As reported earlier today at Reason, New York Attorney General Letitia James is seeking the complete legal destruction of the National Rifle Association (NRA) because of lengthy accusations of financial malfeasance on the part of some of its longtime officers, including current CEO and executive vice president Wayne LaPierre. The NRA's board is similarly accused of being grossly negligent or complicit in the officers' alleged misuse of donor funds.
Is this extreme response—dissolving it as a legal nonprofit entity—to misbehavior on the part of a nonprofit's officers possibly motivated by disdain toward the gun rights movement on the part of the Democratic attorney general?
The New York attorney general's office has not, as of posting time, replied to a question about how often they have previously sought the total destruction of a nonprofit organization over financial malfeasance on the part of officers, and how such past attempts have fared in court. (One such effort in 2018 did lead to the death of the Donald J. Trump Foundation.)
But absent a clear record of annihilating nonprofits, across ideological lines, being a regular practice, it would not be unreasonable to guess that New York's legal action today is motivated in part by politics. You can be sure that many citizens and voters who consider themselves gun rights activists will see this as a political hit—whether or not they admire or support the NRA itself.
Any NRA donor of normal American income would likely get hot under the collar reading all the details in the NYAG's 164-page filing against the NRA, which is rife with detailed accusations that NRA bigwigs used the organization's money to help out relatives, close pals, and themselves. Often, just one of these suspicious-seeming deals (and dozens are detailed) involved amounts larger than a typical NRA donor's likely annual income.
That said, even such donors might justly wonder: why should all the momentum, resources, reputation, and relationships the NRA has built be tossed out the window entirely for these reasons? While many in the Second Amendment community have in the recent past seen rivals such as the Gun Owners of America (GOA) as a more reliable ally, the NRA still has more money and reputation to throw around lobbying for the gun rights cause than any other entity. According to OpenSecrets.org, the NRA has lately been outspending GOA in lobbying by millions a year.
Whatever the financial sins of the NRA's leaders, the politics of this move against them will doubtless make many continue to see partisan control of government power as a near life-or-death issue, irrespective of whether one loves the NRA per se. That is simply not healthy or prudent for a country as on edge as America. One could legally attempt to punish LaPierre and other alleged malfeasant actors without literally dissolving the NRA.
One of the statutes New York accuses the NRA of violating indeed grants that the "attorney-general may bring an action for the dissolution of a corporation" if "the corporation…has violated any provision of law whereby it has forfeited its charter, or carried on, conducted or transacted its business in a persistently fraudulent or illegal manner." According to that statute, "An action under this section is triable by jury as a matter or [sic] right."
Were the NYAG's office to succeed, their move could, in theory, benefit others in the gun-rights movement. The office's filing says that should it succeed in dissolving the NRA, it would request that "its remaining assets and any future assets be applied to charitable uses consistent with the mission set forth in the NRA's certificate of incorporation."
Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, weighed in on the filing. "I firmly believe that you're innocent until proven guilty," he says in an email today. "But it is also my belief that the NRA board of directors should have taken action when these allegations were first raised and preempted any action that could be taken by the New York State attorney general and the attorney general for the District of Columbia."
Gottlieb grants that "there is no doubt both of these attorney generals are opponents of Second Amendment rights, and have an axe to grind." But he also believes "these are serious allegations that have not been put to bed by the leadership of the NRA over the last several years."
Gottlieb notes that the cause of gun rights does not stand or fall with the current organizational structure of the NRA. His own group has a record of fights and victories in court to expand gun owners' rights, and he says that "Fortunately, for the gun rights movement, the strength of the NRA is not only in its leadership but in its members. Its members will not abandon the fight to protect Second Amendment rights."