The NRA: Very, Very Soft On Crime

PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

A new piece on Slate positions the NRA in a very different light than is typical. They suggest that the NRA is in fact a civil liberties organization, representing people accused and convicted of crimes instead of an organization representing responsible gun owners.

Mind you that’s not necessarily a good thing. Civil liberties groups like the ACLU have long been the boogeymen of the right, protecting criminals and thwarting law enforcement’s capacity to fight crime. It is ironic that the right has firmly set itself on protecting civil liberties when it comes to firearms.

In 2009, Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., and Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., introduced the Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act. The bill would have given the U.S. attorney general authority to block weapons sales to anyone on the government’s terrorist watch list. Supporters of the legislation noted that in the preceding five years, people on the list had tried to buy firearms at least 963 times, with an 89 percent success rate. They reasoned that it made no sense to pull such people aside as they were boarding airplanes but to look the other way when they purchased guns. Under the bill, anyone barred from buying a weapon could challenge the government’s determination of his ineligibility.

The NRA opposed the bill, claiming it would “deny law-abiding people due process and their Second Amendment rights.” As evidence, the NRA’s chief lobbyist cited a Justice Department report indicating that 6 percent of people on the list were included based on obsolete or extraneous FBI information. An editorial published by the NRA complained that the bill would lower “the standard measure of proof of guilt in criminal prosecutions” and that “whole segments of lawful firearms commerce could be wiped out.” The bill died in committee.

That same year, Maryland lawmakers introduced a bill that would give judges authority, when issuing protective orders against potential domestic violence, to “order the respondent to surrender to law enforcement authorities any firearm in the respondent’s possession, and to refrain from possession of any firearm, for the duration of the temporary protective order.” Under the bill, this restriction couldn’t apply for more than a week. Nevertheless, the NRA called the legislation “unnecessary and unfair,” arguing that it would render “a victim of false allegations” unable to “defend himself at home or simply possess his own guns for any other lawful purpose.”

In March 2011, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., introduced the Fix Gun Checks Act. The NRA blasted the bill, protestingthat it would “expand the range of persons prohibited from owning firearms” and “eliminate private sales and gun shows as we know them.” The NRA saluted one of its members, law professor Dave Kopel, for pointing out in a hearing that the bill “would deprive gun owners of their rights” by including, among the grounds for rejecting a gun sale, the buyer’s “arrest for the use or possession of a controlled substance within the past 5 years.”

In August 2012, the Department of Justice issued a rule allowing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives “to seize and administratively forfeit property involved in controlled substance offenses.” The rule was limited to “a trial period of one year,” but that didn’t stop the NRA from attacking it. A commentary reprinted by the NRA called the rule “gun-grabbing,” accused “law enforcement agencies” of using forfeiture to make money, and protested that “such seizures are common in drug cases, which sometimes can ensnare people who have done nothing wrong.”

I am not a libertarian, but examples like these show why libertarianism is so attractive to people looking for ideological consistency. When one side says, “We support individual freedoms,” as if it’s an absolute, they need to be consistent about it. For example, one cannot support the Patriot Act and its infringements on civil rights in the name of protecting the nation, while at the same time advocating for civil liberties on guns. Its simply not consistent.

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