August 3, 2018; Rolling Stone
Are we witnessing the final days of the National Rifle Association?
That’s what the NRA would have us believe. The NRA has filed suit against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS), and DFS Superintendent Maria Vullo, claiming that recent statements and judicial actions related to the NRA’s banking and insurance relationships are politically motivated and intended to cripple the organization.
The lawsuit’s preliminary statement reads,
This case is necessitated by an overt viewpoint-based discrimination campaign against the NRA and the millions of law-abiding gun owners that it represents. Directed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, this campaign involves selective prosecution, backroom exhortations, and public threats with a singular goal—to deprive the NRA and its constituents of their First Amendment rights to speak freely about gun-related issues and defend the Second Amendment…Defendants made it clear to banks and insurers that it is bad business in New York to do business with the NRA…Defendants’ abuses will imminently deprive the NRA of basic bank-depository services, corporate insurance coverage, and other financial services essential to the NRA’s corporate existence and its advocacy mission.
This claim is based on two major actions by Cuomo, Vullo, and DFS, which the NRA says were partially motivated by pressure from Everytown for Gun Safety, Michael Bloomberg’s nonprofit, and partially by what they say is Cuomo’s career-long vendetta against the NRA.
First, DFS investigated the NRA’s new “Carry Guard” insurance program, which offers insurance “to cover legal fees and liabilities arising from self-defense shootings.” (Yes, you read that correctly: If you shoot someone with a legally owned gun and claim self-defense, the NRA wants to make sure your legal bills are covered.) While it’s not unusual for insurance to be endorsed by or offered through a nonprofit, DFS claimed that this type of coverage violated the law and exacted a $7 million penalty from Lockton Affinity, the broker that offered the program.
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Then, Cuomo directed DFS to warn financial institutions “to review any relationships they may have with the National Rifle Association and other similar organizations. Upon this review, the companies are encouraged to consider whether such ties harm their corporate reputations and jeopardize public safety.” (NPQ has covered the increasing social responsibility expectations that consumers have of for-profit companies, as well as another governor’s attempt to bring NRA business to his state.) Following up, DFS issued a memorandum to New York insurers that read,
There is a fair amount of precedent in the business world where firms have implemented measures in areas such as the environment, caring for the sick, and civil rights in fulfilling their corporate social responsibility…the Department encourages its insurers to continue evaluating and managing their risks, including reputational risks, that may arise from their dealings with the NRA or similar gun promotion organizations, if any, as well as continued assessment of compliance with their own codes of social responsibility.
Lockton and another, unidentified “corporate carrier” both terminated all business with the NRA. (The NRA is suing Lockton for breach of contract, even though DFS mandated the cessation of all business between the two.) The NRA’s filing against Cuomo claims, “The Corporate Carrier severed mutually beneficial business arrangements with the NRA because it learned of Defendants’ threats directed at Lockton, and feared it would be subject to similar reprisals.”
Now, says the lawsuit, the NRA is having trouble banking and buying insurance, both of which are critical to its activities, with other firms; no one wants to work with them, and they say it’s because firms fear action from DFS. The lawsuit claims, “Defendants seek to silence one of America’s oldest constitutional rights advocates. If their abuses are not enjoined, they will soon, substantially, succeed.”
Dylan Matthews at Vox says that’s baloney. He argued, “the NRA is a mass-membership organization with powerful supporters in the federal government and the business community. A skeptical reader might argue that the NRA is trying to portray itself as more threatened than it really is in order to strengthen its case against Cuomo.” Revenue has been rising steadily, though it’s true the organization lost about $40 million last year.
Cuomo has filed a motion to dismiss the suit, saying, “If I could have put the NRA out of business, I would have done it 20 years ago.” (Readers may remember when Boston Mayor Thomas Menino admitted that he could not prevent Chick-Fil-A from opening a Boston franchise because of its president’s anti-LGBTQ views, despite earlier threats to do so.)
Several commentators, including organizer Linda Sarsour, US representative Brendan Boyle (D-PA), and comedian Chelsea Handler offered thoughts and prayers to the organization in its time of need.—Erin Rubin