Washington (AFP)

The powerful American arms lobby, the National Rifle Association (NRA), announced Friday that it had declared bankruptcy in order to freeze legal proceedings in New York State.

The NRA and one of its subsidiaries have opened so-called "Chapter 11" proceedings in Texas bankruptcy court to secure its future "free from the toxic political environment of New York," its boss Wayne LaPierre wrote. in a letter to its members.

This move is part of a restructuring plan that aims to transplant the influential conservative group to Texas, where the guns are king.

"This plan can be summed up very simply: we PLATE New York," he added.

The justice of this democratic state lodged a complaint in August against the NRA, Mr. LaPierre and three other senior officials, accused of having used the contributions of their members as "their own piggy bank", to the point of having made the organization almost insolvent.

Attorney General Letitia James had denied any political motivation, while acknowledging that the complaint could lead to the dissolution of the NRA.

"The financial status declared by the NRA has finally joined its moral state: bankrupt," she commented after the announcement of the restructuring plan.

"We will not allow the NRA to use this tactic or any other to evade its responsibilities," she added.

In the United States, going under Chapter 11 results in the stay of lawsuits and prevents creditors from taking action to obtain payment of their debts.

"No major changes in operations and in personnel are planned," assured Wayne LaPierre.

"The NRA is not bankrupt, does not stop its activities and is not insolvent," he continued.

- Travel to the Bahamas -

Founded in 1871 to promote marksmanship, the small association of sportsmen and hunters became a formidable political machine from the 1980s, and its influence greatly exceeds the 5 million members it claims.

Extremely active with elected officials, whom it finances or notes unfavorably, it has blocked numerous legislative proposals aimed at strengthening controls on the purchase or carrying of weapons.

The NRA poured millions of dollars into Donald Trump's two presidential campaigns.

Wayne LaPierre, who has been at its head for about thirty years, was the architect of this change.

In 2019, he managed to ward off rivals who were trying to end his reign, without preventing an embarrassing unboxing.

Internal documents disseminated on the internet or in the press revealed the manager's expensive lifestyle, with luxury clothing and trips to the Bahamas or Italy, paid for by the NRA thanks to financial arrangements validated by internal allies.

According to the New York prosecutor, they have contributed to losses of around $ 64 million in three years.

The aura of the NRA has also suffered in the face of the increase in shootings in the United States.

Guns killed more than 43,000 people in the United States in 2020, including suicides, according to the Gun violence archive.

But Americans remain very attached to their weapons, and have even rushed to buy more since the start of the pandemic, and even more during the major anti-racist protests of the spring, and the electoral tensions of the fall.

© 2021 AFP