On Thursday, New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against the National Rifle Association for breaking New York charities law — the result of an investigation into the NRA’s finances that began in April 2019. The complaint seeks dissolution, meaning that if the NRA is found guilty, it could be disbanded by the state of New York.
You don’t have to be a lawyer to see how the NRA got into this mess. Even casual observers have watched it morph from a safety-focused, non-profit into a front group for gun manufacturers and a personal piggy bank for its leadership.
Since 2018, NRA executive pay has skyrocketed, money has flowed to supposedly ‘unpaid’ board members, and CEO Wayne LaPierre has reportedly used member dues to pay for millions of dollars’ worth of Italian suits and private jet trips. Meanwhile, in 2018 less than 10% of NRA funds were spent on the NRA’s supposed “core functions” of gun safety, education, and training — leaving little wonder why AG James decided the NRA ran afoul of the law.
NRA misusing funds
As it turns out, you can only buy so many Italian suits from Zegna in Beverly Hills with organizational money before the organization stops being a nonprofit and starts being a slush fund.
But AG James is far from the NRA’s only concern — the NRA is losing money and power so quickly that by the end of this case, there might not be anything left to dissolve. Legally, the organization is mired in litigation with former partners and sued by the attorney general of D.C. Financially, the NRA is laying off employees by the hundreds, and Wayne LaPierre was recently caught on tape saying the organization needed to be taken “down to the studs” to “survive.” And politically, the NRA had to strip its once-coveted candidate-grading-system from the internet because politicians were ashamed to be affiliated with them.
In fact, the NRA is just as out of touch with voters as it seems to be with New York law. NRA-backed candidates lost big in the 2018 midterms, and the NRA lost its home state of Virginia in 2019, leading to several gun safety laws being passed in their own backyard. Even more notably, the Trump administration has begun “hedg[ing] its bets” on the NRA by “reaching out to other gun groups,” despite the NRA being the single largest outside spender on Donald Trump’s 2016 election. That should tell you all you need to know about the NRA’s political future.
The NRA has had this reckoning coming for a long time –– not only because of its rampant corruption, but because it is perhaps more responsible than any other group or individual for America’s deadly gun violence epidemic.
That is particularly evident this week, which marks one year since the country mourned the tragic shootings in Dayton and El Paso that killed 32 Americans and wounded 40 more in less than 24 hours. In the aftermath of those shootings, even Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell pledged that they were finally ready to act. But then Wayne LaPierre reportedly stopped by the White House, and ordered Trump to “stop the games” on gun safety. That’s all it took for Republicans to cave, one by one.
Gun violence in America
In the year since that fateful meeting, nearly 40,000 Americans have been killed by gun violence, and twice that many have been wounded. Worse still, in the past four years, with NRA allies controlling the Senate and the White House, the death toll is over 140,000 — nearly the same number of Americans that have died from COVID-19, and many more than were killed in the Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam wars combined. And yet, Trump, McConnell and the NRA have still failed to act.
At times, the NRA has become such a side-show in the last year, so entangled in financial and legal turmoil, that it can be hard to remember the organization’s true, destructive nature. But this is the same organization whose officials have spent recent months spreading conspiracy theories about COVID-19, defending Confederate monuments, and comparing the Black Lives Matter movement to the Nazi Party and ISIS. And make no mistake: it’s because of the NRA that gun safety bills are dying in the U.S. Senate while people continue to die in the streets.
As the founder of Moms Demand Action, I’ve been fighting the NRA for years — they have even encouraged threats of violence and death against me among their supporters. And while I’ve been flatteringly referred to as the NRA’s worst nightmare, the truth is that the NRA’s worst nightmare is exactly what seems to be coming for them after this November: complete irrelevance.
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.
So today, as we mark what might be the beginning of the end of the NRA, I offer it the same support that it has offered so many, so often: “thoughts and prayers.” May those hollow words be as futile for the NRA as they’ve been for the rest of us.
Shannon Watts is the founder of Moms Demand Action, which is the nation’s largest grassroots group fighting for stronger gun laws. Watts is a mom of five.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NRA: having financial troubles and facing lawsuits and investigations