The American Civil Liberties Union has made it clear in the past that it’s a fair-weather friend to the Second Amendment. Only it’s always cloudy with a chance of thunderstorms outside of their New York City headquarters. So I was far from surprised when I saw the following by Reason‘s Robby Soave . . .

The American Civil Liberties Union apparently hates guns more than it hates arbitrary government-enforced discrimination. Even though the ACLU opposes the no-fly list—and is suing the federal government for violating the due process rights of several people on it—the civil liberties advocacy group is theoretically okay with depriving people on the list of their gun rights.

A spokesperson for the ACLU told Buzzfeed News that the organization had no formal position on legislation, supported by the Obama administration, which would deny the right to purchase firearms to people on the no-fly list….

Shame on the ACLU for compromising its position in order to punish people for exercising rights it doesn’t like, and not for the first time.

Indeed, Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU National Security Project, posted an article this Monday on the subject. She pretty much gives up the game as far as civil liberties are concerned right in the title: “Until the No Fly List Is Fixed, It Shouldn’t Be Used to Restrict People’s Freedoms.” So as soon as the no fly list is “fixed,” it will apparently be cool to use it as a tool to restrict people’s enumerated rights. No effort was expended to even mention that there might be something else in the Bill of Rights that was implicated beyond due process. In her own words:

There is no constitutional bar to reasonable regulation of guns, and the No Fly List could serve as one tool for it, but only with major reform.

What makes this pusillanimous kowtowing to the Obama Administration’s proposed civil liberties violation of the week all the more galling is that the ACLU is currently pursuing litigation against the federal government precisely because the no-fly list is a danger to Americans’ civil liberties. In fact, Ms. Shamsi describes that in her own article:

There’s another important aspect to the government’s case at this stage. The government has emphasized that it is making predictive judgments that people like our clients — who have never been charged let alone convicted of a crime — might nevertheless pose a threat. That’s a perilous thing for it to do. As we’ve told the court based on evidence from experts, these kinds of predictions guarantee a high risk of error. If the government is going to predict that Americans pose a threat and blacklist them, that’s even more reason for the fundamental safeguards we seek.

I may be wrong, but my feeling here is that the ACLU might be watering down their opposition to the President’s proposal just a tad because of some combination of ideological fealty to the Obama Administration and ideological opposition to the concept of an individual right to keep and bear arms. Certainly, the statements made by ACLU evince a sneering contempt for the plain language of the Bill of Rights that conflicts with the cultural and ideological prejudices of their staff and donor list.

Can you imagine an ACLU staffer ever casually mentioning that ‘reasonable regulations’ on the freedom of speech would be constitutionally kosher? It’s equally hard to imagine an ACLU-er tossing off a quick press release noting that ‘reasonable regulations’ on abortion, gay marriage, or even immigration were possible, without at least a dozen footnotes explaining why they weren’t good ideas, even if technically permissible.

Now for a confession: for many years, I have been a supporter and donor to the American Civil Liberties Union. At a time when the rights to speech, privacy, religion and conscience were under assault from ideologues of the left and right advocating the powers of the nanny state, the welfare state, or the national security state (in the case of Her Royal Clintoness, a combination of all three), I felt that it was important to support organizations that had a proven track record of fighting these incursions against our civil liberties.

Earlier this year, after I became a regular contributor to TTAG and found myself ruminating philosophically about civil liberties generally, I started to reconsider that position. This post from Ms. Shamsi has brought matters into sharp relief for me.

Although the ACLU poses as the nation’s foremost civil liberties organization, and although it has cooperated with organizations like the NRA and the Second Amendment Foundation in the past on areas of mutual concern, it is ideologically hostile to the right to keep and bear arms. When the Heller decision was issued, the ACLU immediately issued a statement explaining that, the Supreme Court ruling notwithstanding, it still believed the Second Amendment protected a “collective right.” It doubled down on this position in a post last updated in 2013, in which it stated:

Although ACLU policy cites the Supreme Court’s decision in U.S. v. Miller as support for our position on the Second Amendment, our policy was never dependent on Miller. Rather, like all ACLU policies, it reflects the ACLU’s own understanding of the Constitution and civil liberties.

Despite this, I rationalized my continued support for the ACLU because, whatever its rhetoric, it wasn’t doing any damage in court. To my knowledge, it wasn’t filing amicus briefs against the 2A. So, I reasoned, I would support it for the work it did in certain areas, and support organizations like the NRA for the work they did defending gun rights.

This year, however, it seems that the amount of progress the right to keep and bear arms can make in the Federal Courts may be maxed out. The schwerpunkt of the battle is once again the ballot box. We’ve achieved so much in what is, historically, a short period of time…but now our opponents are clearly readying a big, Ardennes-style counteroffensive against the RKBA, playing for all the marbles, with the future of the Bill of Rights at stake.

