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Opinion: Let the NRA die

National Rifle Assn. CEO Wayne LaPierre
National Rifle Assn. CEO Wayne LaPierre, shown defending gun ownership following the 2012 Newtown massacre, is under legal fire from the New York attorney general’s office, which seeks to disband the organization.
(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

Most people reading this piece view the National Rifle Assn. in either of two diametrically opposed ways.

One is that it’s a terrorist collective of right-wing nut jobs, positioned somewhere along the moral spectrum between “callous” and “bloodthirsty,” hellbent on blocking even the most modest gun controls and more concerned with gun owners’ hobby than the deaths of hundreds of American children.

The other is that it’s the oldest and most important civil rights group in the United States, a noble bulwark against the left-wing nut jobs who try to exploit the deaths of hundreds of American children in their zeal to trample all over God and the Constitution.

On Thursday, though, a lawsuit filed by New York state Atty. Gen. Letitia James provided Americans with a third way of understanding the NRA: as a remarkably efficient machine for funneling money into the pockets of its chief executive, Wayne LaPierre, and other high-ranking NRA leaders.

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It’s rare that Americans across the political spectrum can unite in outrage. But when you read a paragraph in the lawsuit like this — “Since June 2015, LaPierre and his family took private flights to and from the Bahamas on at least eight occasions. On most of those trips, LaPierre stopped in Nebraska on each leg of the trip to pick up and drop off his niece and her family. The NRA paid over half a million dollars for these flights.” — you’d have to suspect that gun haters and gun lovers alike could bond over a shared anger.

We’ve been taught that the U.S. had to drop atomic bombs on Japan to end World War II. Historical evidence shows Japan would have surrendered anyway.

The former can be outraged for all the reasons you’d expect, although perhaps “outrage” isn’t the right word so much as “schadenfreude.”

But the gun group’s supporters would be entitled to a powerful sense of outrage too, in the form of a deep feeling of betrayal. After all, the half a million dollars spent on LaPierre’s private flights to the Bahamas (which, by the way, represented only a fraction of the extensive self-enrichment alleged in the lawsuit) is double what the NRA has spent so far on the 2020 election.

Richard Feldman, a former lobbyist for the NRA who is now president of the Independent Firearm Owners Assn., described LaPierre’s famously bloated salary in no uncertain terms: “When you’re running that kind of membership organization, to be paying yourself $2 million a year is just obscene.”

Because it’s been incorporated in New York since 1871, the NRA, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization, is subject to the state’s financial regulations — and James’ purview. The NRA’s financial freewheeling caught the attention of the Charities Bureau, the New York regulatory body perhaps best known for exposing misuse of funds at the Trump Foundation. (President Trump was ordered to pay $2 million in damages in December after the foundation was shut down.)

According to a statement by James on Twitter, the lawsuit accuses LaPierre, former Chief Financial Officer Wilson Phillips, former chief of staff Joshua Powell, general counsel John Frazer, and the NRA as a whole of failing to fulfill their fiduciary obligation to the organization, contributing to a loss of $64 million.

As a staunch supporter of gun control, I’ve long been disgusted with the NRA for its massive lobbying efforts against even the most common-sense reforms. But while this case will unavoidably generate accusations of partisan motivations, the extent of the fraud and financial abuse alleged in the lawsuit would justify legal action against any organization. It’s no secret that plenty of left-leaning Americans would be happy to see the NRA die. The allegations in James’ lawsuit suggest that those on the right should feel the same way.


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