Politics NRA's gun rights message lingers despite legal, money woes
GOP indifference to gun violence stifles action
The fate of the House gun bill faces an uncertain future in the U.S. Senate where Republicans are wary of any action — however sensible — to restrict gun ownership.Recent tragedies demonstrate the urgent need for recognition of the victims and the imperative for Congress to take action to end the carnage.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Liberals have cheered the highly public legal and financial jeopardy ensnaring the National Rifle Association, seeing the gun lobby's potential demise as the path to stricter firearms laws.
But, it turns out, the NRA's message has become so solidified in the Republican Party that even if the organization implodes from bankruptcy and allegations of lavish spending and misuse of funds, its unapologetic pro-gun point of view will live on, as the heated debate increasingly shifts from Washington to the states.
America is on a gun-buying spree. Here's what is driving the surge
Robin Armstrong is just one of many Americans either buying a gun for the first time or adding to what they already own, leading to a surge in US gun sales that started last year and is continuing strong in 2021. There is no government or national database of gun sales, but the Federal Bureau of Investigation keeps track of pre-sale background checks, an indicator that's been soaring to record highs. In March, the FBI reported almost 4.7 million background checks -- the most of any month since the agency started keeping track more than 20 years ago, and a whopping 77% increase over March 2019.
Not even the shift in power to Democrats in the White House and Congress has been enough to push through new federal restrictions, and states continue to pass laws with far-reaching protections for gun owners.
Ever confident, the NRA, which is based in Fairfax, Virginia, says the suggestion it is receding is magical thinking on the left. The group promises it will emerge from bankruptcy stronger, particularly as it seeks to relocate to the decidedly pro-gun rights state of Texas.
The durable nature of the NRA’s clout is an exemplar of how difficult it is to claw back control from an entrenched lobbying powerhouse that has planted deep roots in the American political system with money, organization and relentless messaging.
NRA drops federal lawsuit against New York AG
The National Rifle Association (NRA) said Friday it is dropping a federal lawsuit that alleges that New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) violated the gun rights group's constitutional rights with her efforts to dissolve it. The NRA said in a court filing in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York that it is "voluntarily" withdrawing the suit as it pursues similar litigation in a New York state court. "The NRAThe NRA said in a court filing in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York that it is "voluntarily" withdrawing the suit as it pursues similar litigation in a New York state court.
“The NRA built up an impressive mountain of power over the course of 40 years. And despite their recent fall from grace, that power doesn't disappear overnight,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said in an interview.
Not to say there is no hope for gun control — far from it, said Murphy, whose own views are shaped by the, and the subsequent (successful) effort by the NRA to stop gun legislation in the aftermath.
He said Democratic gains in Congress, despite the efforts by the NRA to stop candidates, are one measure of a change in the dynamic. Another is a shift in some public opinion.found the percentage of people viewing the NRA favorably dropping below 50% for only the second time in three decades.
“There’s no doubt that their political muscle is reduced,” Murphy said. “The Georgia special elections are a pretty clear indication of that. Democrats who support universal background checks are winning all over the country, including in states where you would have thought the NRA had a stranglehold.”
Pro-gun groups step up lobbying campaign against Biden ATF pick
David Chipman, President Biden's pick to run the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), is facing intense opposition from gun rights groups that are pushing key senators to reject his nomination.Chipman spent 25 years with ATF as a special agent. But pro-gun organizations are protesting his nomination over his support for stricter gun laws and previous work as a policy adviser for Giffords, a gun control group.AfterChipman spent 25 years with ATF as a special agent. But pro-gun organizations are protesting his nomination over his support for stricter gun laws and previous work as a policy adviser for Giffords, a gun control group.
One of Biden’swas on gun control. On Monday, the Justice Department announced model legislation for red-flag laws, which permit police to ask for the removal of firearms from people who may present a danger to themselves or others.
In March,requiring background checks on all firearms sales and transfers and allowing an expanded 10-day review for gun purchases. But the legislation faces strong headwinds in the Senate, with some Republican support required for passage.
At the same time, though, the NRA has been growing, with 225,000 additional dues-paying members since January, its ranks now swelling to more than 5 million. Its embattled leader, Wayne LaPierre, has led the fund-raising efforts for nearly three decades, selling himself as an aggressive guardian of the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
He positioned the lobby as the major antagonizer of Democratic administrations. Then, in 2016, the organization spent more than $30 million on behalf of Donald Trump's campaign, according to Federal Election Commission data. The effort paid off — after back-to-back mass shootings inand Trump seemed inclined to take action on extensive background checks but backed off after a phone call with the NRA.
NRA Adds About 225K Paying Members Since January, Now Has Over 5M Registered
The NRA now boasts more than 5 million dues-paying members, and its controversial leader, Wayne LaPierre, continues to raise funds by selling himself as an aggressive guardian of the Second Amendment right to bear arms. LaPierre has positioned the NRA as the opposition to Democratic administrations. In 2016, he spent more than $30 million to support Donald Trump's campaign, according to data from the Federal Election Commission. After mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, Trump initially pledged to take action on extensive background checks for gun purchases but dropped the promise after a phone call with the NRA.
