By Rachel Epstein published
The National Rifle Association (NRA) has thrived off of a platform that claims Democrats and liberals alike want to "take away your guns" and "abolish the Second Amendment." The pro-gun group also believes that AR-15s, military-grade weapons frequently used in mass shootings throughout the country, are acceptable weapons to keep in homes as a form of self-defense. The group has idly stood by claiming that "guns are not the problem" whenever the next Parkland or Las Vegas or Pulse happens. And when it's not attacking gun violence survivors on Twitter, the organization is frequently bullying groups like Moms Demand Action and March for Our Lives. Now, after years of false rhetoric and vicious attacks, the gun rights advocacy group may finally see the end of day, thanks to Attorney General of New York Letitia James.
On August 6, 2020, AG James officially filed a lawsuit to dissolve the NRA after investigating the organization since February 2019. The lawsuit claims that senior leadership has illegally used the NRA's charitable finances for personal use, like family trips to the Bahamas which included private jets and expensive meals. It also claims the NRA has awarded contracts "to the financial gain of close associates and family," and "doled out lucrative no-show contracts to former employees in order to buy their silence and continued loyalty." (More specific examples of the claims can be found here.) Here's who the lawsuit specifically targets:
- The NRA as a whole
- Executive Vice-President Wayne LaPierre
- Former Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Wilson “Woody” Phillips
- Former Chief of Staff and Executive Director of General Operations Joshua Powell
- Corporate Secretary and General Counsel John Frazer
"The NRA’s influence has been so powerful that the organization went unchecked for decades while top executives funneled millions into their own pockets,” AG James said in a press release on August 6. "The NRA is fraught with fraud and abuse, which is why, today, we seek to dissolve the NRA, because no organization is above the law."
In addition to dissolving the NRA, AG James wants LaPierre, Phillips, Powell, and Frazer "to make full restitution for funds they unlawfully profited and salaries earned while employees; pay penalties; recover illegal and unauthorized payments to the four individuals; remove LaPierre and Frazer from the NRA’s leadership (Phillips and Powell are no longer employed by the NRA); and ensure none of the four individual defendants can ever again serve on the board of a charity in New York."
The same day the lawsuit was filed, the NRA released a statement claiming that the lawsuit is a "baseless, premeditated attack on our organization and the Second Amendment freedoms it fights to defend" and promised that "we not only will not shrink from this fight—we will confront it and prevail." President Trump also condemned the lawsuit and suggested the NRA should "move to Texas and lead a very good and beautiful life." (For the record, it cannot legally do this amid an investigation.)
Despite the NRA's claims that the attorney general has a political motive, AG James told Cosmopolitan that this has nothing to do with gun rights. "The reality is this has nothing to do with the Second Amendment or my personal views on gun violence either. This has to do with not-for-profit law and ensuring that a charitable organization adheres and complies with the law," she explains. "The NRA failed to adhere and comply with the law, it failed to honor its purpose and its mission while executives looted the not-for-profit of millions upon millions of dollars."
Gun control groups and gun violence survivors were proud to stand with AG James. Washington, D.C.'s Attorney General Karl A. Racine also filed a lawsuit against the NRA in solidarity.
Letitia James’s lawsuit against the NRA is a reckoning that has been coming for a long time–not only because of the NRA’s corruption, but because its dangerous policies have created an environment ripe for gun violence, which takes over 100 lives and wounds 100s more every day.August 6, 2020
When my daughter Jaime was murdered on February 14th, 2018 I made it my mission to break the NRA. Thank you @NewYorkStateAG for this heroic action today. While to late for my family, the end of this organization will mean fewer victims of gun violence. https://t.co/WfFi5HryXFAugust 6, 2020
.@Everytown and @MomsDemand have been warning regulators and the public about the @NRA's corruption for years. They endangered millions and did unspeakable damage to our political system. We agree with NY AG Letitia James that dissolution and all other remedies must be consideredAugust 6, 2020
THE NEW YORK AG IS MOVING TO DISSOLVE THE NRA!I am so happy March For Our Lives filed a complaint over a year ago with the New York Attorney General that helped spark this investigation and expose the fraudulent spending by the NRAAugust 6, 2020
Sending thoughts and prayers to the @NRA...August 6, 2020
As for what comes next, the legal battle could take years—especially since AG James specifically calls for the dissolution of the group. Still, it gives gun control advocacy groups and those affected by gun violence hope for a better America—one that isn't plagued by gun violence.
Rachel Epstein is an editor at Marie Claire, where she writes and edits culture, politics, and lifestyle stories ranging from op-eds to profiles to ambitious packages. She also manages the site’s virtual book club, #ReadWithMC. Offline, she’s likely watching a Heat game, finding a new coffee shop, or analyzing your cousin's birth chart—in no particular order.
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