Pete Brownell, a onetime president of the National Rifle Association, resigned from the board of the gun rights organization Thursday, citing the demands of his family business, Brownells, a major supplier of firearm accessories.
His departure comes as the NRA is engulfed in controversy and internal fighting over charges of improper spending by top officials, as well as ongoing congressional scrutiny into links to Russia during the 2016 election campaign.
Brownell, who has served on the NRA board for nearly a decade, made no mention of those issues in a statement his company released Thursday afternoon.
“Given the hard work and full-time attention that will be needed as our brands continue to grow, I’ve decided to step down from my position on the NRA’s Board of Directors,” Brownell said in the statement. “It’s been an honor to serve the five million members of the NRA and I will continue standing side-by-side with the millions of Americans who care deeply about defending the Second Amendment.”
An NRA spokesman referred questions to Brownell.
Brownell’s resignation comes amid a tumultuous period for the gun organization. The NRA has been beset by legal disputes, including an investigation into its charitable status by the New York state attorney general and a separate inquiry by Senate Democrats into possible ties to Russia.
A gun-review blog wrote Thursday that Brownell’s “departure will be seen as a blow to efforts to reform the operation from the inside and weather the current storms.”
John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun-control group that works to reduce gun violence and has been tracking the evolving situation at the NRA, said he was not surprised by Brownell’s decision. “To see a former NRA president step down from the board is not surprising given the organization’s ongoing turmoil,” he said. “What would be surprising is if this is the last resignation we see.”
At the close of NRA’s annual conference in late April, former Marine Corps lieutenant colonel Oliver North was ousted as president after highlighting what he described as a financial mismanagement “crisis” facing the organization. The NRA leadership accused North of trying to extort the organization’s chief executive, Wayne LaPierre.
Two weeks ago, another board member, former U.S. representative Allen B. West (R-Fla.), called for LaPierre to step down.
“There is a cabal of cronyism operating within the NRA and that exists within the Board of Directors,” West wrote in a statement on his website. “It must cease, and I do not care if I draw their angst.”
North had replaced Brownell as NRA president in 2017 after Brownell unexpectedly resigned from that post. At the time, Brownell said he was stepping aside to focus more on his Iowa-based business.
His resignation as president occurred as congressional investigators were scrutinizing connections NRA executives had formed with Maria Butina, a Russian woman who later pleaded guilty in federal court in Washington to conspiring to act as an unregistered agent of Russia.
Butina admitted that she worked for more than two years to forge relationships with conservative activists and leading Republicans in the United States. One of Butina’s main targets was the NRA.
Brownell and another former NRA president, David Keene, visited Russia in late 2015 and were hosted by Russian government officials and Butina.
Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, has sought information from Keene and Brownell about any NRA ties to Russia. A spokesman for Wyden said Thursday that he is expecting responses from Brownell to written questions to conclude the investigation.