NRA On Trial: Whatever the Outcome, the Changes Will Be Profound

Wayne LaPierre
Courtesy NRA TV

After months of conjecture, more than a hundred million dollars in legal fees and more he said/she said arguments than a rancorous Hollywood celebrity divorce, the State of New York is slated to present its case against the National Rifle Association beginning Monday morning in a Manhattan courthouse.

Barring an eleventh-hour deal,  New York Attorney General Letitia James and her staff will make their case that the NRA has allowed Executive Director Wayne LaPierre to treat the dues paid by the association’s members as his personal piggy bank. In fact, James calls the NRA under LaPierre’s leadership a “culture of self-dealing, mismanagement, and negligent oversight.”

The case began in 2020 with the state’s assertion that LaPierre and other senior leaders had diverted millions of dollars from the group’s stated missions, spending those funds instead on luxury personal benefits ranging from custom suits and makeup for LaPierre and his wife to private flights and luxury stays around the world.

The abuse, the AG has asserted, was so extreme as to be grounds to completely disband the more than five-million member organization. That position was shot down by a state court in March of 2022 when it found “less intrusive relief” was justified. Since the beginning nearly four years ago, LaPierre and the NRA’s counsel, William Brewer, have tried to characterize the case as retaliatory to the point of being persecution, not prosecution.

Throughout the entire three-year battle, courtroom observers have watched with fascination as claims and counter-claims flew. Last week, presiding Judge Joel Cohen told both parties the “trial will rest on the merits rather than a war of words between the NRA and the New York attorney general.”

Monday, all that posturing should end. When court goes into session, everything said under oath will need to be factual. All of the “he said/she said” should finally come to a screeching halt. 

Characterizations and misstatements made prior to trial are part of “trial by media”  in the court of public opinion. In court they’re grounds for perjury. Having raised my own hand and sworn only to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, I can attest that it tends to stop the spin, the poetic license, and the hyperbole.

The cost to the NRA in time, money, reputational and long-term damage from this case are incalculable. As a result, the NRA has been limited in its political activities, advocacy for gun owners, and services to members. For many, the bad taste left in the mouths of former members by the revelations already admitted in depositions or proven by financial records may prevent them from ever returning to the NRA.

But the true costs can’t be determined until there’s a verdict. Whatever the outcome, Wayne LaPierre’s decades-long tenure is at an end. Whether he faces additional punishment remains to be seen. But his hide is now securely tanning on the side of Letitia James’ figurative barn.

New York Attorney General Letitia James
Image: Letitia James Facebook

The chance of a last-minute deal being struck on the courthouse steps, although slim, is always a possibility. 

The deal former NRA COO Josh Powell struck with with the Attorney General — announced Friday afternoon — gave the AG’s office one thing that always makes a prosecutors’ mouths water: an insider willing to spill his guts. 

Whatever happens, the days of NRA members being able to talk like militants while following a figurehead like a flock of sheep will be drawing to a close. NRA members must stiffen up and take control of their organization…although it will likely be a greatly changed NRA, more closely resembling its original charter than the political lobbying juggernaut of the past few decades

If the State of New York wins, that will likely result in a special master being appointed to run the association for the foreseeable future. That would also mean future dues and contributions would go to activities that are laid out in the NRA’s charter. That doesn’t include political lobbying.

That reduction in power and influence should concern every law-abiding gun owner. Despite any assertions to the contrary, the NRA, even with all of its internal issues, has carried much the figurative water for all of us. There are other organizations out there and they’re doing very good work in the courthouses, but they lack the kind of longevity or finances the NRA had…at least before all of this happened.

Regardless of the outcome of the trial, changes are ahead.

We’ll be in New York for the trial’s opening remarks. The court portion may just be starting, but almost everyone agrees on one thing…it’s time to bring the whole mess to a conclusion, once and for all. What that conclusion will be remains to be seen.

We’ll keep you posted.

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