In the next phase of the fight, the hearts and minds of the people in the middle is the grand prize. These are strange political times indeed, as anyone who’s been watching the presidential race can attest. Things are in flux. Realignments are in the offing. Public relations matter. Rhetoric matters. Snide comments disparaging the right to keep and bear arms as being unworthy of protection, of being amenable to easy regulation, matter. Talk is no longer cheap.

In this environment, I believe it is wrong for me, as a passionate advocate of civil liberties generally and the right to keep and bear arms in particular, to continue to belong to an organization that bills itself as a protector of civil liberties, but refuses to defend one of the most important individual rights, and whose staff have no compunction about disparaging a fundamental right. As Glenn Reynolds recently wrote, the ACLU’s approach is, we only protect constitutional rights we like from people we don’t like. And we don’t like guns, and we do like Obama, so suck it, gun nuts.

To borrow from Justice Clarence Thomas, the people who choose to exercise the RKBA in defense of themselves and their fellow citizens are not second class people exercising a second class right. All too often, it seems the ACLU is content to treat them that way, carefully making sure that in its rhetoric, its legal arguments, and in its literature, it doesn’t accidentally suggest any support for the Second Amendment. Because of this, I cannot continue to spend my hard-earned money in support of the ACLU anymore.

Accordingly, I am resigning from the American Civil Liberties Union effective immediately. That organization will receive no more financial support from me. The monies that would have gone to them will instead be sent to, among others, the NRA-ILA, the Second Amendment Foundation, the Institute for Justice, and any other organizations that will fight for civil liberties — all of them — and recognize that the right to keep and bear arms is inherently a part of the definition of “liberty.”

No doubt this article will be seen by some as a dog-bites-man story. As the irreligious grandchild of a maid and fieldworker who immigrated illegally from Mexico, and a Ukrainian steelworker and German “Rosie the Riveter” in Pennsylvania, I’m a son of the South who came of age in Pennsylvania and learned his trade in Illinois. I’m someone who carries a gun to protect his family, and whose support of liberty extends to the right of women to have abortions and the right of gay people to get married. My story is far more nuanced than the usual old fat white guy NRA member civilian disarmament advocates portray.

In the end, this was an easy decision: I cannot continue to give my stamp of approval to a “civil liberties” organization that doesn’t understand the full meaning of the word “liberty.”

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47 Responses to TTAG’s Johannes Paulsen: Why I’m Quitting the ACLU

    • I donated a little a few times when I was in college. I was young and stupid then. Once I found out they do not support the 2A at all I regretted ever giving them money.

    • No shit. And gay marriage and abortion, more than the right to defend your own life (regardless of stance, they cannot be argued as a more important individual right). The ACLU is only interested in protecting ‘rights’ that do not serve as a check on government authority.

    • It’s a huge fall from the organization that fought NSPA v. Skokie, because it believed all rights must be protected, even the ones that disgust civilized people (like Nazis marching through a town of Holocaust survivors).

  1. To be clear— it’s the Terrorist Watch List, consisting of over a million names (exact number is unknown as the list is classified), which is being proposed as the source to ban gun purchases. It probably includes the folks on the No-Fly list which is much smaller ~47,000 people.

  2. On the 200th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights, the ACLU had a program sending out posters of the Bill of Rights to libraries, etc.

    I was in the Palo Alto public library in December of 1993, and saw one of these posters. I should have just stolen it for posterity to show the mendacity of this bunch of socialist twerps.

    Their version of the Bill of Rights went like this:

    “Amendment I….

    Amendment III…

    Amendment IV…

    Amendment V…”

    Just Stalin-like editing out of history of the Second Amendment, much as Stalin used to have people who he had dispatched edited out of photographs. This treatment of the Second Amendment is entirely consistent with the history of the formation of the ACLU and the activities of their founder, Roger Baldwin, who was a straight-up Stalinist in the 30’s. And as soon as Baldwin decided that the anti-communist movement in DC was gaining ground, Baldwin purged the leadership of known CPUSA members and tried to sanitize the organization. This miffed no less of a commie than Howard Zinn, who panned the ACLU in his book A People’s History of the United States, for their lack of resolve in the service of communism.

    • I find the anecdote extremely disgusting. The idea that a civil rights organization would publish a revised list of the Rights THEY think you should have makes me want to dig up the bones of John Locke and stab the entire ACLU staff with them.

  3. Yep. ACLU cannot lay claim to being a civil rights org until they, you know, fight for civil rights. All of them.

    If the ACLU teamed with the NRA this thing would be over quickly. Ain’t gonna happen.

  4. There are two organizations that I joined when I graduated from Law School and haven’t supported since — the ACLU and the ABA. Although they are both rotten to the core, the ABA is probably the worst.

