The National Rifle Association and its former PR firm Ackerman McQueen have spent years in court trading accusations of libel, fraud, and breach of contract — and exposing much of their inner workings along the way. The latest chapter of their feud played out on Wednesday, when Ackerman’s chief financial officer, William Winkler, took the stand at the New York corruption trial against the gun group and several of its (current and former) top officials. Winkler discussed the $70,000 payment from the NRA that helped fund longtime CEO Wayne LaPierre’s search for a multimillion-dollar mansion, reported Courthouse News’ Erik Uebelacker, and claimed that he put a stop to the deal because LaPierre’s wife wanted “a social membership at a country club.”

Soon after, attorneys for the defense said they wanted to play a recording, obtained by The Trace’s Mike Spies, of a 2009 meeting that shows the NRA’s treasurer enlisting Ackerman McQueen to conceal extravagant expenses involving LaPierre, who announced his resignation from the gun group earlier this month. “It’s really the limo services and the hotels that I worry about,” Winkler said on the recording. “He’s going to need it for the hotels especially.” Jurors were excused while the tape played in the courtroom.

The NRA faces greater uncertainty now than at any point in its 152-year history. Its years-long legal fight with Ackerman has contributed to the gun group’s sizable legal costs; revenue and membership have fallen. It’s a pivotal moment for the gun group as its attorneys strain to create distance from LaPierre in trial arguments. To help readers further understand 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. 

Read the transcripts →

Public Health

For years, researchers exploring the links between firearms access and gun violence have found that, in the majority of American homes, an unsecured firearm is more likely to result in an accidental death or suicide than protection against a home invasion. Yet two-thirds of Americans say they purchase firearms for self-defense — and studies show that many are unaware, or don’t believe, that easy access to guns increases the risk of gun suicide. 

Michael D. Anestis, a clinical psychologist at Rutgers University and the executive director of the New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center, is one of a number of researchers who say that needs to change. Anestis spoke with The Trace’s Fairriona Magee about a recent study he led on perceptions about safe gun storage and his recommendations for shifting the narrative.

Read more from The Trace →

What to Know Today

The Biden administration is seeking to reduce the number of American-made guns used in foreign crimes by imposing the tightest restrictions on gun exports in decades, according to a draft rule. The plan involves strengthening oversight and creating stronger regulatory checks on exports of semiautomatic weapons. [Bloomberg

Over the past three years, many cities have invested in unarmed crisis response programs to answer emergency calls involving mental health crises — an alternative to sending police to the scene, which can end with officers shooting and killing the person in crisis. How do these programs work? [The Appeal

As of last July, people with felony convictions in Tennessee can’t apply to have their voting rights reinstated unless a judge restores their full citizenship rights, or they show that they were pardoned. The state’s elections office clarified this week that the toughened policy, which has been criticized as discriminatory, also requires those with felony convictions to get their gun rights restored. [Associated Press

In-N-Out Burger is permanently shuttering a restaurant for the first time in the chain’s history, citing regular “car break-ins, property damage, theft, and armed robberies” at its location near the airport in Oakland, California. Oakland isn’t the only city with a crime problem near its airport. [The Oaklandside/CNN

U.S. presidents have complicated relationships with guns — both politically and personally. Which heads of state carried firearms for self-defense? [Duke Center for Firearms Law

The Texas death penalty case over a 2019 mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso has been at a standstill for years. Whether it proceeds at all might depend on who voters elect as the county’s next district attorney. [El Paso Matters

The odds of falling victim to violent crime, historical data shows, decreases with rising household income. That’s not stopping billionaires from paying for lavish safe rooms — residential units that can withstand a barrage of AR-15 or AK-47 gunfire and come outfitted with luxuries like underground swimming pools or movie theaters. [Mother Jones]

Data Point

At least 1 in 5 — the proportion of people shot and killed by police since 2015 who were experiencing a mental health crisis at the time. [The Washington Post]