New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit last week calling for the dissolution of the National Rifle Association because “assets are required to be used in a way that serves the interests of NRA membership,” as opposed to the way she alleges millions of dollars were spent for personal use by NRA leadership. Yet James’s mission to dissolve the NRA also does not serve the interests of the millions of NRA members, but weakens those interests even more.
Two years ago, James ran for the NY AG office on a promise to stand up to the NRA, which is headquartered in Virginia but incorporated in New York, calling the gun-rights group a “terrorist organization” and a “criminal enterprise.” James is certainly fulfilling that promise, and just months before a national election to boot.
James’s investigation alleges NRA executives siphoned off $64 million from the non-profit to pay for personal expenses such as private jets, lavish vacations, and expensive dinners. But these are not the first signs of trouble at the top of the organization, and certainly not news to many who pay membership dues, the very people James claims to be protecting.
Just in the last year, the 150-year-old organization has battled infighting of board members, lawsuits, and an open revolt from members at its 2019 annual meeting. Last summer, after contract disputes and financial problems with their longtime marketing and PR firm, Ackerman McQueen, the organization shuttered NRATV, the production arm that familiarized non-members most with the NRA brand and personalities such as Dana Loesch and Colin Noir. There are more than 5 million NRA members, but it is estimated more than 15 million Americans believe they are members but are not current on their membership dues.
The NRA is now counter-suing James, claiming she “maligned” the group “without a single shred of evidence, nor any sincere belief, that the NRA was violating the New York Not-For-Profit Corporation Law.”
Our Rights Are More Important Than Political Squabbles
Despite the turmoil at the top, NRA members tell The Federalist they are far more worried about a future without the Second Amendment group than one with organizational problems, like leaders who “spend money when they’re not supposed to,” as one member described the scandal.
Rick Travis, director of development of the California Rifle and Pistol Association, is a lifetime member of the NRA, who has also served as a trainer for NRA firearms instructors for over a decade.
“For the five million members out there, there’s not really a denial so much that there are some issues at the top that need to be resolved, like in any non-profit or even a for-profit organization…there are always going to be rumors circulating and we want to see what’s true and what isn’t true, but that’s not the job of the attorney general of any state, let alone New York,” Travis told The Federalist.
Travis said many of the members he talks to at trainings and competitions are aware the NRA was instrumental in getting President Donald Trump elected in 2016, and that this lawsuit appears to be a reaction to that.
“It feels like it’s a gross overreach of power, and it’s being done politically. It’s not being done for anything other than a charge to try and devalue the NRA,” he said.
Michael Cargill, owner of Central Texas Gun Works and NRA member, said his only reaction is that it was completely unsurprising the state of New York would start such an investigation. He added this is the NRA’s own fault — not for allowing alleged fraud or abuse, but for being incorporated in such a notoriously anti-gun state that would undoubtedly treat the group unfairly.
“That’s dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of in my life, and I had no idea. I assumed that the NRA actually had their documentation out of Virginia,” he said. But other than moving the organization to a pro-gun state like Texas or Georgia, Cargill’s only advice was to get it sorted out before the November election.
“They need to work through whatever this problem is, get it fixed, and get on target and get on message, because if we don’t, you know, this election season, you know we’re gonna get our clock cleaned,” he warned.
Other NRA members believe James’s lawsuit has nothing to do with the NRA, but is part of a broader scheme by Democrats to nationalize state and local elections. Mike Cox, political legislative director of the Texas State Rifle Association, a state affiliate of the NRA, told The Federalist most of his organization’s members are focused on marksmanship and competitions, not politics. According to Cox, many are unaware of the threats to their local politics from outside groups like the Mike Bloomberg-funded, anti-gun group Moms Demand Action.
“This is no accident that [James] filed that lawsuit less than 85 days until the election,” Cox said, decrying the amount of out-of-state money and strategy being poured into Texas House elections. “[Our members] are not political. They’re shocked when we tell them, ‘Do you realize we got more risk coming our way right now than we did when Santa Ana was coming up here to take our guns in 1836?'”
Kamala Harris Scares Gun Owners
Although a year of coronavirus, lockdowns, and protests have driven record-setting gun sales across the country, including a wave of first-time gun owners, the threat of the anti-gun lobby and gun law restrictions remains very real to NRA members and non-members alike. Every person I spoke to cited Joe Biden’s selection of Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate as a cause for concern considering her notoriously anti-gun record.
“We have a number of leading Democrat candidates camouflaging their record on the Second Amendment and gun control, but there’s no avoiding the case of Biden and Kamala Harris,” said Larry Keane, senior vice president and general counsel at the National Shooting Sports Foundation. He recalled a Biden campaign stop in Detroit, Michigan where Biden told an auto plant worker concerned about the Second Amendment that he’s “full of sh-t” and that the government has a right to “take your AR-14s.”
In California, Travis has not forgotten his state senator’s hypocrisy on guns. Harris, who has said she owns a gun “for personal safety,” also filed a Supreme Court amicus brief in support of Washington, D.C.’s ban on most personal handgun ownership.
Can’t Beat Gun Owners, So They Try To Shut Them Up
Keane said the NY AG’s investigation is clearly a political hit, and not just against the Second Amendement but a threat to the First Amendment, based on “the fact that [James] is seeking to dissolve the organization rather than to just address the financial allegations.”
“It’s because they can’t defeat the pro-gun movement, they can’t achieve their legislative agenda, and so rather than win on the merits of the argument, they try to silence and muzzle the voice [of the NRA], and that can be troubling,” he said. “This is very a concerning attempt to silence a political voice leading into an election, in which the issue that organization speaks to is central in that election.”
As David Harsanyi writes, “not in a million years, not if all the nation’s prestigious public-relations firms were mobilized for the cause, could gun manufacturers have conceived of a more effective advertising campaign for their product than the ‘defund the police’ movement.” While this may also be true for the security of the pro-gun movement as a whole, maybe that’s why the NY AG had no choice but to seek full dissolution of the entire organization. Simply forcing NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre to correct his wrongs would not have aided the gun control lobby like she intends to.
NRA members and gun owners alike know this is bigger than private jets and expensive dinners. With an election on the horizon, they see this conveniently-timed lawsuit for exactly what it is: a direct attack on the institutional voice they choose to protect their Constitutional rights.