Sunday, October 12, 2008

Strange Bedfellows: NRA Endorses Its Enemy

It’s official: the National Rifle Association (NRA) has endorsed Senator John McCain for President. That’s somewhat surprising considering that the NRA once labeled McCain as “one of the premier flag carriers for the enemies of the Second Amendment” [right to keep and bear arms], which the NRA supposedly defends. So, how did McCain gain the NRA’s ire, then, ultimately its endorsement?

How McCain got a bad name with gun owners is easy. He co-sponsored the McCain-Lieberman Gun Show Bill to close the supposed “gun show loophole.” While the bill didn’t technically outlaw gun shows, it did open gun show organizers up to so much potential legal trouble as to not make it worth the risk. It was a backdoor ban on gun shows. Thankfully this bill failed.

Later, the McCain-Feingold Act specifically sought to muzzle groups like the NRA from criticizing anti-gun candidates. NRA Executive V.P. Wayne LaPierre called it "the most significant change in the First Amendment since the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, which tried to make it a crime to criticize a member of Congress." The NRA was literally first in line at the courthouse doors to file a lawsuit to stop McCain’s law after President Bush signed it. (The lawsuit failed and McCain-Feingold is still the law of the land.)

McCain did commercials for the moderate sounding, yet anti-Second Amendment, group Americans for Gun Safety. McCain voted in favor of both of Bill Clinton’s Supreme Court nominees who voted against the Second Amendment in DC vs Heller. These are just some of McCain’s transgressions against gun owners. For a complete reading check out “John McCain: Conservative or Gun-Grabber?”

Why did the NRA endorse candidate McCain? Because his challenger, Barack Obama, is worse. (For a complete rundown of Obama’s anti-gun record, click here.) But why they would endorse someone who is a proven enemy of the Second Amendment rather than just not endorsing either candidate (as they've done several times before) is puzzling. This is just the most recent example of the NRA placing political expediency above principle.

NRA Board Member Russ Howard resigned because the NRA kept giving A grades to anti-gun legislators in his home state of California.

The NRA brags about the recent victory for gun owners in the Supreme Court case of DC vs. Heller, but the group played a negligible role in the win and, fearing a lose, tried to squash the case. Robert A. Levy, the lawyer who helped create and personally financed the case that reaffirmed the Second Amendment as an individual right, said “The N.R.A.’s interference in this process set us back and almost killed the case. It was a very acrimonious relationship.”

In 2007 NRA actively supported the “NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007’’ which was dubbed “the Veteran’s Disarmament Act” by pro-gun critics. Written by Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), arguably the most anti-gun member of Congress, the bill mandated that states turn over all types of personal information about their citizens, potentially including medical records, to the federal government to use in it’s “National Instant Criminal Background Check System” (NICS) for approving gun buyers. Wholly unnecessary, the bill could prevent veterans who have ever sought professional help for post traumatic stress disorder or depression from ever owning guns, even if they present no threat to themselves or others. (How's that for a disincentive to get the help that some may need?) In addition to hurting gun owners, this bill is a nightmare for advocates of personal privacy rights and state rights.

In 2001 NRA pushed for and got “Project Safe Neighborhoods,” a national initiative supposedly aimed at reducing gun violence. As the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute explains it, “Project Safe Neighborhoods is the public-policy embodiment of the National Rifle Association sound bite ‘we don’t need any new gun control laws; we need to enforce the gun laws on the books.’ The program funds more than 800 new prosecutors (around 200 federal, 600 state level) who will do nothing but pursue gun-law violations full time.” It essentially makes every petty street crime involving a firearm into a federal crime, Tenth Amendment be damned. It is a program of zero-tolerance enforcement of the very gun laws that NRA often argues are unconstitutional and ineffective. Otherwise law-abiding gun owners who get caught in this web for regulatory infractions or accidental violations are acceptable “collateral damages” to the NRA.

The website NRAwol has volumes of examples of the NRA selling out the Second Amendment and America’s gun owners in the name of political expediency dating back to the National Firearms Act of 1934. [A link to this site will now be located in the "National Links" Section to the right.]

Despite all this, I’m not going to cancel my life-membership in the NRA. (I already paid for it after all.) They still do some good too. Their work with match shooting and firearms training is second to none. Politically I believe that they may still fight against the most egregious gun bans. I will just have to bear in mind that their endorsement of candidates and some legislation is meaningless. For all things political I will pay attention to what Gun Owners of America has to say, and continue to roll my eyes when the NRA sends me its usual panhandling fundraiser letters every other week.

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