For the first time in over 20 years, gun control is at the top of the national political agenda. So a change in leadership at the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) can affect the political dynamic as the gun grabbers love to personally attack the NRA leadership.
On Monday, Alabama attorney James “Jim” W. Porter II is set to take over as president of the board from David Keene. The NRA annual meeting in Houston, which starts Thursday, will mark the end of Mr. Keene’s two-year term. The president of the NRA is an unpaid position.
The NRA board elections are a formality, but one taken seriously by the traditional members. Each president has gone through two years as second vice president of the board and two years as first vice president before moving up to the top slot. Mr. Porter is not doing any media interviews until after the election.
“At this stage in the NRA’s history, Jim Porter will be the perfect match for president,” Mr. Keene told me in an interview Tuesday. “As we are likely to win most of the legislative battles in Congress, we will have to move to courts to undo the restrictions placed on gun owners’ rights in New York, Connecticut, Maryland and Colorado.”
Mr. Porter has been the head of the NRA’s legal affairs committee, a trustee of the NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund and has volunteered his legal counsel for the NRA in federal court litigation. “He’s a superb attorney” said Mr. Keene. “Our focus now will shift to the courts to make sure these states’ laws are scaled back to be consistent with the McDonald and Heller decision. Jim is perfect to lead that effort because of his ability and experience running a legal team.”
Mr. Keene will stay on as an active member of the board and provide counsel and help to the new leadership.
Mr. Porter will be a different type of president than Mr. Keene, who talks easily with reporters and is frequently on TV. According to several people who have known Mr. Porter for years, he is not as comfortable with the media and avoids publicity. He is expected to serve a behind-the-scenes role and let others like Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president, be the face of the organization.
“Jim talks funny like I do,” joked Georgia-native and NRA board member Carolyn Meadows of Mr. Porter’s southern accent. “He has the humility of a country lawyer but the smarts of a New York lawyer.” Mrs. Meadows chairs the board’s nominating committee. She said that Allan Cors will move up to to first vice president, but the position of second vice president is not a done deal.
The word that you hear often when you talk to people who know Mr. Porter is “affable.” Richard Gardiner, the former legislative counsel for the NRA and now a leading firearms attorney, has known Mr. Porter for 20 years. “Jim’s an affable, nice guy and has a friendly word for everyone,” Mr. Gardiner said. “He’ll be very good at chairing the board of directors because he knows everybody and the history of NRA.”
Buz Mills, a member of the NRA board and the president of Gunsite Academy, the world’s largest privately-owned firearms training facility, has known Mr. Porter for nine years through boards and committees. “He is professional, affable, friendly and a true asset to any organization,” Mr. Mills told me.
Mr. Porter, who has been on the board for over 20 years, is the first son of a former NRA president to take over the reins. His father, Irvine, was president from 1959 to 1961. The elder Porter was also an attorney in Alabama and a high-level competitive shooter. “He, also, was a very nice guy,” recalled Mr. Gardiner of the elder Mr. Porter. “I was just a young kid, but he was always very pleasant with me.”
At the White House Correspondents’ dinner Saturday, Conan O’Brien mocked NRA leaders several times. “You may not know this, but Wayne LaPierre is merely the executive vice president of the NRA,” the comedian told the audience of President Obama, reporters, politicians and Hollywood stars. “Which begs the question, how freaking crazy do you have to be to be the actual president of the NRA? He’s not even at the top.”
The media and the gun grabbers will have a hard time attacking Mr. Porter.