The thing to keep in mind during the legal war launched today between New York State and the National Rifle Association is that the Second Amendment does not exist in New York City and state. It has been blocked at every level by state and local authorities. In New York, there is no right to — in the plain language of the Constitution — keep and bear arms. The right has been denied as a matter of policy for decades.
That will be, we predict, the elephant in the courtrooms that hear the dueling lawsuits that New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, and the NRA itself filed today. New York’s case, which seeks the dissolution of the NRA over the alleged misuse of funds, was filed in a state court. The NRA, in a suit filed in federal court in the northern district of New York, seeks to block the state investigation from violating its rights.
This battle couldn’t be more important. That’s not only because of the salience of the rights at stake. They are supposedly vouchsafed by the First Amendment and Second Amendment. It’s also important because New York’s lawsuit is motivated by politics. The timing of New York’s case couldn’t have landed at a more mischievous moment, coming as it does on the eve of a presidential election. No doubt that’s intentional.
The allegations of malfeasance made by New York are against, among others, the NRA’s executive director, Wayne LaPierre. The details are little more newsworthy, as far as we can tell, than complaints already aired in recent years in news stories in the Times and other publications. The gist is that millions of dollars were spent on personal luxuries and in ways that Ms. James deems unfitting for a public charity.
This isn’t a case, though, of those alleged torts having been discovered in the normal course. Ms. James vowed to go after the NRA when she was running for attorney general in the first place. That would be troubling enough circumstance, if we were the judge (a stretch to be sure), to throw the case out in the first place. The NRA’s real tort, in the view of New York, is that it is the leading advocate for enforcing the Second Amendment.
The NRA could also be called America’s leading civil rights organization (by revenues it’s larger than, say, the NAACP, the ACLU, and the Anti-Defamation League combined). We’ll see what, if anything, Mr. LaPierre & Co. have done wrong, but the complaint reminds us of Lincoln’s famous remark about Grant’s penchant for strong liquor: “Find out what he’s been drinking and get some to the rest of my generals.”
The more illuminating suit is not the one Ms. James filed against the NRA but the one the NRA filed against her. It opens by quoting Ms. James as vowing during her election campaign to “take down the NRA” — not, the NRA alleges, by “refuting” the organization’s “policy positions or by advocating for gun control legislation” but by “wielding the powers” of the attorney general to “dismantle the NRA as a not-for-profit corporation.”
It also says Ms. James “maligned the NRA as a ‘terrorist organization’ and a ‘criminal enterprise,’ and vowed that financial institutions and donors linked to the NRA would be pursued by law enforcement — just like supporters of Al Qaeda or the mafia.” The NRA also says, in an astonishing paragraph in its complaint, that it was tipped off to Ms. James’ plans by her predecessor, Eric Schneiderman.
Mr. Schneiderman, according to the NRA, telephoned an NRA director, Tom King, in late 2017. Then attorney general himself, Mr. Schneiderman, the NRA said, complained that “key Democratic actors blamed the NRA for President Trump’s 2016 election victory, and were brainstorming ways that New York State could weaken the NRA as a political force in 2020.” The NRA suggests that is what is happening.
So this is shaping up as a historic fight. President Trump is already suggesting that the NRA decamp New York and move to Texas. We can understand the instinct, but our hope is that the country’s premier defender of the Second Amendment pursues the defense against the political suit launched here and and presses its own suit successfully against the attorney general. If it can get the Second Amendment enforced here, it can get it enforced anywhere.