  5. I’m willing to let their opinion on Heller slide–it’s ok to think that the SCOTUS screwed up. They’ve done it before.

    But I am absolutely disgusted by their waffling on the question of the Terror Watch List. That list is an abomination of civil liberties and deserves absolutely zero legitimization, regardless of purpose. Yet they’re flirting with it because they cynically see that it furthers an agenda which one must infer they believe to be more important. That’s all I need to know.

    • Yeah, a list you can get on by the whim of a cop or spook, with no realistic way to get off (unless you are a Senator, or have $4 million for legal fees, and a decade to wrestle with the court system), used to deprive people of their rights, has no place under our constitution. It is anti constitutional.

      Frankly, if there was not a rebellion after the Patriot Act finished stripping our rights, I don’t think there will be one as such.

  6. How does an ACLU lawyer count to 10? 1 (but only for liberal speech), 3, 4 (but only if it does not involve a legally owned firearm), 5, 6, 7, 8 (only if it is to stop the execution of an admitted rapist or child molester), 9, and 10 but only if the issue is gay marriage.

    I never joined the ACLU and quit the ABA years ago (in very public fashion with a letter to the president). Until they learn to accept that they have to defend all rights, whether they like them or not, then they are of no use for me or my $$.

    • I think that the intellectual dishonesty to favor civil liberties is disgusting and deplorable, and I fully understand why someone wouldn’t financially support them given their stance, but lets not make the mistake of demonizing an organisation that is fighting the same war but refusing to participate in our battle. I’ll abandon my ideological support for the ACLU when they start attacking civil liberties in the courts. They have a good track record on free speech, so I’d be very interested in you backing up your claims, there, Dirk. I’m not as familiar with the rest of their cases, so I won’t comment. They fight for people who the government and society at large usually don’t give a damn about and serve an admirable purpose. Their institutional opinion on the 2a is disappointing, but until they help in legal methods against it, I’ll pass on rescinding my support in light of the other stuff they do.

      • You have not been paying attention. AARP is a purely political org that only supports the radical progressive agenda. “civil rights” and the Constitution being only useful clubs to use in advancing their plan.

  7. The ACLU is selective in their support of civil rights and I am selective in my support of civil rights organizations.

  8. Although I am a Californian, for a long time I was a member of the ACLU of Arizona. This was because it was one of the few ACLU chapters that had specific language in its mission statement about defending the Second Amendment. Like with the issue of free speech versus discrimination-free workplaces, a huge internal battle waged between the libertarians in the organization and the liberal progressives, with the liberal progressives winning out. Hence, the ACLU slowly abandoned its free speech positions on workplace issues in fealty to progressive goals of pushing workplace discrimination laws. So too, the Arizona chapter’s libertarians were overrun by progressives, and the chapter abandoned its Second Amendment platform as a result. So I abandoned it.

  9. I thought it was common knowledge that the ACLU is mostly a left wing lobbyist organization, they just use litigation as their chosen form of lobbying, so instead of donating money, they take money through lawsuits.

    • ACLU is an inconsistent Left Wing organization which is why I never supported them. If we agreed on any topics, it was more by accident than any ideology or reasoning.

  10. Dear Johannes… yours and my story are similar and I have been a card carrying member for a good long time for the very reasons you were. Thank you for defining that which I could never understand or really didn’t want to. This shredder is a pain in the F##***&&&%%$#$ ass.

  11. The ACLU is not a friend to anyone other than themselves. Not even a fair-weather variety.

    They are trial attorneys. Trial attorneys (of their ilk) feed on conflict. When there isn’t enough to feed-on, they move the social acceptance bar toward liberal [AND PREDOMINANTLY (D)] in order to create the best environment for chaos and discontent to nurture their conflict food.

    FUACLU – should’a saved your law school funds for ammo if you were going to be an evil deleterious pack of liberal (D) heads, you should’ve prepared better for the zombie apocalypse you are attempting to create.

  12. I can’t understand how anyone could live with the massive cognitive dissonance that being a political progressive aka “liberal” entails. Everything is situational and there are no absolutes. Praise the Lord for Jesus Christ, the most narrow-minded individual who ever lived/lives, who never said “I AM one of the ways, one possible truth and one way of life, some might get to the Father through me, or through some other way, not sure of that” (See John 14:6 for the real Scripture)

    • I agree, this case is awful. Most people are capable of extraordinary mental gymnastics. People usually don’t think through their own beliefs and check them for consistency, though. The cognitive dissonance displayed in the comment section of this very site is just as staggering when the discussion strays from only 2a issues. I’d suggest that for the sake of being intellectually honest, you should call it wherever you see it, no matter the source. Here’s to hoping.

