Embattled N.R.A. Chief Kept Bankruptcy Filing Secret from Deputies

But the organization remains a potent lobbying force that has reshaped the political landscape around guns. Its enduring influence was on display in the aftermath of two recent mass shootings, in Atlanta and Boulder, Colo., when calls for gun control ran up against stout Republican opposition and the realities of the Senate filibuster.

The bankruptcy, however, is a risky gambit for the N.R.A. and a sign of its desperation. Mr. LaPierre and his outside lawyer, William A. Brewer III, an architect of the filing, could lose control over the organization. One possible outcome, if the case is not dismissed outright, is that the judge, Harlin D. Hale, will appoint a trustee to take over the N.R.A.’s day-to-day operations, displacing the current management. The use of a trustee is rare in large company bankruptcies and usually happens only in cases of fraud, incompetence or gross mismanagement.

Gregory E. Garman, an N.R.A. lawyer, argued in court against such an outcome this week, saying “a trustee is in fact a death sentence.”

“The argument that a trustee assures the future of the N.R.A. beguiles our purpose and our role,” Mr. Garman said. “We don’t sell widgets.”

The N.R.A. has used the trial to argue that the group has reformed after making some modest blunders in oversight. “Compliance has become a way of life at the National Rifle Association,” Mr. Garman said, while acknowledging that there would be “moderately cringe-worthy” moments in the trial.

But those moments undercut claims of reform. Among the issues that have come up in the proceedings is that Mr. LaPierre’s longtime assistant, Millie Hallow, was kept on even after she diverted $40,000 from the N.R.A. for her personal use, including to help pay for her son’s wedding. (Before she was hired by the N.R.A., Ms. Hallow pleaded guilty to a felony related to the theft of money from an arts agency she ran.)

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