The New York attorney general's lawsuit against the National Rifle Association is no mere "witch hunt," a New York judge ruled Friday in dismissing the gun rights advocacy group's claims that the case is a political vendetta.
Manhattan Judge Joel M. Cohen's decision means the nearly 2-year-long legal fight can continue.
The ruling comes after mass shootings last month in New York and Texas reanimated debate over U.S. gun policy and refocused attention on the NRA.
The New York case began when Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, filed a lawsuit that accused some top NRA executives of financial improprieties and sought to dissolve the group. The attorney general's job includes oversight of nonprofit organizations incorporated in New York, where the NRA was chartered in 1871.
In March, Cohen rebuffed James' bid to shutter the NRA. But the judge let the case go on, with the potential for fines or other remedies if the attorney general prevails.
The NRA accused James in a court filing last year of waging "a blatant and malicious retaliation campaign" because of its views. The group sought to halt the lawsuit.
Cohen rejected those arguments.
"The narrative that the attorney general's investigation into these undeniably serious matters was nothing more than a politically motivated — and unconstitutional — witch hunt is simply not supported by the record," he wrote, noting that the probe was sparked by reports of misconduct and "uncovered additional evidence."
James applauded the decision, saying it confirms the suit's "legitimacy and viability."
"Our fight for transparency and accountability will continue," she said in a statement.
NRA lawyer William A. Brewer III said the group was disappointed but would keep fighting the case and still believes it was unfairly targeted.
"The NRA believes the NYAG's pursuit was fueled by her opposition to the association and its First Amendment activities in support of the Second Amendment," he said in a statement, using an abbreviation for the attorney general's title.
In the wake of the recent shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, Congress is under renewed pressure to respond after years of partisan logjams over gun legislation.
The House has passed bills that would raise the age limit to buy semi-automatic weapons and establish federal "red flag" laws, which allow for taking guns from people at extreme risk of harming themselves or others. Such initiatives traditionally have faltered in the Senate.
Democratic and Republican senators have been talking about a framework for addressing the issue, but no agreement has been announced.
The NRA — a longtime political force that has lost some influence amid financial scandals in recent years — has long insisted that mass shootings are no reason to limit access to guns, arguing that the solution instead is for law-abiding people to have firearms to defend themselves and others.
The message was echoed at the group's convention in Houston last month, days after a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde.
Rallies calling for significant changes to gun laws are planned in Washington and around the country this weekend and are expected to draw tens of thousands of people.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court also is caught up in the national tug of war over the place of guns in America. The justices are expected soon to issue their most consequential gun ruling in more than a decade, potentially making it easier to be armed on the streets of New York and other large cities.