This week, I traveled up to the National Rifle Association’s big trial in New York City.
Reporting straight from the courtroom as few other news outlets have done, I chronicled some new revelations that came out of the Attorney General’s case against the nation’s largest gun-rights group. First, now-former CEO Wayne LaPierre testified he’d used private helicopter flights to help himself and select other NRA employees beat the traffic at NASCAR races.
Then, NRA General Counsel John Frazer admitted he was hired with no experience in the role, and he was repeatedly sidestepped in the group’s major legal decisions over the past few years. Instead, the Brewer law firm was paid over $100 million to fill that role.
Still, I explain in a piece for members why the bar the New York Attorney General has to clear to have the court take over control of the NRA is higher than it might seem at first glance.
There was plenty of other gun news coming out of the courts this week too. Federal Judge Roger Benitez struck down California’s ammunition background check requirement. One of his colleagues across the country blocked a New York housing authority’s ban on gun ownership. And Contributing Writer Jake Fogleman dissected the implications of a federal appellate court reviving Mexico’s suit against American gun companies.
Plus, on the podcast, former NRA News host Cam Edwards details what it was like working for the group’s controversial top contractor.
Manhattan, New York — The National Rifle Association’s General Counsel testified on Tuesday he was hired without previous practice in the role and was left out of key decision-making.
John Frazer, the group’s top lawyer since 2015, said he got the job less than two years after becoming a lawyer. Although he had gained significant experience at the NRA in a previous non-legal role, Frazer admitted he never worked in a General Counsel capacity before being hired.
“So, when you became the General Counsel of the NRA, you had no prior experience at the job, right? For a for-profit or non-profit, right?” a lawyer for the New York Attorney General Letitia James’s office asked.
“Correct,” Frazer responded.
Manhattan, New York — National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre admitted on Monday he authorized spending on helicopter rides for himself and others to avoid traffic at NASCAR races.
During his second day on the stand at the NRA’s civil trial in New York, LaPierre testified that he spent the non-profit’s money on private helicopter trips. He admitted the purpose of the flights was convenience and noted it was a common practice during the group’s dealings with the racing company.
“Yes, Your Honor, it is an invoice for helicopter transportation,” LaPierre said when shown a receipt for one flight.
The National Rifle Association’s leadership faces exile at the hands of a New York court. Whether that happens will depend to a significant degree on if the judge and jury view a mountain of questionable decisions as merely unwise or actively corrupt.
Now, some of those decisions aren’t really in dispute. Nobody at the NRA is trying to defend everything that’s come to light over the past five years. The defense offered by the organization and individual defendants, such as former CEO Wayne LaPierre, involves admitting some inexcusable wrongdoing.
California Ammo Background Check Law Ruled Unconstitutional
By Jake Fogleman
The Golden State’s requirement that gun owners pass a background check for every ammunition purchase is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
US District Judge Roger Benitez issued a permanent injunction against a collection of California laws requiring criminal background checks on all ammunition purchases and prohibiting the purchase of ammunition in other states. Benitez found that each restriction was at odds with America’s historical tradition of gun regulation and, therefore, “must yield to the Constitution.”
“The ammunition background checks laws have no historical pedigree and operate in such a way that they violate the Second Amendment right of citizens to keep and bear arms,” Judge Benitez wrote in Rhode v. Bonta.
Federal Judge: New York Public Housing Can’t Ban Gun Owners
By Jake Fogleman
Residents of government housing do not forfeit their right to possess a gun, a federal judge has ruled.
US District Judge Glenn Suddaby issued a preliminary injunction against the Cortland Housing Authority’s (CHA) ban on Tuesday. Suddaby found that the upstate New York public housing provider’s policy of prohibiting its residents from keeping handguns in their homes probably violates the Second Amendment.
“It is further ordered that Defendants, their officers, agents, servants, employees and attorneys and those acting in concert with them, are temporarily enjoined from taking any action to enforce, or otherwise requiring any person or entity to comply with, the Firearms Ban as set forth in ‘Tenant’s Obligations’ in Article IX, Section (p) of Defendants’ standard Residential Lease Agreement,” Judge Suddaby wrote in Hunter v. Cortland Housing Authority.
Podcast: Former NRA News Host Cam Edwards on the Gun Group’s Corruption Trial
By Stephen Gutowski
The NRA’s corruption trial carried on last week with Wayne LaPierre taking the stand for the first time. So, I invited one of the best gunwriters in the country on the show to talk about it.
Cam Edwards is not only the editor of Bearing Arms, but he’s a former NRA News and NRATV host. That means he worked for Ackerman McQueen, which is the contractor at the center of the NRA corruption allegations. That gave him some special insight into how the relationship between the two sides.
Plus, I talk about my time at SHOT Show with Contributing Writer Jake Fogleman and the effect of the Biden Administration’s pause on gun exports.
A federal appeals court brought Mexico’s civil liability suit against the US gun industry back to life this week. Gun-control advocates are hoping the ruling provides an opening to hollow out the industry’s liability protections moving forward.
On Monday, a three-judge panel for the First Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a 2022 lower court order dismissing Mexico’s $10 billion lawsuit against America’s largest firearms manufacturers and wholesalers. The prior decision held that the companies could not be held liable for criminal gun trafficking through the southern border that they weren’t involved with under the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA).
In an unprecedented move, the First Circuit panel held that while the PLCAA does apply to the case—despite Mexico’s status as a foreign government alleging harms abroad—it does not prohibit the specific legal claims raised about the industry’s sales and marketing practices. Instead, the panel found that Mexico “plausibly alleges” that Smith & Wesson, Sturm Ruger & Co, Glock, Barrett, Beretta, Colt, Century Arms, and Boston-based wholesaler Interstate Arms aid and abet criminal gun trafficking by designing, marketing, and distributing “military-style weapons” that appeal to Mexican drug cartels.
In the immediate term, the ruling simply means that the case will once again go back to the trial court level, where the suit will resume from where it left off in 2022. And Mexico has a high burden to meet in proving its claims have merit. But, over the longer term, the ruling could spell bad news for the gun industry as it’s forced to fend off more costly litigation using the latest tactic to pierce the PLCAA.
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Outside The Reload
That’s it for this week in guns.
I’ll see you all next week.