But those successes were happening while the NRA was having major problems within. By 2018, the organization had a $36 million deficit due to lavish spending. A class action lawsuit by members over mismanagement and a lack of transparency followed in 2019. And then, Democratic New York Attorney General Letitia James, arguing it was “fraught with fraud and abuse.” In D.C., the attorney general sued over improper diversion of funds.
The NRA filed for bankruptcy in January. During the trial, an embarrassing deposition by LaPierre emerged in which he said he’d borrowed a friend’s 108-foot yacht to hide multiple times between 2013 and 2018 after threats following multiple mass shootings.
Even with that inner turmoil, the NRA has also been behind hundreds of successful efforts to loosen gun laws in the states — most recently working to persuade states to abandon requirements that people get training and pass background checks to carry concealed handguns.
Six states have passed legislation removing or weakening concealed-carry permit requirements this year, most recently Texas. About 20 states now allow people to carry concealed weapons without a license.
Legislators call for ATF to crack down on problem gun dealers, citing USA TODAY/The Trace investigation
Lawmakers in New York, Philadelphia and U.S. Congress cite USA TODAY/The Trace investigation into problem gun dealers.When the New York Legislature took up a bill to crack down on errant gun dealers last week its author, Sen. Zellnor Myrie, praised the “explosive report” by The Trace/USA TODAY. Myrie said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is a disgrace for not providing stricter oversight of the firearms industry.
Four more states have passed legislation banning police from enforcing federal gun laws, a preemptive shot at any new measures passed by Democrats.
The NRA is far from the only pro-gun group at the table in state legislatures now. In Utah, one of the first states to remove permit requirements this year, it was just one of at least six gun rights groups speaking in favor of the bill at the Capitol — and it wasn’t the most outspoken one.
The number of generally pro-gun rights states outnumbers those that pass gun control measures 40 to 10, although the latter have more people, so the country’s population is about evenly divided between the two camps.found the number of Americans who favor stricter gun laws has declined this year to 53%, down from 60% in September 2019.
“Gun rights, the Second Amendment, the right to keep and bear arms is bigger than any organization,” said Jordan Stein, communications director for the Gun Owners of America, one such group.
Gun owners would continue fighting if the organizations who often help them organize and coordinate around the issue were gone, he said.
Recent gun sales suggest a new zeal for owning a weapon. Gun dealers sold more than 2 million firearms in January, a 75% increase over the same month last year and the biggest-selling January on record, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, an industry trade group. The FBI, meanwhile, reported 4.3 million firearm-related background checks, the highest monthly total since the system was created over two decades ago.
Rising crime rejuvenates gun control debate on campaign trail
The battle over gun control is emerging as a campaign issue heading into the midterms as gun violence rises in the U.S.The country has seen a wave of gun-related deaths as it reopens amid the coronavirus pandemic. According to data compiled by the Gun Violence Archive for NBC News, firearm deaths increased by 15 percent last month compared to the same period in 2019.Republicans have attributed the rise in violence to progressive efforts to reform and in some cases direct funds away from police departments. But Democrats say gun policies are at the heart of the issue.
While the NRA is easily the best known gun lobby, Josh Horwitz, the executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, said the real players are the state gun groups.
“The groups that work at the state level are much more powerful than they used to be," Horwitz said. "Even if the NRA went away tomorrow, and it may, (Senate Republican leader) Mitch McConnell is still going to be checking in with whatever the Kentucky gun rights alliance is, and the Ohio legislature is going to be checking in with the Buckeye Firearms Association.
“We’re in a generational battle," he added. "Guns in America is going to be a big fight for a long time.”
Despite its troubles, the NRA remains confident in its prowess.
The organization, which in January reported total assets of about $203 million, liabilities of about $153 million and $31 million in bank loans, said in court papers it saw revenues drop about 7% because of the coronavirus pandemic. To cut costs, it laid off dozens of employees and canceled its national convention.
Last month, a federal judge in Dallas dealt another blow to the lobby when he, because he found it was not filed in good faith.
But it has also balanced its budget and is again in the black after years of deficits.
“Coupled with our typical excellent report card on legal and legislative advances and wins, the record is clear: the NRA is as strong and effective as ever as we confront President Biden’s anti-gun agenda," said Andrew Arulanandam, the NRA'S managing director for public affairs.
"Any suggestion to the contrary is wishful thinking from our adversaries.”
Associated Press writers Gary Fields and Lindsay Whitehurst in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.
Mississippi: Ex-lawmaker killed near home of slain relative .
WATER VALLEY, Miss. (AP) — A former Mississippi lawmaker was found shot to death during the weekend in a rural area outside the burned home where her sister-in-law was found dead after Christmas. Ashley Henley, 40, was a Republican who served in the state House from January 2016 to January 2020 from a district in DeSoto County. The North Mississippi Herald was first to report that Henley's body was found Sunday night in rural Yalobusha County, about 70 miles (115 kilometers) south of DeSoto County.Her body was outside the home where the body of her sister-in-law Kristina Michelle Jones was found Dec. 26.