The National Rifle Association filed suit against the New York State Department of Financial Services and Governor Andrew Cuomo (D.) on Friday, alleging they violated the group’s First Amendment rights.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, said New York engaged in a “viewpoint-based discrimination campaign” against the NRA and its members. It claims that the governor and regulatory agency he oversees have engaged in a pressure campaign against financial institutions that deal with the NRA.
“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 right to speak freely about gun-related issues and defend the Second Amendment,” lawyers for the gun rights group wrote in their filing. “To effect their sweeping agenda, Defendants issued public demands that put DFS-regulated institutions on notice to ‘discontinue their arrangements with the NRA’ and other ‘gun promotion organizations’ if they planned to do business in New York.”
The suit alleged that the letter from Maria Vullo, superintendent of the state’s Department of Financial Services, to a number of financial institutions it regulates amounts to a public threat against New York banks doing business with the organization. They went on to say the public letter was combined with pressure applied out of public view, which they said were tantamount to coercion.
“At the same time, Defendants engaged in back-channel communications to reinforce their intended purpose,” the filing said. “Simply put, Defendants made it clear to banks and insurers that it is bad business in New York to do business with the NRA.”
The suit claimed that the multimillion-dollar fines levied against insurers Chubb and Lockton for their involvement with the NRA’s Carry Guard insurance program were part of the campaign against them. It said the campaign had succeeded in getting the insurance companies to terminate their relationships with the gun rights organization.
“As a direct result of this coercion, multiple firms have succumbed to Defendants’ demands and entered into consent orders with DFS that compel them to terminate longstanding, beneficial business relationships with the NRA, both in New York and elsewhere,” the filing said. “Tellingly, several provisions in the orders bear no relation to any ostensible regulatory infraction. Instead, the orders prohibit lawful commercial speech for no reason other than that it carries the NRA brand.”
The gun rights group’s lawyers described New York’s effort as a “de facto censorship scheme” and said the court should find the state’s actions as unconstitutional.
Governor Coumo described the suit as “frivolous” in a statement to Reuters.
“The NRA’s lawsuit is a futile and desperate attempt to advance its dangerous agenda to sell more guns,” he said.
The NRA’s lawyers said the issue is less about the Second Amendment and more about the First Amendment.
“Our client believes the tactics employed by these public officials are aimed to deprive the NRA of its First Amendment right to speak freely about gun-related issues and in defense of the Second Amendment,” William A. Brewer III, counsel to the NRA, said in a statement. “We believe these actions are outside the authority of DFS and fail to honor the principles which require public officials to protect the constitutional rights of all citizens.”