New York officials moved to dissolve the NRA after finding evidence of millions gained through fraud, NPR reported. Allegations against the gun rights group include misusing funds for personal gain and unfairly awarding contracts to friends and family members. In the second half of the 20th century, the NRA began political lobbying against the control of firearms.
According to NPR, the National Rifle Association (NRA) has been the subject of an 18-month investigation into criminal wrongdoing at the organization, resulting in New York’s attorney general moving to dissolve it.
“Attorney General Letitia James claims in a lawsuit filed Thursday that she found financial misconduct in the millions of dollars and that it contributed to a loss of more than $64 million over a three-year period,” the article said. “The suit alleges that top NRA executives misused charitable funds for personal gain, awarded contracts to friends and family members, and provided contracts to former employees to ensure loyalty.”
The NRA is registered in New York, hence Attorney General James’s jurisdiction over its dissolution. Publicly, they’ve built their nonprofit around advocating for Second Amendment rights and gun ownership, a hotly contested topic in the United States.
The Right to Bear Arms, 1776 Style
The Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America states, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Interpretations of the Second Amendment have resulted in countless Supreme Court cases. History itself offers varying ideas.
“The original purpose of the Second Amendment was to keep the government from disarming the entire civilian population, out of a belief that keeping arms in the home and bearing arms for military and non-military uses was necessary for self-defense,” said Professor Jeffrey Rosen, Professor of Law at The George Washington University Law School.
“At the same time, [author Adam] Winkler argues, Americans have always had gun control of the kind that the modern NRA would never tolerate. In the founding generations, law-abiding people who failed a political test of loyalty to the Revolution were denied the right to own guns.”
Furthermore, Professor Rosen said the founders insisted that all “free white men” who made up the militia were made to appear at a public “muster,” at which officials would inspect and register the guns. Laws demanded safe storage of gunpowder and forbade the ownership of firearms by slaves, free Black Americans, and political dissenters.
Shall Not Be Infringed, 19th-Century Style
The framers of the Constitution seemed far less concerned with protecting non-military use weapons than their military counterparts.
“English common law not only limited the circumstances under which one could carry a weapon, but empowered constables to disarm people who committed ‘affray’—the crime of carrying a weapon ‘in terror of the peace,'” Professor Rosen said. “Regulations of non-military weapons even after the Second Amendment was ratified. States began regulating the availability of gunpowder, tracking ownership of weapons, and limiting the use of firearms.”
In the second half of the 19th century, a transition occurred regarding how the Second Amendment was viewed.
“The authors of the Fourteenth Amendment, ratified after the Civil War, saw the right to keep and bear arms more explicitly in terms of individual self-defense, allowing the freedmen to defend themselves from racist Klansmen and state militias,” Professor Rosen said.
However, before this, by the War of 1812, states commonly banned concealed carrying of weapons, especially with the backing of figures like James Madison. They did this in hopes of diminishing the dueling, gunfights, and violence of the Wild West.
“State courts upheld these laws against constitutional challenges, stressing that even though state constitutions protected a right of personal self-defense against criminal attacks, state governments could regulate the right—by banning concealed weapons—as long as they didn’t destroy the right by preventing people from openly carrying firearms,” he said.
“By the end of the 19th century, however, several states, including Texas, Florida, and Oklahoma, banned or restricted the open carrying of guns, too.”
Much has changed since then—and if the dissolution of the NRA is carried out, it will be another notable event in the ongoing Second Amendment debate.
Professor Jeffrey Rosen contributed to this article. Professor Rosen is Professor of Law at The George Washington University Law School, the legal affairs editor of The New Republic, and a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. He is also president of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, a museum and education center next to the Liberty Bell. Professor Rosen is a graduate of Harvard College, summa cum laude; Oxford University, where he was a Marshall Scholar; and Yale Law School.