  13. I’ll admit it–I’m staggered that so many otherwise intelligent people here supported the ACLU at all. They were forever suing to uphold the Establishment Clause of the First amendment, but the Free Exercise clause was nowhere in their vocabulary–unless it came to peyote-eating Indians. I have never heard of them supporting the 2nd Amendment in any form or fashion. Nationally, they had a standing policy of opposing prosecution of the same act by separate jurisdictions (notably state and federal); however, when Stacy Koon was duly acquitted by a state jury and the Feds decided to prosecute him for the same act, the ACLU publicly “suspended” its opposition to that practice. I have never heard of them protecting the 1A rights of abortion protesters, even against the most draconian restrictions and punishments imposed on them. I have mainly found them, as an organization, to be, like liberals in general, insufferably self-righteous hypocrites. I guess some of you have had different experiences with them. I will happily be corrected if anyone can show me where I am in error.

  14. Nice article. Please considering a rewrite to shorten it, and then sending it to every major publication as an editorial in the USA.

  15. What a shame they can’t support all the rights. We need all the pillars in the constitution ultimately or things become unbalanced and the others will fall. This means freedom of speech, the limits on the government in the criminal process and the right to bear arms alike.

  16. So if the list is “fixed”, how will it be any different from the existing NICS check which the NRA supports? NICS has been wrong plenty of times and is hardly transparent.

    Besides, the ACLU is still litigating important free speech and police criminality issues. Until pro-gun groups start going after killer cops and censorious politicians, the ACLU is still relevant for liberty.

  17. “Can you imagine an ACLU staffer ever casually mentioning that ‘reasonable regulations’ on the freedom of speech would be constitutionally kosher?”

    Actually, they do just that.

    They *love* to trot out that ‘ole reliable war horse “You can’t yell Fire! in a theater.”

    When actually, you most certainly can, but the theater trusts you to not to do it unless a fire actually is happening.

    The *difference* is, the theater doesn’t have an usher actively duct-taping patron’s mouths shut as they enter preventing you from being able to yell Fire!

    A gun-free zone is to the 2A’s duct tape of the ‘fire’ example above.

  18. There’s no anti-gun-rights advocacy on behalf of ACLU. They don’t believe that RKBA is a natural right – and it is their right to hold such a belief – and so they don’t protect it, but neither they are working against it.

    So your sole real gripe with them is that they don’t believe the same thing as you do.

    So you’re basically saying “everyone who is not with us is against us”?

    • All rights matter. But the 2a gaurds the rest. Without 2a the rest are just temporary at best. For a group such as the ACLU to turn a blind eye to this is quite disturbing.

      • I’m with int on this one. Also, the 2a doesn’t protect all of our other rights in practice. Just think about for a second. It only makes a difference weather the populace is armed or not if people with guns are motivated to rise up in defense of a right/rights, and that represents a tiny fraction of possible infringements. Realistically, groups like the ACLU do far more to protect our rights than the 2a does. Also, see popular movements such as the civil rights movement and women’s suffrage. The barrier to open revolt in defense of rights is so high that the 2a does nothing to protect our rights. Even in the case of open revolt, it still isn’t protecting your rights. It simply guarantees that you’ll have slightly more power to fight for your rights in the event that it does happen. The only other argument I can think of is that the governments’ fear of open armed revolt prevents it from infringing on our rights. That just doesn’t look like the country we live in. In principle, I admit that as a possibility. In practice, the 2a protects our right to keep and bear arms and ends there.

      • Withdrawing your support from ACLU and putting all that money into 2A organizations is a very strange way to say “all rights matter”, since they’re pretty much the only organization that is defending all those other rights with any consistency.

    • No, the problem with ACLU (at least the National branch) is they pick and choose what cases they want to defend, while at the same time misconstrue rights with privileges in others. This is particularly blatant with the first, second and at times, ninth and tenth amendment.

      • Can you give an example of ACLU picking and choosing cases, and in particular, not supporting a case where there’s an actual right violation?

        (Their position on 2A is not choosing cases, it’s choosing rights that they care about – and they document their stance on what they consider important in advance.)

        Of course, NRA, for example, is also very picky about choosing cases (need I remind about Heller), yet most people here, when asked, say something along the lines of “well who else is going to defend my gun rights”. The same thing can be asked about ACLU – who else is going to defend your 1A rights, for example?

  19. It’s been pretty obvious to me for decades that the ACLU only fights civil rights infringements that threaten their liberal agenda.

    Mr. Paulsen’s epiphany is encouraging, though it was a long time coming.

  20. I quit after their newly-elected leader decided to push the idea of shopping malls as public spaces for protest. As in– the ACLU thinks you should be able to protest in the mall, even though private money pays for lights, upkeep, air conditioning, trash removal, security… They may have moved on from this, but I won’t be donating again. Their antipathy toward property rights is perhaps equal to that against guns.

    Donate to the Institute for Justice.

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