NRA Leaders Sit Down with the Senate's "Mr. Constitution"
NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre and Chris Cox, Executive Director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, along with NRA President David Keene, recently met with Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, in his office on Capitol Hill. Senator Hatch has been a prominent pro-gun leader since his election in 1976. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Senator Hatch was the author of the seminal 1982 Committee report entitled "The Right to Keep and Bear Arms," one of the many works that earned him the title "Mr. Constitution" in the Senate.
That report stated, "The conclusion is thus inescapable that the history, concept and wording of the Second Amendment... indicates that what is protected is an individual right of a private citizen to own and carry firearms in a peaceful manner." Now, nearly thirty years later, the U.S. Supreme Court has finally vindicated the findings of this important study.
LaPierre: It's great to see you, Senator, and thanks for having us in to visit with you. I can't count the number of times we've met on various issues over the years. Your active involvement in protecting Second Amendment rights literally goes back decades.
Sen. Hatch: Well, I've been proud to be part of this effort. While Americans are divided on a number of issues, the vast majority support the right to keep and bear arms. Of course, that hasn't stopped people from trying to erode this right – or take it away altogether.
LaPierre: I remember when the Senate brought the McClure-Volkmer Firearms Owners' Protection Act to the floor. You were very active in putting that bill together. Tell us some of the high points of that process.
Sen. Hatch: This may sound cliché, but, for me, the high point was standing behind President Reagan as he signed the bill into law. It really was just a culmination of years of hard work on the part of so many people. We spent the better part of the 1980s working to pass that bill into law.
I was fortunate enough to be able to lead the floor debate for the Republicans in the Senate when the bill finally passed. And, we had to use every procedural tactic at our disposal to get it through. But, from the beginning, we knew that we were doing the right thing and that we had a President who would sign the bill if we could just pass it.
LaPierre: I remember that Congressman Peter Rodino from New Jersey called the bill "dead on arrival." Do you remember what you said in response?
Sen. Hatch: I don't remember exactly. I do remember that Rodino – who was chairman of the House Judiciary Committee – hated the bill. He had no intention of letting it move. And, frankly, with the Democrats in charge of the House, he was probably on pretty safe ground.
In the end, it was one of just a handful of bills in history that were passed in the House through a discharge petition. So, they were able to get it out of the committee -- and out of Rodino's jurisdiction – without the consent of the chairman. In the end, some people were pretty furious about it. But, like I said, when the vast majority of the American people support something, it's hard for anyone to stand in the way.
LaPierre: Even before that, Senator, you had laid the groundwork for both the legislative and judicial reforms by authoring the 1982 Senate subcommittee report, "The Right to Keep and Bear Arms." What was your goal when you set out to write that report?
Sen. Hatch: There were really two goals, I suppose. First, we wanted a definitive account of the history of the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms. For decades – maybe even longer – people had tried to pretend that the Second Amendment was somehow ambiguous, that the intent of the Framers, when it comes to this one amendment, was simply unknowable. Of course, it should be noted that most of the people making this argument tended to believe that the meaning of the entire Constitution changes over time. But, with the Second Amendment, they'd been more than willing to simply read it out of the Constitution entirely.
Our second goal with the report was to change the dialogue on gun rights. Instead of arguing how far the government could go to keep people from buying guns, we wanted to get people thinking about doing more to facilitate lawful, reasonable gun ownership. I think we were successful on that count as well, though it took a number of years for the debate to be where it is now.
LaPierre: Of course, we had no idea of the challenges we were going to face in the 1990s. Some folks have forgotten that our current Vice President Joe Biden led a decade-long assault on our rights in the Senate Judiciary Committee. And you were his chief opponent on the committee.
Sen. Hatch: That's exactly what I mean by the changing nature of this debate. Even into the 1990s, it was fashionable for Democrats to demonize guns and gun owners on all sides. Guns became a scapegoat – and, by extension, those of us who supported the rights of gun owners were also scapegoats.
Joe Biden was right there in the middle of it. But, we were there fighting him every step of the way. Like I said, we were fortunate to have a majority of American voters who supported our position. If the majority had agreed with Joe Biden and President Clinton, who knows how far they could have gone?
Cox: Senator, you have a long and distinguished history on the Second Amendment to be sure. But I want our members to know we count on your help today as much as we did in the past. You recently helped lead the charge against both of the president's Supreme Court nominees, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
Sen. Hatch: These were difficult votes for me, mostly because I believe the President is owed some level of deference from the Senate on Supreme Court nominations. But, in the end, they were both just too far out of the mainstream for me to support, particularly when it came to gun rights.
Both of these justices came with a record of hostility toward the rights of gun owners. And, at the end of the day, the most significant front in the fight to preserve the right to bear arms is the Supreme Court. Justice Sotomayor testified in the Judiciary Committee that she believed the Second Amendment protected an individual right to bear arms. Yet, in one of her earliest decisions on the Court, she voted precisely the opposite way. Justice Kagan gave similar testimony during her confirmation hearings. But, I don't have any doubt that she and Justice Sotomayor are in the same camp when it comes to the rights of gun owners. That's why I had to oppose them both.
