do.

Then we had a long day. I’ve been going to these board meetings for over 10 years now, and this meeting…well, it didn’t conclude until almost 10pm at night.

(I) Got on a red-eye flight that night. Jumped on just after midnight. Went to a hotel and thought I had a room. They didn’t have a room for me. Finally, they felt sorry for me, gave me a room. Slept three hours. Quick shower, shave, and I got into the building about 10 am Eastern time. I ran into Mark Keefe, Mike Sanford, and Jim Hanlon, three publication staffers.

They were they were really glad to see me because the word was starting to filter out that I had been elevated. There had been some other elections that had gone another way. But my point being, l wanted to start leading immediately, by showing that commitment. And that's what I did.

And I have not slept a lot in the last 10 days. And I'm not looking for sympathy; I'm just telling the truth.

There's so much to do. I have a great staff around me - in every division. They just need leadership.

We have the network, through clubs and associations I already mentioned through Friends of NRA and through so many other areas.

The country needs a strong NRA. I don't think you'll disagree with that.

I ran into Governor (CA) and US Senator Pete Wilson on a flight about a month ago. He's a Republican from California, go figure.

When I was a Marine Captain in Los Angeles in the mid 80s, I was his escort officer for an event that we did. He didn't remember me from Adam, but I remember him. So, we board this five-hour flight. This man was born in 1933, so he’s pushing 90-91..walks on the plane by himself..sits in row 33 on a 40 row airplane. Doesn’t have any big fanfare; he’s just going to Washington. You know, you got a bunch of political advocates on there, but nobody knew who Pete Wilson was. But I did.

Went back to talk to him -we’re both in coach class- and identify myself. We’re both Marines. He’s a Marine officer; I’m a Marine officer. So I mentioned that I escorted him at this event in downtown Los Angeles back in the mid 80s. And we had a chat. He’s still on the board of the Heritage Foundation. He's still heavily involved in a lot of conservative areas of politics. So I listened to a lot of things that he had to say…and I'm standing in the middle of the aisle, you know what that's like… people go to the bathroom and all that.

And he said to me, what are you doing now? And I said, “well, I work for the National Rifle Association” and handed him my card.

He was aware of the changes that had taken place at the top, and knew people at NRA from his career in Washington. And I said to him “I’m contemplating running for the top spot.”

He looked at me and said “there’s two things you need to think about: why you want to do it and what you’re going to do when you get there.”

I thought about that for about the next three weeks- before last Monday's election. And I said “No, I’m not going to do it. Because here’s where you are in your career and here’s the situation: the organization’s here and here’s the downside of it. There’s a lot more downside than upside, quite frankly, for someone who’s in my situation.

And I said,” Why would I do it? Because I'm not happy with the direction this country is going. I mean, we're at a tipping point.

And with 7 million illegal immigrants coming in… with crime..it’s just starting. It’s increasing, but it's just starting to get bad. You’re in the Nashville area….Yeah….. I’m in Washington, DC…we see what’s going on around us

Alright… so my point is that… for somebody like me, I'm looking and I'm saying, this is probably my last chance to make an impact in the country that I love.

So that's why I'm doing it.

And the second part of it, “what are you gonna do when you get it?”…. I'm gonna lead this organization to the best of my ability, by outwork everybody that's out there.

And trying to go back to the programs that we've had since 1871. And to make them bigger, better, stronger than they are today.

QA Outdoors

All of this could be mooted by Judge Joel Cohen. If he says, I've looked at everything, and I think you need to have legal guardianship put over you. You're not responsible for yourself.

Is a lot of the work designed to avoid that potential, if not that eventuality?

I was in the courtroom during part of the trial. I don't believe Judge Cohen wants to put someone from the outside in charge. But he's not afraid to do that.

He showed during the trial that he’s capable of making the hard decisions, regardless of political feelings or anything else. I believe the trial was was well run, it was well- administered. And I think it was fair. More so than many of us expected.

How do you think the NRA will be positioned when you go into his finding hearings?

Doug Hamlin
I can't comment on on any of that - other than I can say, we are in compliance.

At the board meeting 10 days ago, we elected Bob Mensinger as our Chief Compliance Officer. We've established very strict whistleblower and reporting policies.

We've asked both staffers and non-staffers to submit any ethics questions that they have.

And we're not going to tolerate any retaliation.

That's all part of this new system that was never in place before.

But it is in place today.

QA Outdoors 
In 2019, there was a purge of board members who were qualified to help lead the NRA through the problems. Any thought to approaching them to possibly re-engage them?

Doug Hamlin
I've talked to many of them already.  To a person, they've all volunteered to come back and support the organization any way they can. They love the NRA.

QA Outdoors  
There was a new platform put out by by the the “Reform Movement” - I'm gonna call them that because I think it's fair.

In it, they talked about layers of accountability…answerability of justifications…compliance with monitoring… and evaluation, then enforcement of sanctions. That’s straight from Harvard Business School. But that’s a new path for the NRA. With that…can the NRA bring back the $50, the $100 members, needed to survive and get through this?

Doug Hamlin
I believe we can. I'm working on some initiatives. I was working on them yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that… and I'll be working on that tomorrow and this weekend.

Because we have to move quickly. We have to talk to people…the ones that are on your subscriber list…and all the other folks.

I’m asking them to give us a chance. To have the chance to say good things about us out there in the public again. Because it's got to be grassroots. It's got to be person-to-person.

And I'm telling you: we're committed to good governance.

We’re committed to transparency.

We’re committed to compliance. We've put all the mechanisms in place through the election of this Chief Compliance Officer to do it the right way, Jim.

