After the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in 2012, Wayne LaPierre, the head of the National Rifle Association, told Americans agitating for new gun regulations, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Less than a year later, LaPierre and his wife, Susan, travelled to Botswana’s Okavango Delta, where they hoped to show N.R.A. members that they had the grit to take on a different adversary: African bush elephants, the largest land mammals on Earth. The trip was filmed by a crew from “Under Wild Skies,” an N.R.A.-sponsored television series that was meant to boost the organization’s profile among hunters—a key element of its donor base. But the program never aired, according to sources and records, because of concerns that it could turn into a public-relations fiasco.
The Trace and The New Yorker obtained a copy of the footage, which has been hidden from public view for eight years. It shows that when guides tracked down an elephant for LaPierre, the N.R.A. chief proved to be a poor marksman. After LaPierre’s first shot wounded the elephant, guides brought him a short distance from the animal, which was lying on its side, immobilized. Firing from point-blank range, LaPierre shot the animal three times in the wrong place. Finally, a guide had the host of “Under Wild Skies” fire the shot that killed the elephant. Later that day, Susan LaPierre showed herself to be a better shot than her husband. After guides tracked down an elephant for her, Susan killed it, cut off its tail, and held it in the air. “Victory!” she shouted, laughing. “That’s my elephant tail. Way cool.”
For three decades, LaPierre has led the N.R.A.’s fund-raising efforts by railing against out-of-touch “élites” and selling himself as an authentic champion of American self-reliance and the unfettered right to protect oneself with a gun. But the footage, as well as newly uncovered legal records, suggest that behind his carefully constructed Everyman image, LaPierre is a coddled executive who is clumsy with a firearm, and fearful of the violent political climate he has helped to create. The N.R.A. did not respond to requests for comment.