In some ways, the explosive lawsuit filed last week by New York Attorney General Letitia James against the National Rifle Association was a foregone conclusion. The shady dealings of the gun rights group and its longtime leader, Wayne LaPierre, have long been documented.
The suit, which seeks to dissolve the NRA, accuses its executives of using the nonprofit as their “personal piggy bank.” In the filing, James details shocking instances of financial mismanagement, all adding up to an alleged pattern of rampant greed and corruption. NRA leaders, the lawsuit alleges, embezzled “millions and millions of dollars away from its charitable mission for personal use.”
This legal filing may well mark the beginning of the end of one of the most powerful lobbying groups ever. But the 164-page lawsuit also lays bare a cynical business model that extends into other parts of the gun industry, an uncomfortable truth for ardent defenders of the Second Amendment. What the gun industry does is rile up fear and white resentment, then profit from it, under the guise of standing up for civil liberties and self-protection.
Or, as Nick Suplina, managing director of law and policy for Everytown for Gun Safety, put it: “It turns out, the NRA’s hysteria and fear-mongering was not in response to a real threat to the rights they purport to care about, but to keep the dollars flowing in and pad the pockets of its own leadership.”
Indeed, stricter gun laws do not run afoul of the Second Amendment. Nor do they automatically mean that the government “is coming for your guns” — that was just classic NRA scaremonger messaging. Most Americans, and most gun owners, support sensible reforms like universal background checks and extreme-risk protection legislation, commonly known as “red flag” laws.
So what to do when the public is not really on your side? Create extremist threats out of thin air, charge your members costly fees, and constantly ask for donations (with many of those coming from gun manufacturers) to combat those threats, amass great political power, and wield it to keep politicians in line — rinse and repeat.
The NRA was even using the coronavirus pandemic to raise money and sell guns. In a video posted on their Twitter account in March, the NRA said, “Americans are flocking to gun stores because they know the only reliable self-defense during a crisis is the #2A.” The video goes on to say: “You might be stockpiling up on food right now to get through this current crisis. But if you aren’t preparing to defend your property when everything goes wrong, you’re really just stockpiling for somebody else.”
But according to the lawsuit, NRA executives spent years using those donations and membership fees to carry off a lavish lifestyle to the tune of more than $60 million in the last three years along.
The lawsuit filed in New York targets four current and former NRA executives, including LaPierre, who has led the organization for 30 years. Among the allegations in the lawsuit (many of which had already been reported in detail in The Trace, an online outlet focused on gun violence reporting, and The Wall Street Journal): payments to LaPierre’s personal travel consultant for $13.5 million; multimillion-dollar trips to the Bahamas and private jets for LaPierre and his family members that were paid by the NRA; and a post-retirement contract for LaPierre with the NRA valued at $17 million.
The NRA responded by promptly filing its own lawsuit in federal court. But it may already be too late: The NRA has shot itself, and its alleged cause, in the foot. Selling fear works only until the victims realize they’re being scammed.
In the meantime, the collateral damage from the NRA’s cynical marketing strategy has been the thousands of Americans affected by gun violence. Frankly, the possibility that the organization’s leaders might face some real accountability is the answer to the “thoughts and prayers” of millions of Americans sick of the carnage.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.