Reached by phone on December 29 in nearby Bridgeport, Connecticut, where she works in the health care industry, Clark confirmed her NRA leadership role. When asked if she knew any of the victims or their families in Newtown, she replied, "This is a hard time for me. I am not really interested in giving an interview at this time."

Unlike the NRA's paid executive officers, who earn big money for their work, Clark's directorship is unpaid. (LaPierre took home $960,000 from the NRA and related organizations in 2010; Kayne B. Robinson, the executive director of general operations, earned more than $1 million.)

Elections for the NRA board, which oversees the organization's nearly 800 employees and more than $200 million in annual revenues, occur annually for 25 directors, who serve three-year terms. The vote typically involves less than 7 percent of NRA members, according to past NRA ballot results and pro-NRA bloggers. A low election turnout among members is not uncommon among nonprofit groups, but how a candidate gets his or her name on the ballot is key. According to an NRA supporter and self-proclaimed Second Amendment activist in Pennsylvania who blogs under the handle "Sebastian," this occurs one of two ways: It requires a grassroots petition by members, which rarely gets a candidate on the ballot, or a candidate must be included on the official slate endorsed by the Nominating Committee.

"Read the bios in your ballot and you'll see that almost all were nominated by the nominating committee," complained "Pecos Bill" from Illinois last January in one pro-gun-rights forum. "Seems the NRA, fine organization that it is, is being run like a modern corporation and the 'good ol' boys' are keeping themselves in power."

*This refers to the Nominating Committee appointed by the NRA board in 2011 for the most recent board elections in 2012. This year's Nominating Committee, whose members remain unclear, presumably will soon release its handpicked slate of candidates for NRA board elections in 2013.

In fact, 10 women currently serve on the board, but few people had access to that information until very recently, when the NRA posted a complete list on its website. (In the past, the NRA cloaked its board in secrecy; incomplete and outdated lists were published by outside groups using press clips and legally required NRA financial disclosures.) According to a search using Archive.org, the current board page was published sometime after December 6.

The Nominating Committee now led by Clark handpicked nearly all of the candidates on the 2012 ballot. As John Richardson, an NRA "Life Member" in North Carolina explained on his blog, No Lawyers - Only Guns and Money, in January 2012, "This year there are 31 candidates running for 25 positions. Of these 31, 29 were nominated by the Nominating Committee. The remaining two candidates were nominated by a petition of the membership which requires at least 250 signatures." (One of those two nominated by petition was elected to the board last year.)

Other notable figures currently serving on the board include actor and firearms enthusiast Tom Selleck; anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist; Lt. Colonel Oliver North of Iran-Contra fame; right-wing rocker Ted Nugent, whose thinly veiled threats about Barack Obama's reelection campaign prompted a Secret Service inquiry; and Marion Hammer, the former NRA president who helped mastermind the spread of Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law.

At a poignant news conference held in Newtown on Monday, parents of some of the slain first-graders announced Sandy Hook Promise, a new group and campaign to promote "common sense solutions" to America's gun violence problem. It is unclear whether Patricia A. Clark attended that gathering in her local community. But she has shown a certain kind of interest in kids for decades. According to her board bio, she has "worked with Juniors for more than 30 years" as a firearms coach and instructor. As a line in her bio puts it, she is an "NRA Benefactor and Heritage Society member who believes that youngsters are the key to NRA's future."