To ensure gun owners remain able to speak out in support of our Second Amendment rights, during debate this week on S.A. 3, the “Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act”, Senators Robert Bennett (R-Utah) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will offer an amendment to strike Sec. 220--the section that would force countless groups of ordinary citizens to register with the federal government as “lobbyists,” with all the attendant restrictions, costs, and penalties.
The First Amendment protects an unqualified “right of the people … to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” One of NRA’s greatest strength is our members’ ability to fully use the First Amendment to protect the Second Amendment. But Sec. 220 would, for the first time in American history, regulate “the voluntary efforts of members of the general public to communicate their own views on an issue to Federal officials.” Among its everyday adverse effects would be the following:
- Organizations answering mail, e-mail, or telephone calls from people who may or may not be members would have to either verify each person’s status as a paying “member” as defined in Section 220, or refrain from urging those people to call Congress about legislative issues. Of course, every day, NRA engages in these types of activities with members and non-members alike.
- Organizations would have to screen e-mail subscriptions to exclude subscribers who are not paying members or else report all e-mail alerts as “paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying.” This would have a severe impact on the Friday NRA-ILA Grassroots Alert--and on Special Alerts like this one.
Sec. 220 would also do a great disservice by increasing the power of the anti-gun media to the detriment of the people. For example, a privately-owned newspaper could run editorials every day advocating drastic restrictions on Second Amendment liberties--without being subject to any reporting requirements. However, if a staff member of a pro-gun organization, such as NRA, writes a letter to the editor of that newspaper that expresses an opposing view and urges readers to call their senators, that letter would be a “paid effort to stimulate grassroots lobbying.” The organization would have to report the cost of the staffer’s salary for writing and submitting the letter. This requirement would apply even if the newspaper never publishes the letter, since it is still a “paid attempt … to influence the general public.” (Emphasis added)
Similarly, if the grassroots organization pays an advertising agency to create and place a newspaper ad in the same newspaper, the advertising agency would have to register as a “grassroots lobbying firm” within 45 days of being retained and report costs of the communication--even if the ad never runs! The registration requirement would signal the group’s plans to opponents, and constitute a prior restraint on free speech, contrary to principles of the First Amendment.
Violations of any of these complex, technical provisions could be punishable by massive civil penalties and felony prison terms under the substitute bill that the Senate will consider. Ultimately, Sec. 220 would force so many organizations to report so many activities that the information would become useless. It would simply be impossible for interested observers to sort the wheat from the chaff.
The First Amendment protects the “right of the people”--not the “right of people who can afford teams of lawyers, accountants, and disclosure specialists.”
Because the ability of grassroots organizations to communicate with the public is so central to the First Amendment and our ability to protect the Second Amendment, we urge you to contact your U.S. Senators immediately and urge them to support the Bennett-McConnell Amendment (#20) to strike Section 220 in the “Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act.” You can reach your U.S. Senators at (202) 224-3121. You may also e-mail your Senators by clicking here: http://www.capwiz.com/nra/dbq/officials/.
Once you have contacted your two U.S. Senators, please urge your family, friends, and fellow firearm owners to do the same!