The former No. 2 executive at the National Rifle Association has performed a major about-face on gun control, effectively saying in a new book and recent interviews that he disagrees with the conservative group’s most stubborn positions on gun rights.

Once having toed the NRA line on unbridled gun freedoms — even as children were mass-murdered in schools — Joshua L. Powell now says he favors gun control and is openly challenging what he terms its greed and high-level corruption.

It would have been far more effective for Powell to have spoken such words while he was still at the NRA in order to put the lie to chief executive Wayne LaPierre’s mind-numbing defense of unrestricted gun rights. But better late than never. Powell deserves to be hauled before Congress to testify about the NRA’s cynical manipulation of American gun owners and warping of the U.S. political system. He told National Public Radio that the NRA is now “in a pretty bad death spiral” because of financial abuse and mismanagement.

Once among the nation’s richest and most powerful lobbying organizations, the NRA has seen its financial fortunes dwindle. Staffers have been laid off and media outlets shut down. Powell’s new book, “Inside the NRA,” offers some clues as to where the money went. He says LaPierre and others milked bank accounts to pay for lavish housing, personal travel, clothing and other perks.

Similarly, former NRA President Oliver North, the disgraced former Army lieutenant colonel of Iran-Contra infamy, also charged that LaPierre engaged in financial misappropriation. North lost his challenge and wound up departing the NRA’s leadership circle. The Senate and FBI have launched investigations into cash infusions to the NRA by the Russian government ahead of the 2016 election.

Powell describes LaPierre as financially incompetent yet adept at exploiting NRA members’ ignorance. LaPierre even found a way to capitalize on the 2012 deaths of 20 young children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.

“Wayne was out there selling the program to our members, raising money off it, claiming we were protecting kids’ schools,” Powell’s book says. “It was another example of the wizard behind the curtain — lots of inflamed rhetoric and fireworks and noise, but very little effective action on countering gun violence.”

When President Donald Trump raised the possibility of supporting gun restrictions after the 2018 high school massacre in Parkland, Florida, LaPierre effectively took the president to the woodshed, resulting in Trump backing down rather than risking the support of his gun-owning base.

If Powell is serious about undoing the damage the NRA has caused across America, his first order of business should be to cooperate with Congress in shutting down the group’s outsized lobbying influence and restoring sanity to the nation’s gun laws.

— The St. Louis Post-Dispatch