SCHENECTADY — Wayne R. LaPierre Jr., the controversial head of the National Rifle Association, has Schenectady roots.
He was born here, and though he only spent his preschool years in the city, the family connection goes back generations.
The executive vice president and CEO of the NRA, LaPierre has continued to speak out in defense of gun owners' rights in recent days, even as the NRA faces a backlash following the killing of 17 people by a gunman on Feb. 14 at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Standard biographical references show LaPierre was born in Schenectady on Nov. 8, 1949, though he and his family moved to Roanoke, Virginia, when he was 5.
His father, Wayne Robert LaPierre Sr., was an accountant at General Electric. It couldn't be determined on Monday where his father was born, but his mother, Hazel Marie Gordon LaPierre, was a Schenectady native, born here in 1922. The father died in Roanoke in 2003, while the mother died in Fairfax, Virginia, in 2005.
The NRA executive's paternal grandparents, Raymond and Edith LaPierre, were both born on the fringes of the Adirondacks — in Chazy and Whitehall, respectively — but both died in Schenectady, according to the geni.com geneaology website.
The younger LaPierre has another local connection: He is also a 1972 graduate of Siena College in Loudonville, which lists him among its famous alumni.
City Historian Chris Leonard said he was aware LaPierre was born in Schenectady and attended Siena, but he couldn't immediately provide additional information about the family.
LaPierre has been executive vice president and CEO of the NRA since 1991, a period of time that saw the nation's largest gun rights advocacy organization take hard-line positions against efforts to restrict access to firearms, even semi-automatic rifles, as a series of mass shootings unfolded nationwide.
The Parkland incident has led to a fresh round of student-led, anti-gun activism around the country. The backlash prompted several airlines, hotel chains and rental car companies to eliminate discounts that were previously offered to the approximately 5 million members of the NRA.
LaPierre reacted stridently during a speech on Thursday to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland, according to the New York Times.
“The shameful politicization of tragedy — it’s a classic strategy, right out of the playbook of a poisonous movement,” he said to a friendly but largely restrained crowd at the annual conference. “They hate the NRA. They hate the Second Amendment. They hate individual freedom.”
LaPierre and the NRA have also attacked the New York SAFE Act, pushed through by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the immediate wake of the killing of 26 people — first-graders and adults — at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012.
Cuomo defended the state's gun control efforts, calling out LaPierre by name after LaPierre mentioned Cuomo in Thursday's speech.
"If Wayne LaPierre is attacking you, you know you're doing something right," Cuomo said in a prepared statement issued Thursday. "I am proud of my F rating from the NRA, and I will continue to do everything I can to keep New Yorkers and our children safe."
The NRA is a major contributor to federal political candidates. It spent more than $22.6 million during the 2016 election cycle, according to federal records, and has already spent more than $5 million on 2018 candidates. Local recipients of NRA donations include U.S. Reps. John Faso, R-Kinderhook, and Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro.