On Aug. 6, New York Attorney General Letitia James launched a broadside against the National Rifle Association (NRA). James petitioned a New York court to dissolve the 148-year-old civil rights organization in response to alleged fraud by its leader, Wayne LaPierre. The same day, District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine fired his salvo, this time against the NRA Foundation, in D.C. Superior Court. His complaint alleged that the charity was insufficiently independent of the NRA proper and spent money inappropriately. Racine asked the court to order NRA Foundation funds to be placed in a trust managed by a court-appointed overseer.
This one-two punch against the main outreach point for pro-gun messaging in the United States yields a two-fer benefit for James and Racine. They can deal a huge blow to candidate Donald Trump in November and another against gun-rights proponents that could last a generation. The icing on the cake is that instead of having to raise a war chest of money to counter NRA messaging, they are using the legal power and labor pool of their taxpayer-funded offices to hobble the gun lobby. Right at the time the gun-rights crowd is most politically damaging or valuable, depending on your perspective.
Killing Free Speech
The National Rifle Association and the National Rifle Association Foundation are distinct legal entities incorporated in New York and D.C., respectively, which is why Attorneys General James and Racine have authority over their governance. Curiously, neither one has brought criminal charges against the organization or the individuals they are pursuing. Instead, James and Racine are suing in civil court, where there are far fewer protections for the defendant, and the burden of proof on the government is greatly diminished. Using the civil court discovery processes also means that both elected Democrats can use the litigation to inspect all manner of communication between high-level officials at the NRA.
The NRA, like most major political operations, uses a mixture of differently incorporated entities to meet their goals, stay on the right side of regulators, minimize their tax burdens, and maximize the value of contributions. However, 501(c) 3s, 4s, or 5s are used to advance the larger mission of the main group, which is why they are targets for political prosecutors.
Gun owners in the country are a significant constituency and base of support for Trump. They happen to be especially important in key states during the presidential election. While reasonable people can disagree on whether Joe Biden might have handled COVID-19 issues better than Trump, or who might better direct the economy, the same cannot be said for safeguarding gun rights. That is an uncomfortable truth for Biden in the Great Lakes battlegrounds, where plenty of Democrats, not to mention swing voters, are pro-gun.
Big Help for Biden
Merely forcing the NRA to fight these two cases simultaneously may be enough for James and Racine to deliver a headshot to President Trump’s re-election efforts. Since the presidential contest will be determined by a few battleground states, the levers voters pull there are much more important, considering the realities of the Electoral College. If Biden can do better than Hillary Clinton did in these states, he will be president. Comparing Biden’s polling to Clinton’s midsummer numbers in 2016, CNN said, “Across the four Great Lake battleground states (Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin), Biden’s doing about 6.7 points better than Clinton.”
According to a detailed Pew Research Center report, 19% of gun owners in America polled said they were members of the NRA. That’s a staggering number of people, and those gun owners are way more politically active than non-gun owners. The same report, published in 2017, says:
“Among gun owners, 19% of those who want less strict laws have contacted a public official in the past year, compared with 9% of those who want stricter laws.”
That significant difference in political speech has to do in no small part with NRA outreach, ads, issue campaigns, editorials, and more. All of which will be put on the back burner as the NRA attends to these existential threats to the organization and its satellites. Returning to those numbers from the Great Lakes, when you consider that a point lost on one side is a point gained for the other, Biden’s improvement over Clinton is merely 3.35%. If he can hold it, he can win the White House. This bar graph illustrates how gun issues are likely to resonate in these battleground states:
From My Cold, Dead Hands
In 2016, Donald Trump won Pennsylvania by 44,292 votes. In Michigan, it was only 10,704. You can add Ohio, Wisconsin, and Arizona at least to the list of states where support from gun owners boosted Trump to win in 2016. With margins so slim, denying gun owners robust outreach and issue advocacy at election time may make the difference for the candidate preferred by James and Racine. Biden is beyond tarnished as the most anti-Second Amendment candidate in history, after saying to Beto O’Rourke: “You’re going to take care of the gun problem with me. You’re going to be the one who leads this effort. I’m counting on you. I’m counting on you.” O’Rourke infamously said during a nationally televised debate, “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15 … ”
It’s easy to demonize guns to someone in New York City or D.C. who has only seen them on TV, but if you live in Wisconsin or Pennsylvania, that’s a tougher climb. If you can get the word out, that is. That’s what the NRA would do — get the word out about Biden to let people know his position on the issue.
Even the progressive Washington Post saw through Letitia James’ charade, chiding her decision to ask for the NRA’s dissolution:
“Forcing its dissolution has disturbing implications — made even more disturbing by the fact that the attorney general seeking that step is a Democrat who vowed during her campaign to ‘take on the NRA’ and labeled it a ‘terrorist organization.’ In this country, we don’t go after entities because of what they advocate.”
The U.S. Department of Justice is charged with protecting the fundamental rights of Americans, especially against state and local officials who violate them. Will Trump and U.S. Attorney General William Barr intervene to ensure gun owners’ speech, the integrity of the upcoming elections, and the NRA? Keep in mind, while James and Racine may be tyrants, LaPierre and crew may still be crooked. NRA members deserve genuine justice for any crimes against them – whether committed by LaPierre, Racine and James, or both.
These cases were filed the same day. What are the odds? Infinity to one. Both attorneys general are George Soros–funded and have politicized their jobs, just as they promised while campaigning. The only question now is, will it work?
(The author has been a member of the NRA.)
Read more from Scott D. Cosenza.