The NRA’s legal situation has developed quickly this week. Much faster than I think most people expected. We got two major rulings in separate legal fights before the respective cases even made it to trial.
Both moves clarify where things are headed a bit. I look at what’s likely ahead for the world’s largest gun-rights organization. The future for NRA leadership may be clearer, but it’s not much brighter.
The immediate future for gun-control proponents isn’t sunny either, though. Contributing Writer Jake Fogleman examines what President Biden’s State of the Union means for hopes new gun restrictions might make it into law before the midterms.
Plus, former NRA board member and Wayne LaPierre opponent Rocky Marshall joins the podcast to give his take on the problems facing the organization.
It was a good week for the NRA legal team.
First, a New York judge threw out Attorney General Letitia James’ (D.) attempt to dissolve the group as part of her corruption suit against the organization. Then the NRA settled its dueling lawsuits with former top contractor Ackerman McQueen.
That demystifies the NRA’s immediate future quite a bit.
The NRA won’t be shut down as a result of the New York case. And, while we don’t yet know the details of the Ackerman settlement, it’s unlikely it will have to pay the $50 million its former contractor demanded.
Justice Joel Cohen of the Supreme Court of the State of New York found James’ argument for shutting down the largest gun-rights group in the world was lacking. He argued the NRA wasn’t organized primarily to carry out the alleged corruption, and the corruption did not benefit it as a group. In fact, he said the suspected corruption mainly harmed the NRA, and dissolving it would only further hurt its millions of members.
“In short, the Complaint does not allege the type of public harm that is the legal linchpin for imposing the ‘corporate death penalty,’ Cohen wrote. “Moreover, dissolving the NRA could impinge, at least indirectly, on the free speech and assembly rights of its millions of members. While that alone would not preclude statutory dissolution if circumstances otherwise clearly warranted it, the Court believes it is a relevant factor that counsels against State-imposed dissolution, which should be the last option, not the
However, that doesn’t mean the clouds over the organization have been lifted. The bulk of the AG’s case will be moving forward to trial. And the NRA is unlikely to receive the $50 million it was seeking from Ackerman.
Cohen did not mince words when describing how seriously he views the allegations. He said if the allegations prove to be accurate, they “tell a grim story of greed, self-dealing, and lax financial oversight at the highest levels of the National Rifle Association.” He said the corruption is alleged to be pervasive and unchecked.
“They describe in detail a pattern of exorbitant spending and expense reimbursement for the personal benefit of senior management,” he wrote, “along with conflicts of interest, related party transactions, cover-ups, negligence, and retaliation against dissidents and whistleblowers who dared to investigate or complain, which siphoned millions of dollars away from the NRA’s legitimate operations.”
Though dissolution is no longer a threat, serious consequences remain a strong possibility for NRA leadership. Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre and other members of leadership could be swept from their positions and saddled with repayment burdens rising into the millions.
“The Attorney General’s Complaint seeks restitution and other monetary relief from four current and former NRA officers (to be repaid to the NRA), as well as their removal from NRA employment and permanent injunctions against serving as officers, directors, or trustees of any not-for-profit or charitable organization incorporated or authorized to conduct business or solicit charitable contributions in New York,” Cohen wrote.
With judges thwarting the NRA’s attempt to escape the AG’s prosecution through bankruptcy and the AG’s attempt to dismantle the whole group, the legal Hail Marys appear to be exhausted. The rest of this case should play out more predictably. Most of the evidence of NRA leadership’s wrongdoing is public at this point.
While the NRA’s lawyers have claimed the group has already fixed the problems, LaPierre and many other members of leadership who were in power during the time corruption is alleged are still in control. They are still doing controversial things, such as taking the group into bankruptcy without board approval and removing dissenting board members from committee positions. It’s difficult to imagine them coming out of the rest of this case still in power.
But that’s impossible to know for sure. And the timeline may be much longer than many people imagine. Even if Justice Cohen rules against NRA leadership in the next few months, that’s unlikely to be the end of the case. All indications to this point are that Wayne LaPierre wants to fight this as far as he possibly can, and the vast majority of the board is willing to foot the bill to do so.
Years of appeal could be ahead for the NRA even if it has to continue to slash programs to keep up with the legal costs–something that’s already led membership to shrink. Even after all the traditional avenues of appeal are exhausted, it’s not impossible the group could pull the same bankruptcy maneuver again. After all, both the bankruptcy judge and the NRA board’s retroactive approval for the move leave that possibility open.
Wherever things go from here, don’t expect this ordeal to end anytime soon.
The NRA will not be forced to close down due to the New York Attorney General’s corruption suit.
However, the case remains active. So, former NRA board member Rocky Marshall joined the show this week to discuss the internal fight over the corruption allegations against NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre and other members of leadership.
Marshall is one of the few board members to publicly oppose LaPierre and make efforts to remove him from leadership. Last year, he became the first person to run against LaPierre for Executive Vice President.
He said he is glad the Attorney General won’t be able to shutter the organization. He also said he believes the evidence shows LaPierre did divert large sums of NRA money to his own personal expenses. Marshall argued the group has been seriously harmed by that corruption and must be reformed if it hopes to survive.
