New York’s attorney general has announced a lawsuit aimed at dissolving the powerful National Rifle Association over alleged financial mismanagement.
Letitia James said the NRA had diverted millions of dollars to leaders including its chief executive, Wayne LaPierre, for their personal use.
“For these years of misconduct we are seeking an order to dissolve the NRA in its entirety,” she said.
The NRA described the lawsuit as a “baseless, premeditated attack”.
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What did the attorney general say?
Ms James said that the four named defendants – Mr LaPierre, Wilson Phillips, Joshua Powell and John Frazer – “instituted a culture of self-dealing, mismanagement and negligent oversight at the NRA that was illegal, oppressive and fraudulent”.
The attorney general outlined a litany of charges against the defendants, but accused Mr LaPierre, long the face of the powerful gun lobby group, of being the “central figure” behind the organisation’s wrongdoings.
One example of misconduct alleged in the lawsuit states that Mr LaPierre visited the Bahamas more than eight times by private plane using funds intended for the NRA, for a total cost of $500,000 (£380,000).
The corruption “is so broad”, Ms James said, that total dissolution of the organisation is necessary.
Responding to questions, Ms James, a Democrat, rejected the notion that the charges against the NRA – closely tied to the Republican party – were at all influenced by her own politics.
“We followed the facts and the law,” she said. “We’ve come to the conclusion that the NRA unfortunately was serving as a personal piggy bank to four individual defendants.”
The case filed by Ms James’ office alleges more than $64m (£48.7m) was lost in just three years as a result of the defendants’ abuse.
Also on Thursday, the District Attorney for Washington, DC filed a separate lawsuit against the organisation “for misusing charitable funds to support wasteful spending by the NRA and its executives”.
The New York lawsuit will almost certainly be contested in court by the NRA. The suit will add another strain to an already beleaguered organisation, facing congressional inquiries, investigations in multiple states and internal complaints.
What is the NRA?
Founded in 1871 as a recreational group designed to “promote and encourage rifle shooting”, the National Rifle Association has grown into one of the most powerful political organisations in the US.
The NRA now lobbies heavily against all forms of gun control and argues aggressively that more guns make the country safer. It relies on, and staunchly defends, a disputed interpretation of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, which it argues gives US citizens the rights to bear arms.
The NRA spends about $250m per year, far more than all the country’s gun control advocacy groups put together.
The organisation has boasted some high-profile members over the years, including former President George HW Bush. Mr Bush resigned from the group in 1995 after Mr La Pierre referred to federal agents in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing as “jack-booted thugs”.
Members have included former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, and actors Tom Selleck and Whoopi Goldberg. The organisation strongly backed Donald Trump in the 2016 election, but has faced scrutiny over its accounting practices in recent years and backlash from gun control advocates following high profile school shootings.
What’s the reaction?
In a statement, NRA President Carolyn Meadows decried the lawsuit as “a transparent attempt to score political points”.
“As evidenced by the lawsuit filed by the NRA today against the [New York Attorney General] we not only will not shrink from this fight – we will confront it and prevail,” she said
Speaking to reporters outside the White House, President Donald Trump called the suit a “very terrible thing”.
The Republican president – a vocal defender of the Second Amendment – has been allied with the NRA since he launched his campaign for president.
“I think the NRA should move to Texas and lead a very good and beautiful life,” Mr Trump said on Thursday. “Texas would be a great place, or to another state of their choosing.”
The move against the NRA was celebrated by several prominent Democrats.
“The NRA bought the president and promotes members of Congress that turn a blind eye to the gun violence epidemic,” wrote Senator Kamala Harris on Twitter.
“It’s time to end the violence and recklessness. End the NRA,” wrote long-time Democratic congresswoman Barbara Lee.
The president and guns
Analysis by Tara McKelvey, BBC White House reporter
The attorney general of New York has had it with the NRA, but the president has not.
Ms James alleges that the gun lobby is rife with corruption and no longer has the right to call itself a non-profit charity. In contrast the president sees a beleaguered organisation, one that is in search of a new home where it will be appreciated, and recommends Texas, a place famous for its gun lovers.
The president’s affection for the NRA goes back to his previous presidential campaign, a time when the NRA supported his efforts to get elected. The NRA reportedly donated $30m to his 2016 campaign, making them one of his biggest supporters – if not the biggest.
The president has softened on some of his positions regarding the rights of gun owners while he has been in office. But now that his colleagues at the NRA are really in trouble, he has shown his support and said they should move their offices.
In Texas, he told me and other reporters on the South Lawn today, the NRA can have a “beautiful” life. Spoken like a true friend.