Cox: And of course our members know that one of the reasons we have to defeat Barack Obama in 2012 is to prevent him from having the opportunity to name more anti-gun justices. Right now, we're just one vote away from having our recent Second Amendment victories overturned.
Sen. Hatch: That's exactly the point. This administration knows that it can't get much of what it wants through Congress. But, I think President Obama has a more long-term view when it comes to things like gun control. In the end, a second Obama term means more Obama nominees on the Court. I don't know how anyone who supports the Second Amendment – and particularly the views of the Second Amendment outlined by the Court in its recent decisions – can want to give this President another four years in office.
Cox: You recently joined with 57 of your Senate colleagues in signing a letter to the president and secretary of state, warning them against supporting the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty if it contains any restrictions on our Second Amendment rights. And I think it's no coincidence that Barack Obama told Sarah Brady he was working on gun control "under the radar," according to recent press reports.
Sen. Hatch: Time and time again, we've seen a willingness on the part of this administration to pass via regulation or executive order things that Congress would simply never agree to. Luckily enough, when it comes to treaties like the one you mentioned, Congress can stand in the way. That's why our letter was important – we had to send a message to the President that, when it comes to gun rights, this kind of "under the radar" approach won't even get off the ground.
Cox: We have another controversy brewing with the efforts of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to impose reporting and registration of long gun purchases in border states. What's your opinion on that?
Sen. Hatch: It's very problematic, and I question its reliance on such an expansive reading of the law. It is certainly foreseeable that the Administration would look to expand this requirement beyond the initial border states.
Cox: Of course, we see it as a smokescreen from the congressional investigations into the disastrous BATFE "Fast and Furious" gunrunning scandal. Where do you think those investigations will lead?
Sen. Hatch: It's certainly difficult to predict, as Congress is still waiting on numerous documents that have been subpoenaed. The highest personnel of the Department of Justice should have been aware of a program of this magnitude and controversy, and if these individuals weren't aware they should have been. It's a problem either way.
Cox: Way back before this all blew up, Mexican President Felipe Calderon came to Congress and criticized our gun laws. I recall that you had a strong response for him.
Sen. Hatch: Yes, I did. I did not appreciate a foreign head of state coming to our nation and criticizing the preferences of its citizenry. I felt his comments were inappropriate, and many of my Congressional colleagues echoed my criticisms of his comments.
Cox: Thank you for your support on all of these key issues, Senator. I believe 2012 is going to be an interesting year in the Senate on Second Amendment issues, and we look forward to working with you on them.
Sen. Hatch: Thank you for all you do. This is a tough fight and the NRA's assistance and leadership over the years has, on many occasions, made all the difference.
Understanding and Participating in the
Utah Republican Party Caucuses & Conventions
The Utah Republican Caucus is a meeting where citizens meet every two years to elect a few of their neighbors to represent them in choosing Republican candidates. These meetings will take place in schools, homes, churches, and community centers all across Utah on Caucus Night—March 15, 2012.
All registered Republican voters are eligible to participate in this process. (You may register to vote at your County or City Offices or online at: www.vote.utah.gov. You may also register to vote by mail.) Once you're registered, here's how you can amplify the voices of NRA members and Second Amendment supporters:
- Attend Your Neighborhood Caucus Meeting on March 15, 2012. Caucus locations for your precinct are printed in your community newspapers and publicized on television. You can also visit www.utgop.org. Registered Republicans who attend the caucuses will discuss issues and elect Precinct Officers, County Delegates and State Delegates. It is relatively easy to get elected, but if you run for a position, make sure you are willing to fulfill the obligation of your office for the full two years. You will be representing your neighbors.
- Attend the Utah Republican Party Nominating Convention on Saturday, April 21, 2012, at the South Towne Exhibition Center, in Sandy.
Other Ways You Can Promote the Second Amendment at the Caucuses
Since caucuses will be attended by politically active Utahans, your promotion of the Second Amendment to these voters can pay dividends in the 2012 elections and beyond. Here are some things you can do to raise Second Amendment awareness at the caucuses:
- Inquire about NRA membership. If your fellow caucus-goers are not currently NRA members, sign them up! Better yet, consider becoming an NRA Membership Recruiter and earning a commission for every new member you sign up. To learn more about the Recruiter Program, call (800) 672-0004, or email email@example.com.
- Discuss current federal and state gun-related legislation and encourage caucus-goers to contact their lawmakers on these bills and to write letters to their local newspapers. For more information on current NRA-ILA legislation and tips on communicating with lawmakers and on writing letters to the editor, visit www.NRAILA.org.
- Enroll caucus-goers in NRA-ILA's FrontLines™ Volunteer program. This program is tailored toward our most active Second Amendment supporters and is totally free! More information on FrontLines™ can be found at www.NRAILA.org, or by calling (800) 392-VOTE (8683).
The upcoming caucuses will present NRA Members with a unique opportunity to educate and empower other politically active Utahans to defend and promote the Second Amendment, so be sure to make the most of your attendance!