Another legal loss for the NRA — and another warning sign for the gun industry


No, it’s not deja vu — the National Rifle Association just suffered another legal humiliation. Three months after a New York jury found NRA executives guilty of treating its coffers like their personal piggybank, the organization just settled a similar case in Washington, D.C. This time, DC’s attorney general was suing the NRA for violating nonprofit law by using its charitable foundation as a slush fund to shore up the parent organization’s dwindling finances. 

The NRA’s legal turmoil is welcome news for the millions of Americans clamoring for solutions to America’s gun violence epidemic — and a four-alarm crisis for the gun industry. For the last 30 years, the NRA has served as a suit of armor for the gun industry, one that was big enough to hide the corporations that profited from the organization’s “guns everywhere” agenda, and intimidating enough to keep Washington lawmakers in line. Lately, however, that suit of armor has been losing limbs faster than a knight in a Monty Python movie. In addition to spending more time in court than Donald Trump — who recently boasted to NRA members that his administration “did nothing” on gun safety — the organization is failing by nearly every other metric. Since 2013, its annual haul of membership dues has plummeted by more than half. One out of every five dollars it brings in goes to outside lawyers.

As the NRA crumbles around it, the gun industry still has one “Stay Out of Jail Free Card” in its back pocket: the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which Congress rubber-stamped in 2005 at the behest of the NRA. This law granted the gun industry nearly unprecedented legal protection. By way of comparison, if other industries enjoyed similar protections, car airbags might still be optional, Purdue Pharma might still be peddling opioids like Pez, and Joe Camel might still be pitching cigarettes to kids.

To understand how cravenly the gun industry has taken advantage of its favored status, consider its refusal to implement even the most basic safety measures. For instance, these days even the cheapest smartphones can include a fingerprint lock, but not guns — and that’s because manufacturers would rather spend their R&D budgets on gadgets to make guns shoot faster, hold more ammo, and get around gun safety laws.

The fallout of a gun industry unbound by even a passing concern for human life has been devastating. While shootings have dipped from the highs we saw during the pandemic, 120 Americans are still killed every single day by gun violence, and another 200 are wounded. Shamefully, many of the victims are kids, with gun violence now the leading cause of death for American children and teens — a statistic that would prompt emergency action in almost any other country.  

But there is cause for hope. In the face of so much avoidable bloodshed, the gun safety movement is doing what all successful social movements do when confronted with seemingly immovable obstacles: We’re finding a way around them. 

You can see this in the White House, where President Biden just finalized a rule to require background checks on all gun sales, including online and at gun shows. This largely closes one of the most gaping loopholes in our nation’s gun laws.

You can see it in statehouses, eight of which have passed laws that make it easier to sue the gun industry.

You can see it in city halls, where a growing coalition of mayors is naming and shaming gun companies whose products are showing up at crime scenes at a disproportionate rate.

And you can see it in the courts, where the litigation arm of Everytown for Gun Safety, where I work, is pioneering new strategies to bring reckless members of the gun industry to justice. For example, we recently partnered with the city of Chicago to sue Glock for making it easy for criminals to convert semi-automatic pistols into illegal machine guns. 

Little by little, these efforts are chipping away at the gun industry’s veneer of invincibility. Gun company executives now face a critical choice: Double down on their strategy of putting profits over public safety, or read the room and start taking basic steps to stop the carnage. They would be wise to consider the example of the NRA, which has gone from invincible to invisible in the blink of an eye.

John Feinblatt is president of Everytown for Gun Safety.

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