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NRA, Campaign Finance Bills And The Second Amendment

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

President Harry Truman famously observed, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” Lately, many “friends” have been misrepresenting actions we’ve taken on H.R. 5175, a campaign finance reform bill called the “DISCLOSE Act,” so I’d like to set the record straight.

Here’s the most important thing: H.R. 5175 is a dog of a bill, and not a friendly one. NRA has never supported—and will not support—any version of this bill.

To understand the entire story, some background is in order. We were victorious this past January when the U.S. Supreme Court issued an important ruling in the case of Citizens United v. FEC. That decision restored our rights to free political speech that had been infringed by enactment of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) in 2002.

When BCRA was under debate back then, we aligned with hundreds of other groups in outright opposition. When the House passed the bill, we were told it wouldn’t pass the Senate.

When the Senate passed the bill, we were told the president wouldn’t sign it. When the president signed it, we were told the Supreme Court would overturn it. And when the Supreme Court upheld the law, we were told “tough luck.” We had to function under BCRA’s onerous restrictions for seven years, until this Supreme Court (with a few new members) overturned it in Citizens United.

NRA believes that any restrictions on the political speech of Americans are unconstitutional. We filed a strong brief in the Citizens United case, which the Court cited in its opinion.

President Obama made clear that he disagreed with the ruling, so the “DISCLOSE Act” was introduced in the House and Senate. The bills would make things even worse than they were before the Supreme Court ruling, which is why we told Congress that we strongly opposed them.

We don’t believe the restrictions in these bills should apply to anyone or any organization. But our job is to ensure they don’t apply to NRA and our members. Without NRA, the Second Amendment will be lost and I will do everything in my power to prevent that.

Once we announced our opposition, some members of Congress wrote an amendment to remove NRA from H.R. 5175’s draconian speech restrictions. That amendment was then adopted and the revised bill, as passed by the House, would no longer silence NRA.

But let’s be clear. Any restriction on political speech is repugnant. Our critics, however, believe we should put the Second Amendment at risk to fight a First Amendment battle on behalf of other organizations.

NRA is a single-issue organization made up of millions of individual members dedicated to protecting the Second Amendment. We do not represent the interests of other organizations. Nor do all groups fight all issues together. For example (to pick just one group that’s criticized us on the DISCLOSE issue), we didn’t support the U.S. Chamber of Commerce when it backed amnesty for tens of millions of illegal aliens, supported the confirmation of Justice Sonia Sotomayor and fought for passage of President Obama’s economic stimulus bill. And we’ve been in direct opposition when the Chamber has attacked laws that protect your right to store guns in your locked car in publicly accessible parking lots. Those who argue that we have a duty to protect the Chamber or other groups have a different idea of “duty” than I do.

There have always been those who spend their time criticizing NRA rather than making a positive difference for the Second Amendment. Every move we make is attacked by anti-gun politicians, the biased media and, of course, all of the gun-ban lobby groups. And there have always been smaller pro-gun groups whose fundraising depends on criticizing NRA. While the explosion of blogs and Internet forums in recent years has allowed more communication among gun owners, it has also allowed more baseless rumor peddling and rock throwing to go unchecked. But not one of these critics comes close to the size, scope and resources of your NRA--and neither do they hold the ultimate responsibility for defense of the Second Amendment, as we do.

At press time, it remains to be seen what will happen in the Senate with this legislation. Anti-gun partisans such as Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., have threatened to obstruct its passage precisely because it exempts NRA. We hope this ill-conceived bill goes no further. But no matter what happens, rest assured that we will keep fighting to protect our speech rights, so we can keep fighting to protect our Right to Keep and Bear Arms.

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.