Skip to content

New Here?

Bombshell: Secret Tape Reveals NRA’s Internal Response to Columbine School Shooting

November 9, 2021

New Report from NPR Reveals Internal Deliberations of NRA Executives After 1999 Columbine High School Shooting

Report Shows NRA Only Cared About Self-Preservation, Called Own Members “Hillbillies”

Everytown Experts Are Available To Discuss What This Means and the State of Play for the NRA 

A new report from NPR’s Tim Mak this morning reveals the NRA’s internal deliberations after the Columbine High School shooting in 1999 and what to do about their annual convention, which was scheduled to be held just days later in nearby Denver. 

The tape reveals how after a national tragedy, the principal concern of the NRA’s leadership was only about their own image. Consultants and members of the NRA’s own staff on the call urged cancellation of the meeting, with then-NRA lobbyist Jim Baker warning holding the meeting while funerals are being held would be a “horrible, horrible juxtaposition.” Ultimately, the leadership of the NRA decided to hold the meeting to avoid media criticism. 

This decision established the playbook for the NRA in responding to subsequent school shootings: oppose policy changes that would prevent such tragedies, with concern only for the NRA’s image and complete avoidance of the image of compromise. 

“The Columbine tragedy should have been a moment of self-reflection at the NRA, but these tapes reveal that gun lobby leaders were only worried about self-preservation,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety. “Based on the NRA’s callous response to every mass shooting that followed, it’s clear their post-Columbine playbook quickly became standard operating procedure.”

“These tapes are just more proof that the NRA’s extremism was born of a distorted desire to protect its reputation and bottom line,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action. “In the moments after one of our nation’s worst mass shooting tragedies, elitist NRA leaders concocted a public relations strategy to protect their image — all while mocking the dues-paying members who fund their luxurious lifestyles.”

In the audio, NRA executives also show a complete disdain for some of their own members, expressing deep concern about the public image of proceeding with an annual meeting if only their most committed members attend. NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre fretted that only “the nuts” would show up at the meeting, and current board member Marion Hammer warned of “the wackos […] dressing like a bunch of hillbillies and idiots.” 

The audio also underscores the way in which the firearms industry and its allies in elected office take their marching orders from the NRA. One NRA official openly says “I think industry will do whatever we ask them to do” – as in, the firearms industry will back the NRA on whatever they chose to do. Similarly, some Republican politicians allegedly turned to the NRA for guidance on how to respond, including then-Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles (R-OK), who, as CEO Wayne LaPierre states in the recording, asked the NRA to “secretly provide them with talking points.” 

For the first time, we also learned that 500,000 members left the NRA after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing — as the article details, “a week before that bombing, the NRA put out a fundraising letter calling the ATF ‘jackbooted government thugs.’” While LaPierre defended the rhetoric, even as former President George H.W. Bush publicly resigned his NRA membership in protest, the audio reveals the internal concern about a potential repeat of such a situation.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to speak with an Everytown expert about what we learned from the audio and what it means for the NRA. Everytown has detailed the NRA’s extensive legal and financial woes at For further information about the state of play for the NRA, please email [email protected].

If you're a member of the media, please send inquiries to [email protected]