That's all part of this new organization moving forward.

This is an updated NRA. I hate to use “NRA 2.0” but this is where we are.

QA Outdoors
As a former member, if I come back into the fold speaking philosophically, am I suddenly gonna get inundated with screaming solicitations, things telling me about horrible potentialities are out there if I don't send you another $100 a month out of my social security check?

The NRA has been shameless about their money- raising. For the last few years, it has been ceaseless. Endless. And always attack, attack, attack, attack.

That doesn't build a good feeling for anyone.

How do you how do you change that? How do you get the NRA away from that “deny, deny…management and attack! Attack! Attack! fundraising mentality?

Doug Hamlin
That is a great question. I get it in my circles. I get it in the places I travel. Like, “you guys are always asking me for money.”

I can't deny that because I see the direct mail. Because I’m a benefactor member and my sons are members, I get three of everything. They get theirs; I get mine…right? I know how it works.

But I will say this..the return on investment in your NRA has been phenomenal. You have 29 states with constitutional carry - 29! It started in Florida. It was a strategy that we rolled out successfully. I mean, I know Tennessee is one.

I’m a Virginia resident - I have my concealed carry permit. I have reciprocity in 42 states. In 29 of them, I don't need a concealed carry permit.

When I'm in California, I can't carry. When I'm in New York- I have to be there next week- I can't carry.

You understand all these things, but my point is… we have done so much for firearms freedoms for law-abiding citizens… and sometimes that gets lost in the shuffle. People take that for granted.

We had the Bruen case, which we funded, we litigated. The NRA did that. There's a lot of folks on the periphery - they love to jump in with “an amicus brief here, amicus brief there.”

But when you talk about the heavy lifting that's been done- and before Bruen, it was Heller. Before that it was McDonald. All right. You know all these things..the NRA has asked for a lot of money..but in return the NRA has created much more freedom for law-abiding citizens.

And as I mentioned earlier in this conversation with crime rates through the roof, we need to have the ability to protect ourselves and our families more now than ever before.

I wish it wasn't that way. I wish we all lived in a utopian world ; it doesn’t work that way.I know you understand that. I understand that.

We do need funds to operate. If the membership comes back, we’ll be in a much stronger position. And I will tell you this, we're going to run this place. lean and mean, tight. Just the way I ran publications. A very efficient operation. I'm going to roll those best practices across the board.

QA Outdoors  
I'm just going to ask this and it's going to sound rude, but I don't intend it that way. The top executives at the NRA…it takes tens of thousands of dues paying members just to cover their overhead. Your overhead. Looking at the salaries of NRA executives compared to senior leaders at other non-profits, you guys look very well compensated. 

Doug Hamlin
Yeah, well, the answer is yes.

But you’re not going to see compensation levels where they were.

Speaking of myself, I took this assignment with no additional compensation. But here I am with five times the work, five times the responsibilities and no additional compensation.

So personally, I’ve stepped up and taken on more and I didn’t need to do that.

That’s number one.

As far as talking about a $350 million dollar organizations -which we were in our heyday- and I'll just say it…maybe a part of the reason we got in trouble is because maybe we didn't have the sophistication needed… because we hadn't hired the right managers.

You need business people. And if I'm going to attract business people, I have to pay them. You know that, Jim.

Paying somebody half a million dollars a year, may not be a bad thing, if they're leading the organization to growth and success legislatively.

That's the return on investment that I talked about. As a result of all our winning, we were targeted.

But unfortunately, we paid all that money, and maybe we didn't get the return in terms of the situation we ended up in.

So that’s that's been problematic. Yes.

QA Outdoors  
Okay, Hamlin, I'm throwing the floor open to you. Tell me what you want to say to the people that are reading or hearing this?

Doug Hamlin
We need the NRA to not only survive, we need a strong NRA.

The programs that we've been managing all these years, whether it's Eddie Eagle that reaches literally tens of millions of kids with gun safety stuff, or our online Hunter Education course…we spent over $4 million to create that program so that kids can get their hunting license. That’s because one of the primary ways people can exercise their Second Amendment right is through hunting. We want people we want people out there.

Fourteen states have now accepted this online Hunter Education course, we did that - on our own.

Something I learned about last week…we have a Law Enforcement Death Benefit. If a law enforcement officer joins for the rate of $20 a year, they get a $35,000 death benefit, if , the horrific, unthinkable happens. And their family gets that money within a week. We've paid out over $4 million in the Law Enforcement Death Benefit Program.

So we're going to be going out to law enforcement more to make them aware of this program. We think we can pick up members in law enforcement. We stand with law enforcement- we always have.

My point is… we don't want these programs to go away.

The NRA is going to make it.

I got a great staff around me. We’re going to bring back some of the folks that have left NRA in the last five years - that’s both on the staff and members. If we're successful, the members are going to come back. That's number one.

We learned a lot with regard to mistakes made. But we're not going to make those mistakes, again. I'm going to be watching very carefully.

And as far as the next election and where we're headed as a country, we have to win in November.

We have to we have to put conservative leadership and back in the White House and other places.

We can do that with a strong NRA. The net/net of it, Jim is.. we're going to work really hard. We have a lot of tools to work with. But it starts with the members.

It starts with fiscal responsibility.

It starts with transparency.

We're going to work to create not just the message that I'm giving you today, but to prove it.

And that's that's the job… to prove to the industry… to the donors… to the members… and to my staff that we're going to do it.

I appreciate talking to you. You're one of the big guys in the business and it's nice to have a chance to talk.

QA Outdoors  
Thanks, Doug.

 
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