The National Rifle Association is defending itself in a Manhattan courtroom against a suit brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James that alleges that the group enabled the looting of charitable assets. The NRA faces greater uncertainty than at any point in its 152-year history. Longtime CEO Wayne LaPierre resigned on the eve of trial, citing health concerns, and the organization could soon find itself under the eye of a court-appointed monitor.

To further our readers’ understanding of the case, The Trace is publishing transcripts of the opening arguments given by the Attorney General’s Office and lawyers for the individual defendants, including LaPierre, at the start of the trial. All sides have returned to these arguments during the proceeding, which is expected to go to the jury on February 16.

After emerging in the 1970s as an integral player in a burgeoning conservative movement, the organization became a political dynamo, credited with tilting the results of national elections, including those for the presidency. The NRA lobbied for the adoption of stand-your-ground and permitless carry laws, which a majority of states have enacted. And as it backed landmark Supreme Court cases that vastly expanded gun rights, the NRA shaped our culture wars, advancing a hysterical, belligerent style of advocacy defiantly opposed to compromise.

Since 2019, however, when The Trace and other news organizations revealed gross misuse of NRA assets by top officials, the organization has weakened considerably. It has spent far less on political activities and core programs, and membership and revenue have fallen dramatically.

This transcript features jury instructions from Judge Joel Cohen and the opening statement given by Monica Connell, attorney for the New York Attorney General’s Office, on January 8, 2024:

This transcript includes the opening statements by lawyers for the NRA, CEO Wayne LaPierre, and other defendants on January 9, 2024: