NEW YORK — The National Rifle Association filed a lawsuit Friday against New York’s governor and a state agency, accusing them of coercing banks and insurance companies to withhold services to the gun lobbying group.
The lawsuit, filed in US District Court for Northern New York, came days after the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS) fined several insurance companies hundreds of thousands of dollars for participating in an NRA-backed liability insurance program for gun owners.
The state also also secured agreements from those companies not to offer such insurance again.
In its lawsuit, the NRA alleges that this — and other actions — showed Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state DFS were unconstitutionally trying to force companies to disassociate from the lobby group.
And the suit contends the state’s actions “prevents, or at a minimum chills,” the First Amendment rights of the NRA and its members to free speech — including their right to speak freely about gun-related issues.
“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 lawsuit states.
The suit alleges this amounts to a “blacklisting campaign (that) will continue to damage the NRA and its members” if the court doesn’t act.
State urged banks, insurers to review relationships with NRA
The plaintiff also points to an April news release in which Cuomo called on the DFS to urge insurers and banks in New York “to review any relationships they may have with the National Rifle Association.”
The release noted that a number of companies were ending relationships with the NRA — including by ending special discounts or other special services for NRA members — after February’s shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead.
In that same release, DFS Superintendent Maria Vullo urged “all insurance companies and banks doing business in New York to join the companies that have already discontinued their arrangements with the NRA.”
“Political differences aside, our client believes the tactics employed by these public officials (in New York) 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, a lawyer for the NRA, said in a statement.
The lawsuit asks the court, in part, to award unspecified monetary damages to the NRA and stop the state from prohibiting the insurance companies from doing business with the gun lobby group.
In a statement released Friday, Cuomo said the NRA’s lawsuit “is a futile and desperate attempt to advance its dangerous agenda to sell more guns.”
“In New York, we won’t be intimidated by frivolous court actions from a group of lobbyists bent on chipping away at commonsense gun safety laws that many responsible gun owners actually support. We have an obligation to protect New Yorkers, and this sham suit will do nothing to stop that,” Cuomo said.
Focus on ‘Carry Guard’ insurance program
The lawsuit partly focuses on the state’s crackdown on the NRA-branded “Carry Guard” program, which provides liability insurance for policyholders involved in shooting incidents.
The DFS has said that the program violated state insurance law. It has argued the NRA publicized the program as something it created — and the DFS asserts the NRA doesn’t have a license to conduct insurance business in New York.
This month, DFS fined two insurers involved in the Carry Guard program.
On May 2, DFS said insurer Lockton Cos. LLC and its affiliate, Lockton Affinity LLC, agreed to pay a $7 million fine for administering the program.
Five days later, DFS said insurer Chubb Ltd. and its subsidiary, Illinois Union Insurance Co., agreed to pay $1.3 million for underwriting the program.
Lockton also agreed to refrain from entering into any program “with the NRA to underwrite or participate in any affinity-type insurance program involving any line of insurance to be issued or delivered in New York state,” with the exception of helping the NRA be insured for its own corporate operations.
Chubb and Illinois Union agreed to a similar prohibition.
On February 26 — 12 days after the Parkland shooting — Lockton announced it would “discontinue providing brokerage services for NRA-endorsed insurance programs.”