New York attorney general Letitia James (D.) called for the dissolution of the National Rifle Association in the wake of accusations of self-dealing and financial impropriety by the organization.
James announced Thursday that she is filing suit against the gun-rights group, which is chartered in New York, as well as four of its executives—including executive vice president Wayne LaPierre. She accused the executives of spending NRA money on personal expenses such as clothing, private flights, vacations, and contracts for family members. She described the acts of the executives as “illegal, oppressive, and fraudulent.”
Carolyn Meadows, the president of the NRA, called the suit “baseless” and said it was a “transparent attempt to score political points.”
“This was a baseless, premeditated attack on our organization and the Second Amendment freedoms it fights to defend,” Meadows said in a statement. “It’s a transparent attempt to score political points and attack the leading voice in opposition to the leftist agenda. This has been a power grab by a political opportunist—a desperate move that is part of a rank political vendetta. Our members won’t be intimidated or bullied in their defense of political and constitutional freedom.”
The NRA has filed a countersuit against James, accusing New York state of violating the group’s First Amendment rights.
“As evidenced by the lawsuit filed by the NRA today against the NYAG, we not only will not shrink from this fight—we will confront it and prevail,” Meadows said.
President Donald Trump said the NRA investigation represented an attack on the Second Amendment. Trump said a Biden victory would embolden similar attempts to weaken gun rights.
“If Biden becomes president your GREAT SECOND AMENDMENT doesn’t have a chance,” Trump said on Twitter.*
James has long taken a hard line against the NRA. While campaigning in 2018, James attacked the NRA’s standing as a charity. “The NRA holds [itself] out as a charitable organization, but in fact, [it] really [is] a terrorist organization,” she told Ebony magazine. The suit is the latest volley in New York’s ongoing fight with the NRA. The state is currently locked in First Amendment litigation with the gun-rights group after state officials warned banks about the reputational dangers of working with the NRA. The NRA also recently sued the state over its shutdown of gun stores during the coronavirus pandemic.
In an interview with the Washington Free Beacon conducted late last week, the gun-rights group said it planned to spend “tens of millions of dollars” in support of the reelection of President Donald Trump and other pro-gun lawmakers. Those plans may be affected by Thursday’s announcement as James said she was seeking to freeze some assets of the group in the process of her suit.
“[Freezing NRA assets] is one of the remedies we are seeking in our pleadings,” she said during her press conference. “We look forward to, again, doing an investigation to determine if there are any hidden assets and whether they can be frozen. Again, for the purposes of benefiting those donors who have given to the NRA for its intended mission.”
Other Democratic officials have also launched investigations into the NRA. Washington, D.C., attorney general Karl A. Racine announced he would file suit against the NRA and the NRA Foundation over allegations the nonpolitical arm inappropriately transferred money to the group’s political operations. “With this lawsuit, we aim to recover donated funds that the NRA Foundation wasted. District nonprofits should be on notice that the Office of the Attorney General will file suit if we find evidence of illegal behavior,” he said in a Thursday release.
James began her investigation into the NRA shortly before infighting at the group broke out into public view. Former president Oliver North and top outside contractor Ackerman McQueen accused Wayne LaPierre of funneling NRA money through the contractor in order to pay for personal expenses. The turmoil came to a head at last year’s Annual Meeting and resulted in North, the head of the group’s Institute for Legislative Action, and a number of board members being removed from or leaving the organization. The NRA has been locked in multiple legal battles across several states with North and Ackerman McQueen ever since.
LaPierre and the NRA have defended the group’s spending as legal, saying the expenses advanced its members’ interests. They have modified their internal billing practices in order to streamline them and avoid future controversies. James said that assessment is wrong and accused the group of running “unchecked for decades while top executives funneled millions into their own pockets.”
*This post has been updated with a quote from President Trump.