The National Rifle Association’s legal case against the state of New York suffered a substantial blow on Friday, as a federal judge rejected claims that state officials singled out the NRA for enforcement when it blocked the sale of what critics call “murder insurance.”
The NRA sued the state of New York last year, alleging that it had been the victim of a “political vendetta” by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The state Department of Financial Services had earlier shut down an NRA-branded insurance product called “Carry Guard,” which covered holders against the financial consequences of using a gun. The policies promised to pay for the legal fees of, and civil judgments against, gun owners who fired their weapons against other people.
In the ruling — embedded below — U.S. District Judge Thomas McAvoy dismissed claims that the NRA and its insurance partners had been unfairly targeted for a crackdown by Cuomo and Maria T. Vullo, who runs the Department of Financial Services, New York’s insurance regulatory agency.
Judge McAvoy found that the NRA had not proven its claims of “selective enforcement” of state insurance law in an action the gun group had blasted as “arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, discriminatory, and undertaken in bad faith.” While the NRA did uncover evidence of other illicit actors in the insurance market who had gone unpunished by regulators, McAvoy ruled that the rifle association had not proven that either Cuomo or Vullo “were aware of similar violations” by these companies “yet failed to take comparable action against them.” A spokesperson for New York Attorney General Letitia James, who is defending the state in court, called the ruling “an important victory for New Yorkers.”
The judge’s dismissal of the NRA’s claim was not “with prejudice,” which means the NRA can continue its efforts to prove the claim of discrimination. “The NRA will amend and re-plead this claim, as the court explicitly allows,” NRA outside counsel William A. Brewer III, said in a statement provided to Rolling Stone. “Our client is confident that discovery will confirm that Defendants knew exactly what they were doing: ignoring similar or identical conduct across the insurance marketplace, while singling out the NRA for political reasons.”
While Cuomo and the state of the New York have carried the day, key issues at play in the NRA’s lawsuit have not been resolved. The NRA has made a broad First Amendment claim that Cuomo — a longtime proponent of gun control — sought to stifle the NRA’s free speech rights by attempting to blacklist the group with financial services firms in the state. The NRA warned last summer that its inability to access banking services could leave it “unable to exist.”
Brewer — whose firm has been criticized by NRA board members for draining the groups’ finances with this expensive litigation — touted a long road ahead: “This decision has no bearing on the NRA’s First Amendment claims,” he said. “We will continue with our aggressive pursuit of the facts on behalf of all NRA members — and in the interest of protecting free speech for advocacy groups across the nation.”