The American Civil Liberties Union has never been a friend of gun owners or their rights. It seems that not all enumerated rights are equal — or even exist — in their book. So color us surprised that the national legal director for the ACLU, David Cole, has just published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal supporting the National Rifle Association’s right to exist.
To be clear, it’s not the Second Amendment that the ACLU is supporting here, it’s the First. It probably galled the ACLU brass to have to take a position on free speech that also inconveniently supports an organization that promotes gun rights.
As Cole makes clear . . .
The American Civil Liberties Union rarely finds itself on the same side as the National Rifle Association in policy debates or political disputes. Still, we are disturbed by New York Attorney General Letitia James’s recent effort to dissolve the NRA.
You can almost feel him stifle a little gag reflex as he banged that out on his keyboard. Cole noted the allegations of misappropriated funds against the NRA’s EVP and CEO Wayne LaPierre and three other Association officials in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit. If there’s evidence of wrongdoing, so be it. Let that all come out in a court of law.
But James didn’t stop there, merely going after the alleged wrongdoers. Instead, through her lawsuit, she went full jihad against the NRA — a group she refers to a terrorist organization — seeking to dissolve the Association entirely.
You may have your own opinions about the NRA, but all Americans should be concerned about this sort of overreach. If the New York attorney general can do this to the NRA, why couldn’t the attorney general of a red state take similar action against the ACLU, the AFL-CIO, Common Cause, or Everytown for Gun Safety?
There’s no reason at all…other than the AG’s duty to uphold and enforce laws without using her prosecutorial powers to punish ideological and political enemies.
Our democracy is premised on the right of association. The First Amendment protects not only the right to speak, but also to band together with others to advance one’s views. Making or resisting change in a democracy requires collective action, and a healthy democracy therefore demands a robust “civil society.” The right to associate can’t survive if officials can shut down organizations with which they disagree. The Supreme Court has notably invoked that right to protect union members, Communist Party adherents, the Boy Scouts and the NAACP.
That’s why two years ago, we supported the NRA’s lawsuit charging Gov. Cuomo with violating its First Amendment rights. Mr. Cuomo moved to dismiss the case, but a federal judge ruled against him, holding that if he targeted the NRA for its gun-promoting views, he violated its First Amendment rights.
Governor Soprano was no doubt cheering on Attorney General James’ effort to euthanize the NRA. But as the ACLU sees the rights to free speech and association, that’s a bridge too far.
And that’s why we believe Ms. James has also gone too far. Dissolution of a nonprofit is the most extreme remedy state regulators can seek. It has historically been reserved for organizations that are essentially false fronts for personal gain.
The NRA is different. It’s been around for more than 150 years and has millions of members. It engages in a range of lawful and properly tax-exempt pursuits, including teaching gun safety, operating shooting ranges, educating the public, and lobbying for laws that protect gun rights. If some of its leaders have become corrupt, they should be removed. If its board was incompetent in checking their abuses, it should be reformed.
We couldn’t have put it better ourselves.
Will the ACLU’s support help the NRA in its effort to fend off dissolution? It certainly can’t hurt. And the fact that an organization that tilts as far left as the ACLU felt it had to call out the New York AG doesn’t say much for her sense of prosecutorial discretion…such as it is.
So Mr. Cole’s op-ed should be welcome news in Fairfax. Wayne, Woody, John and Josh are still very much under the gun, but at least the NRA’s five million or so members have the ACLU in their corner. Whatever that’s worth.