Wayne LaPierre, the head of the National Rifle Association for nearly 30 years, has often found himself at the center of controversy.
But over the last week, in the wake of a deadly Florida high school shooting that left 17 dead, LaPierre and the NRA have been under especially strong scrutiny. A growing number of companies have cut ties to the gun rights organization, ending their discounts programs for NRA members. Others who haven't done so, like FedEx, are facing boycott calls.
At a conservative conference last week, LaPierre blamed the media and Washington insiders for exploiting "tragedy for political gain."
"Their goal is to eliminate the Second Amendment and our firearms freedoms so they can eliminate all individual freedoms,” LaPierre said. "The elites don’t care one whit about school children. If they truly cared, they would protect them."
But considering how wealthy he has become during his years at the helm of the NRA, LaPierre himself is arguably one of America's "elites." How much money does Wayne LaPierre make? What is Wayne LaPierre's net worth? Here's what we know about his money.
What Is Wayne LaPierre's Net Worth?
According to an estimate from the website Celebrity Net Worth, Wayne LaPierre's net worth is $10 million. The estimate is based on LaPierre's earnings from the NRA, which average $1 million per year and have gone as high as $5 million, as well as royalties from book sales and engagements as a paid speaker.
How Much Money Does Wayne LaPierre Make?
Between 1985 and 1991, four different chiefs ran the NRA. But since Wayne LaPierre was named CEO in 1991, he has steadily led the organization to growing membership and revenue—and his pay has increased accordingly.
According to a 1995 Los Angeles Times story, the NRA was paying LaPierre $190,000 per year in the mid-1990s. More recently, the NRA has paid LaPierre an annual salary of roughly $1 million. But in some years, LaPierre has earned far more. In 2015, for example, LaPierre took home $5.1 million, the Washington Post reported. According to tax records, he collected $1,090,515 in base compensation that year, plus a $150,000 bonus, plus a special employee retirement plan payment of nearly $4 million.
“This is an employee funded deferred compensation plan and the $3.7 million distribution to Wayne LaPierre was required by federal law and properly reported,” NRA president Allan Cors explained in a statement.
NRA Money and Influence Expanded Under Wayne LaPierre
The history of the NRA dates back to 1871, when a pair of Civil War veterans created the organization for the purposes of improving marksmanship. For most of its existence, the NRA supported gun control regulations that would seem strict by today's standards. “I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses,” NRA president Karl Frederick said during a Congressional hearing in the 1930s, when concerns were high that Prohibition-era gangsters had too easy access to guns.
In the 1950s, the NRA's motto was "Firearms Safety Education, Marksmanship Training, Shooting for Recreation,” according to Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America, the 2010 book by UCLA Law School professor Adam Winkler. However, in 1977—about the time a young Wayne LaPierre became an NRA employee—a conservative faction took over NRA leadership focused on guaranteeing gun ownership as a legal right for all Americans, and not just members of a "well regulated militia" as mentioned in the Second Amendment. Under new leaders, the NRA motto was changed to: “The Right of the People to Keep and Bear Arms Shall Not Be Infringed.”
There is some dispute as to how many NRA members there are in any given year, but there is no question that NRA membership, money, and influence have expanded dramatically over the past four decades. The NRA claimed to have 2.5 million members in 1991, when LaPierre became CEO. Membership ranks grew to 3.4 million by 1995, and are now up to roughly 5 million, according to the NRA.
NRA revenues have climbed from $100 million in 1995, to $228 million in 2010, and up to $337 million in 2015. Less than half of the NRA's money reportedly comes from membership dues—currently priced at one year for $40, five years for $140, or $1,500 for a lifetime. Instead, the lion's share of NRA revenues comes from the gun industry and large corporations, which provide the group with grants, donations, and sometimes even a percentage of their firearm sales. Some gun manufacturers give away free NRA memberships to customers making qualified purchases as well.
According to OpenSecrets.org, the NRA spent $5.1 million in 2017 on lobbying politicians, up from about $1.5 million in the early '00s. But this may not give a clear indication of the NRA's influence. Total NRA expenditures reportedly hit $419 million in 2016, up from $312 million the prior year—including $30 million in support of Donald Trump's presidential campaign. Trump is “the most openly pro-Second Amendment candidate in history,” LaPierre said.
And the NRA has been a heavily influential lobbying group long before the rise of Donald Trump. In 1999, Fortune named the NRA as the most powerful lobbying organization in Washington, D.C., as voted by lawmakers and political staffers. It was a title the group then held for three years in a row.
Firearm production and gun sales have increased steeply while Wayne LaPierre has been at the NRA. There were reportedly 5.6 million firearms produced in the U.S. by American gun companies in 1980, and production rose to 11 million by 2013. The number of FBI firearm background checks, which serves as a proxy for gun sales, has increased from 9 million in 1999 to an all-time high of 27.5 million in 2016.
Wayne LaPierre's Personality and Personal Life
Much is unknown about Wayne LaPierre. He grew up in Roanoke, Virginia, received a bachelor's degree from Siena College in upstate New York, and completed a master's degree in government at Boston College. He was not known as a particularly active hunter or gun enthusiast, but worked on some gun legislation when he was a young aide to a Democratic state legislator in Virginia.
In 1995, the Los Angeles Times reported that LaPierre was divorced. He is currently married to Susan LaPierre, who is a co-chair of the NRA's Women's Leadership Forum and was named to the National Park Foundation Board of Directors in 2017. They are believed to live in wealthy suburbs of Washington, D.C., near the NRA headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia, and do not have any children.
Wayne LaPierre is best known for making controversial comments in staunch defense of gun owners, gun rights, and the Second Amendment. Shortly after a 1995 comment by LaPierre referring to "jack-booted government thugs [being given] more power to take away our constitutional rights, break in our doors, seize our guns, destroy our property, and even injure or kill us," former president George H.W. Bush resigned as a lifetime member of the NRA.
NRA board member Cleta Mitchell told the New York Times in 2013 that LaPierre is much different in private than his public persona would suggest. “In real life, he’s one of the shyest, kindest, most unassuming, total lack of ego, nonconfrontational — he hates confrontation — individuals I have ever met,” she said.
In the 2010 book Outgunned: Up Against the NRA, the former NRA spokesperson Pat Aqualino said of LaPierre: "He's hardworking, honest, good at what he does, and very smart. But he's also naïve and innocent. He's been cast as the Darth Vader of gun politics, but he's more like Mother Teresa."
Above all, many say that LaPierre is simply a professional political operator. "He represents a real departure for the NRA," Osha Gray Davidson, the author of the 1993 book Under Fire: The, the NRA and the Battle for Gun Control, said in 1995, after LaPierre had been in charge of the NRA for a few years. "He's the first leader for the NRA that doesn't come from the shooting-sports and hunting area. He's a politician."