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Every year, voting members of the National Rifle Association (those with 5 or more years of consecutive membership and those with Life or higher-level memberships) are asked to participate in the governance of their organization by voting for a third of their 76-member board of directors. And each year, due to a long and tumultuous personal and family relationship with the organization, I am asked to make recommendations among the candidates.

This year I am calling for voting members of the association to “Bullet Vote” for one candidate: Mrs. Maria Heil.

There are certainly other candidates on the ballot whom I feel have been, and/or would be, good directors, and members who value my guidance should also feel free to vote for other worthy candidates, but I don’t believe any of those candidates needs my endorsement to win a seat.

Mrs. Heil has an impressive record in Pennsylvania and with the Second Amendment Sisters, but is not well known among NRA members. I think she would be an excellent addition to the NRA Board and hope that my endorsement might give her the nudge she needs to be elected.

Due to the way NRA elections work, the only real competition in the election is for the last few positions, and the vote totals for those marginal candidates are often within just a few votes of each other. That means that just a few extra votes for a candidate can make a big difference, and voting for more than just a few candidates – especially voting for several who are expected to be in the bottom dozen vote-getters – can dilute an individual ballot and cost their favorite a seat.

To their perpetual shame, the vast majority of NRA members eligible to vote simply don’t bother. While the NRA has the reputation of being able to deliver huge numbers of votes for, or against, politicians in state and federal elections, the members take little interest in the internal political matters of their own organization. While every NRA member eligible to vote receives a ballot in their regular NRA magazine, fewer than 7 percent bother to return them. That’s a pretty poor showing for the oldest and most powerful civil rights organization in the country.

Much of the blame for this sad state of affairs belongs to the NRA management rather than its members. There is generally so little information available about the candidates that many would-be voters don’t feel qualified to cast a ballot.

For decades NRA elections amounted to a rubber stamp for a good-old-boys club. The Nominating Committee would offer the members 25 names to fill 25 vacant seats. Voting was a formality. That changed after a major member revolt at the annual meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1977.

At that meeting, in which my father, Neal Knox, played a significant role, a more politically aggressive faction grabbed the reigns of the organization. They restructured the organization, put Harlon Carter at the helm, and to ensure that the membership retained the real power within the group and that they always had multiple candidates from which to choose, instituted a petition process to get on the ballot. In the old days, the Nominating Committee was the only path to the ballot.

That night in 1977, Carter warned Dad that the faction that had been ousted was already plotting to undo what had been done in that tumultuous meeting. Dad dismissed his concerns. He and the other dissident members underestimated their opponents and overestimated the commitment of the membership.

In the next 20 years, virtually all of the Cincinnati reforms were repealed, either quietly, or with great fanfare pretending that the change was beneficial to the members. These days, the system works much like the good-old-boys club of the past, except now the Nominating Committee nominates a few extra candidates and lets the members decide which members of the club get a seat at the table.

A process for candidates to be nominated by petition still exists, but rarely do petition candidates receive enough votes to break into the top 25. Since most members get virtually all of their information about candidates only from NRA magazines, and those magazines are controlled by people whose livelihoods depend on keeping the good-old-boys club rolling, the election results are pretty easy to predict.

In spite of the inherent flaws in the system – or perhaps, to a degree, because of them – the board of directors of the NRA is a pretty impressive group and gets a lot of good work done. I have been disappointed by their failure to rein in certain activities of the paid staff, particularly where fundraising and political deal-making are concerned, but I am hopeful that such a stellar group will eventually see how their neglect in these areas is resulting in waste and abuse – and how it could leave them personally liable – and begin taking corrective actions.

Anyone interested in gaining a greater understanding of the ongoing internal problems at the NRA can find a lot of information in the book “Neal Knox – The Gun Rights War,” which is available here at the WND book store.

With all of its flaws and blemishes, I believe that the NRA is a critically important organization for protecting the Second Amendment and the Constitution, and that every gun owner – indeed, every lover of liberty – should be a member. It is the biggest dog in the fight. But I also believe that every member should take some part in running the organization by voting carefully for an NRA Board that will represent the members’ interests.

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