The N.R.A. Sees a Threat, and an Opportunity, in Covid-19

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The group has been retooling its strategy. Many on the right played down the virus, including at the N.R.A. — Willes Lee, the board’s second vice president, called it an “election ploy.” But the organization itself has focused on the ramifications of the sweeping response in many states, sending out messages to its supporters with headlines like “COVID-19: Threat to Second Amendment” and “Pandemic Exposes Dangers of So-Called ‘Universal’ Background Checks.”

On Wednesday, the N.R.A. tweeted about the sharp rise in gun sales: “what do they expect when they are releasing inmates while closing gun shops during a pandemic.” The group has also circulated a video in which a disabled woman holding an assault weapon issues a warning to people buying extra food: “If you aren’t preparing to defend your property when everything goes wrong, you’re really just stockpiling for somebody else.”

Such sentiments are maddening to the N.R.A.’s opponents.

“They’re mired in crisis, strapped for cash, and so revert to the old playbook — fearmongering about the collapse of society — in order to raise money,” said John Feinblatt, the president of Everytown, adding that the N.R.A. was trying to convince people that “apocalypse is on its way.”

The lawsuit against New York is the N.R.A.’s latest legal battle with the state. In February, regulators charged the company with improperly selling insurance in the state without a license. For the past year, the N.R.A., a nonprofit chartered in New York, has been under investigation by the office of Letitia James, the state’s attorney general, who is examining allegations of corruption and self dealing. The N.R.A. has also sued the state, claiming that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and his administration improperly pressured banks and insurers to stop doing business with the gun group.

As the two sides of the firearms debate prepare to square off in the 2020 election, gun control groups have rallied around the likely Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. Guns are one of the rare issues on which Mr. Biden has more progressive credentials than his remaining rival, Senator Bernie Sanders, who comes from a rural state, Vermont, and has had a cautious approach to gun control.

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