Corruption trial could lead to the end of NRA leader Wayne LaPierre's career
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
Jury selection began yesterday in a civil trial in New York that could transform the National Rifle Association, the nation's largest gun rights group.
A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:
Yeah. New York Attorney General Letitia James is hoping to oust longtime NRA leader Wayne LaPierre on corruption charges. He's denied any wrongdoing. Other current and former NRA leaders are also named in the suit.
FADEL: NPR's Brian Mann is covering this and joins us now. Hi, Brian.
BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.
FADEL: Good morning. So what are the accusations Wayne LaPierre is facing?
MANN: You know, the NRA was once one of the biggest political forces in Washington and in state capitals around the country. The organization really succeeded for decades under LaPierre's leadership, pushing the gun control debate to the right, blocking gun control measures even after catastrophic mass shootings like Sandy Hook and Parkland.
But beginning in 2019, the organization began to unravel with internal feuds and accusations of corruption. New York's attorney general, Letitia James, began investigating, and her team says they found evidence that more than $64 million in cash from NRA donors was misused by LaPierre and other leaders. The lawsuit claims the organization became a personal piggy bank, paying for things like private jet flights to the Bahamas. This is a civil lawsuit, so there's no risk of jail time or criminal penalties for LaPierre or the three others named in the suit. But if the NRA loses this case, LaPierre could be ousted after more than 30 years at the helm, and New York officials would also gain a lot more regulatory oversight over the NRA's activities.
FADEL: What do LaPierre and the NRA say about these claims?
MANN: From the outset, they've argued that this is an attempt to silence and weaken a conservative pro-gun group. Basically, they say it's a political attack by a Democratic attorney general. The NRA tried repeatedly to have this case dismissed on those grounds, but their arguments have been rejected by appeals court, so now we're going to trial.
It is important to note that this case and the growing controversy surrounding LaPierre have already really crippled the NRA. Since the lawsuit was filed in 2020, they've lost millions of members. The NRA shut down their juggernaut media operation, even attempted once to file for bankruptcy. And LaPierre, who's 74 years old now, you know, he used to be a really high-profile player in American politics, courted by presidents. And his personal influence has clearly waned because of all of this.
FADEL: OK. So it seems like the NRA is back on its heels here, facing serious legal peril. How has that affected the wider debate over gun rights and gun safety?
MANN: Yeah. This is interesting. Before the NRA was hit by internal dissent and these legal troubles, a lot of their beliefs about gun regulations had really been adopted wholesale by the Republican Party and by many of the GOP's core voters. So while the NRA's direct influence has faded, we haven't seen big changes to the politics of gun control despite the growing number of mass shootings in America, daily gun violence in some cities and also polls showing broad public support for things like universal background checks. The GOP has largely stuck to their argument that almost all gun regulations violate the Second Amendment. So the NRA is a shadow of itself as this case goes to trial. But the NRA's ideas, they're still incredibly influential.
FADEL: NPR's Brian Mann. Thanks for your reporting, Brian.
MANN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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