New York files lawsuit seeking to dissolve the NRA

Aug 6, 2020

New York has filed a lawsuit to shut down the National Rifle Association, claiming that the organization should be dissolved because of a pattern of self-dealing among its top officials, including Wayne LaPierre, its current chief executive.

NYS Attorney General Letitia James announces lawsuit against the National Rifle Assoc.
Credit Associated Press

The NRA, meanwhile, filed a counter-lawsuit against New York Attorney Letitia James Thursday, claiming her office has targeted the gun lobby group for political reasons.

The litigation will likely determine the future of the NRA, which is chartered as a nonprofit group in New York. That means the state can act to shut it down in court, Attorney General Leitita James said Thursday at a press conference in Manhattan.

The powerful gun lobby group is chartered in New York, which means the state can act to shut it down in court, Attorney General Letitia James said at a press conferenceThursday.

“For these years of fraud and misconduct, we are seeking an order to dissolve the NRA in its entirety,” James said. “Today, we send a strong and loud message that no one is above the law, not even the NRA, one of the most powerful organizations in this country.”

The New York Attorney General’s Office is claiming in the lawsuit that key officials at the NRA used the organization's assets for personal use, including a pattern of self-dealing, gifts for their contacts, and mismanagement of the group.

The legal action is targeted, specifically, at four individuals at the NRA: LaPierre, former NRA CFO Woody Phillips, former NRA Chief of Staff Joshua Powell, and NRA General Counsel John Frasier.

“They used millions and millions of dollars from the NRA for personal use,” James said.

“They overrode and they evaded internal controls to allow themselves, their families, favored board members, employees and members to benefit reimbursed expenses, related party transactions, excess compensation, side deals, and waste of charitable assets without regard to the NRA’s best interest.”

A copy of the lawsuit wasn’t immediately available, but James said the action will seek to dissolve the NRA, seek restitution from key officials, and ban those individuals from serving on the board of another nonprofit in New York.

Because of the limited jurisdiction of the state attorney general’s office, the action does not include criminal charges against any of the defendants. The attorney general’s office can only bring criminal charges in limited instances in New York.

The NRA, meanwhile, filed a lawsuit seeking to have a judge declare that the attorney general’s office has violated the group’s First Amendment rights by targeting its operations over the last few years. The group is seeking to have itself cleared of wrongdoing through the filing.

NRA President Carolyn Meadows called the dissolution lawsuit from James a “baseless, premeditated attack” on the NRA and the Second Amendment.

“You could have set your watch by it: the investigation was going to reach its crescendo as we move into the 2020 election cycle. It’s a transparent attempt to score political points and attack the leading voice in opposition to the leftist agenda,” Meadows said.

“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.” ​

It’s far from the first time the state has clashed with the gun lobby group. The NRA sued New York a few years ago, claiming it targeted the gun lobby group when it warned banks and insurers against working with the organization.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a target of the previous lawsuit, said he supported the new action taken by James on Thursday.

“The NRA has a long history of thwarting their rules that govern the nonprofits in New York state,” Cuomo said.

Dan Clark is the host and producer of "New York Now," a public television program seen each Sunday at 9:30 am on WNED PBS