The NRA vs. The Second Amendment ?by Doug Mataconis
This month’s American Bar Association Journal has a fairly good article about the District of Columbia gun ban case currently under consideration by the Supreme Court, and the surprising role that the National Rifle Association took in trying to derail the lawsuit in its infancy:
Though the NRA champions individual ownership under the Second Amendment, its critics say the association shares one concern with gun-control advocates: Both fear that a definitive Supreme Court statement against them on the Second Amendment would cripple, if not kill, their causes.
“The NRA wants to be the one to define the meaning of the Second Amendment,” says Josh Sugarman, executive director for the anti-gun Violence Policy Center in Washington. Sugarman’s 1992 book, National Rifle Association: Money, Firepower & Fear, is widely regarded as one of the most authoritative histories of the organization.
“They don’t want the Supreme Court to do it, because the [NRA view] is good for [the fundraising] business.”
Discouraging freelance plaintiffs is important to the NRA, whose lawyers worry they tend to file complaints that throw multiple theories against the wall to see what sticks. Such cases can hurt the larger cause, the lawyers say, because they increase the risk of setting unfavorable precedents that may be difficult to undo over time. In California, they call such plaintiffs “orange robers,” says NRA lawyer Michel—a reference to the brightly clad Buddhist monks who torched themselves on Saigon streets during the 1960s in futile demonstrations against the Vietnam War.
And so, when the D.C. case was just beginning, the NRA did everything they could to discourage the Plaintiffs from going forward and, even to this day, it lobbies Congress to repeal the D.C. Gun Ban itself — which would make the case, and any Supreme Court consideration of the Second Amendment implications of the law, entirely moot.
Now that the case is on the verge of being accepted for appeal, though, the NRA is jumping on the bandwagon:
The U.S. Supreme Court had not even decided whether to take the case when National Rifle Association lobbyist Wayne LaPierre fired off the distress flare:
“The biggest Second Amendment court battle in history is about to begin—one that will have a huge impact on you, your children and every other American gun owner for generations to come,” LaPierre wrote in an August fundraising letter to the NRA’s 4.3 million members. “And I’m not exaggerating a bit.”
He’s probably right there.
The NRA wants money—lots of it—to make sure the District of Columbia’s handgun ban stays buried good and deep. That’s where an appeals court left it after an unprecedented decision early this year that killed it as a violation of the Second Amendment’s right to keep and bear arms.
If the tone of LaPierre’s letter didn’t sound urgent enough, he used plenty of underlined boldface type and capital letters to drive home his point. He told the faithful a top-notch brief may cost as much as $1.2 million.
“For gun owners and NRA members, this is the biggest legal battle that we have ever fought, or will ever fight—and its outcome will probably impact every law-abiding American gun owner,” LaPierre wrote in the five-page letter. “It is a battle we simply cannot afford to lose.”
Here’s where LaPierre heads into a wrong turn: It’s not an NRA case. In fact, the gun rights supporters who filed it complain that lawyers working for the NRA, concerned the case could backfire, spent considerable time and money trying to scuttle it. The association finally was dragged kicking and screaming before the Supreme Court after the prospect of review appeared more likely than it has in years.
“They recognized this was a good case and D.C. was the perfect place,” says plaintiffs lawyer Robert A. Levy, a senior fellow at Washington’s libertarian Cato Institute. “That’s what concerned them.”
The Supreme Court will decide on Friday whether to accept the appeal, and we’ll probably know the answer to that question a week or so later, and then the stage for the biggest Second Amendment case in more than 50 years will be set. But don’t thank the NRA for getting it there.
H/T: Tom Palmer