What does the lawsuit against the NRA mean for gun rights?

Mike Bebernes
·Editor

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

New York Attorney General Letitia James has filed a lawsuit against the National Rifle Association seeking to dissolve the powerful gun rights group over allegations of rampant misuse of funds by senior leadership.

James accused top executives at the NRA, which operates as a nonprofit, of using the organization’s funds as a “personal piggy bank” and diverting “millions and millions of dollars away from its charitable mission for personal use.” The lawsuit names four executives, including CEO and executive vice president Wayne LaPierre, who are accused of using donations for exorbitant personal purposes — including trips to the Bahamas, private jet travel, expensive meals and luxury hunting safaris in Africa.

The NRA called the claims “baseless” and accused James of targeting the organization for political reasons. The group also filed a lawsuit against James, accusing her of defamation and violating its free speech rights.

Founded in 1871 with the mission of teaching gun safety and marksmanship, the NRA has morphed into one of the most influential lobbying organizations in American politics and is a frequent target of criticism for its role in blocking legislation aimed at remedying the epidemic of gun violence in the U.S.

Why there’s debate

Though it will likely be several months before the legal battle stemming from the lawsuit is resolved, the litigation could have an immediate effect with the November elections around the corner, some experts say. The NRA has been a prolific supporter of Republican politicians. The group spent $54 million backing GOP candidates in 2016, including $31 million on President Trump’s campaign. The cost of fighting the lawsuit, which comes after years of financial troubles and power struggles among leadership, could blunt the organization’s influence this election cycle.

The timing of the lawsuit could make gun control a central issue in the presidential campaign and down-ballot races, which thus far have mostly focused on other topics. Political experts are divided on whether the reemergence of the topic will boost enthusiasm among Democratic voters or cause Second Amendment advocates to rally behind conservative candidates.

If the lawsuit ultimately leads to the end of the NRA, it could clear the way for the enactment of gun control legislation that has been blocked by conservatives in Congress, some advocates argue. Others say even the complete dismantling of the NRA wouldn’t have much impact on gun laws. The group may be synonymous with the broader gun rights movement in the U.S. to the public, but support for the right to bear arms was never dependent on a single organization, some argue. Some gun rights advocates have even welcomed the lawsuit, saying the NRA’s alleged corruption and divisive politics have harmed public perception of responsible gun owners.

Perspectives

Gun control law may finally pass without the NRA standing in the way

“Between AG James’ lawsuit, the NRA’s own incompetence, politicians rightly distancing themselves from the NRA, and the coming election, the NRA as we know it may be headed for extinction, and federal gun safety laws finally appear to be on the horizon.” — Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts, USA Today

The gun rights movement is much bigger than one organization

“The reason the NRA has power, if it still has any, is because it represents millions of Americans who believe in the Second Amendment. They tend to vote, and many of them consider gun rights their most important issue. If the suit succeeds, and the NRA is dissolved, some other group or groups will take its place — let’s hope with better management.” — Editorial, Wall Street Journal

The NRA’s political influence could be severely weakened

“With a series of pricey lawsuits on its hands and a precarious financial situation, it remains to be seen whether the group will be able to replicate the massive campaign it waged four years ago.” — Matt Cohen, Mother Jones

The lawsuit is so blatantly partisan, it will fail in court

“James’s past characterization of the NRA as a ‘terrorist organization’ and her overt public hostility toward it have given the NRA’s lawyers an easy counterargument that her lawsuit … is a partisan vendetta and an abuse of the powers of her office. Which is a shame, because NRA members would be well-served if an impartial but tough outside authority looked at their spending over the past few years.” — Jim Geraghty, National Review

Conservative voters may rally behind GOP candidates in response to the perceived attack on gun rights

“The NRA has often energized its members by fighting a perceived enemy. But this is a real one, a tangible one. ‘The New York AG is trying to put us out of business!’ And that is likely to cause some rallying around the NRA.” — Gun rights researcher Harry L. Wilson to Bloomberg

The end of the NRA would be good for responsible gun owners

“Rather than fulfill its traditional, stated role of educating Americans about firearms and supporting programs to train us to use them safely, the NRA has spent the last generation focusing on politics — now entirely GOP politics — and the interests of gun manufacturers, not owners. As a result, our national debate on guns is painfully short on facts and explanations and long on emotions and partisan bickering.” — Greg Hunter, NBC News

The lawsuit may be a preview of future legal maneuvering to harm conservative groups

“Who needs to debate issues on the merits about guns or gun ownership when you just take out the opposition, take them out of the game altogether? They’ll go after pro-life groups, conservative think tanks, conservative radio shows, cable networks, even churches. … This move against the NRA, it’s a test run for broader efforts to frighten and intimidate people for exercising their God-given rights.” — Laura Ingraham, Fox News

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