But the board remains almost entirely behind LaPierre. Marshall lost the election to LaPierre in a landslide, and he wasn’t renominated to run for the board again this year. Plus, NRA lawyers have accused him of trying to take over control of the NRA for himself.
Marshall said the board is effectively controlled by a small number of board members who are on many of the most important board committees. He argued that group of LaPierre loyalists controls the board nomination process, which goes through the board’s nominating committee, and forces internal critics off their committee positions and the board as a whole.
He said the only hope for the NRA is a member-led reform movement and said that’s what he is focusing his efforts on now.
Plus, Contributing Writer Jake Fogleman and I discuss where President Biden’s Supreme Court nominee may end up on gun law.
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President Joe Biden (D.) dedicated a portion of his first State of the Union Address Tuesday night to calling for gun control. While his inclusion of the subject wasn’t noteworthy, the way he talked about it was.
The tone, content, and pacing of the President Biden’s remarks on guns were indicative of a pro forma exercise, rather than a serious call to action. The entire portion of the address dealing with gun control lasted less than 60 seconds total, before the President quickly transitioned off the subject and on to the topic of voting rights.
The time he did dedicate to the subject was focused almost entirely on spurring Congressional action, no matter how unlikely, on the same proposals he has already called for. Biden’s major gun control bugaboos have not changed. That much is obvious.
“Ghost guns,” universal background checks, “assault weapon” bans, and broadening civil liability for gun makers all featured heavily in his campaign for the Presidency. And all made an appearance in his address Tuesday night.
“And I will keep doing everything in my power to crack down on gun trafficking and ghost guns you can buy online and make at home—they have no serial numbers and can’t be traced,” President Biden said. “I ask Congress to pass proven measures to reduce gun violence. Pass universal background checks.”
He repeated several of his favorite lines in reference to his preferred policies, even going off script to lampoon gun owners who might be opposed to his weapon and accessory bans.
“And folks, ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines that hold up to 100 rounds,” he said. “You think the deer are wearing kevlar vests?”
The President also requested a repeal of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act while repeating the false claim that gun manufacturers are immune from all lawsuits.
“Repeal the liability shield that makes gun manufacturers the only industry in America that can’t be sued,” Mr. Biden said. “Imagine had we done that with the tobacco manufacturers?”
Though the President trotted out many of his favorite retreads on gun control, he notably did not reiterate his belief that civilians with small arms are no match for a tyrannical government. Those comments would have likely been incompatible with the first portion of his address where he commended the bravery of the Ukrainian people fighting back against Russian incursion.
He also chose not to highlight any of the sweeping executive actions he took on gun control in 2021.
He nominated and publicly lobbied for a professional gun control activist to lead the ATF, a significant move even though it ended in failure. He also spearheaded several regulatory moves at the ATF that will dramatically expand the agency’s power and enforcement prospects on previously law-abiding gun owners.
As a result, the ATF is currently proposing to redefine what constitutes a firearm as part of his attempt to go after “ghost gun” kit makers. It is also in the midst of an attempt to re-classify guns equipped with popular pistol braces as items that need to be destroyed, turned in, or registered with the ATF under the National Firearms Act.
Those actions alone could impact millions of gun owners, potentially subjecting them to federal felony offenses if they are implemented without significant changes. Those rules are currently being reviewed and are expected to be finalized by the end of this summer.
And perhaps most notably of all, President Biden said nothing about taking any future executive actions on guns despite prominent gun control groups growing increasingly vocal in their desire to see him do. His silence in this regard did not go unnoticed by those same groups.
Guns Down America, a smaller advocacy group but one of the most critical of Biden, was quick to criticize the President’s remarks on guns after the State of the Union.
“Despite every indication that the American people want to see the Biden administration do more to address our nation’s gun violence crisis, and with nearly 50,000 Americans dead from gun violence under his watch, the President missed a critical opportunity to leverage the full resources of the federal government to announce a coordinated, unified, national response to the public health crisis of gun violence,” Igor Volsky, Executive Director of the group, said in a statement. “While nobody doubts the President’s and his staff’s commitment to saving lives, it’s far less clear that this administration is willing to spend actual political capital on this issue.”
The President’s decision not to promise more executive action also caught the attention of one of the most pro-gun-control elected officials in the U.S. Senate, Chris Murphy (D.). He told a group of gun-control advocates on Wednesday that Biden needs to show “more urgency” on gun-control executive action, according to the Associated Press.
“Because we are at a logjam in the United States Senate, it means that the burden on the administration to step up and take action is great,” Murphy said. “This administration can do more, this administration should do more. And I think it’s time to see some more urgency from the Biden Administration when it comes to the steps that they can take to save lives.”
Despite being on the receiving end of such criticism, it would come as a major surprise if the President heeded the call to push for new executive orders. His approval ratings are still underwater, and he is currently staring down a burgeoning foreign policy crisis in Ukraine and a looming Supreme Court confirmation battle that will consume much of his remaining political capital for the forseeable future.
His tepid remarks at the State of the Union were more than likely a display of political solidarity with the gun-control advocates in his party. They show President Biden is unlikely to begin a push for new gun measures anytime soon.
That’s it for now.
I’ll talk to you all again soon.