On September 4, NRA filed a brief in federal district court supporting an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit challenging the National Security Agency’s (NSA) phone records surveillance and collection program.
First among the “Purposes and Objectives” listed in NRA’s Bylaws is “[t]o protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” The NRA’s activities in support of this purpose have long included legislative advocacy and litigation concerning the rights of the NRA and its members to associate and communicate freely under the First Amendment, and the protection of gun owners against intrusive government surveillance or recordkeeping.
The NRA brief argues that NSA’s mass surveillance program threatens the rights of NRA and its members because it “could allow identification of NRA members, supporters, potential members, and other persons with whom the NRA communicates, potentially chilling their willingness to communicate with NRA.” Further, the mass surveillance program “could allow the government to circumvent legal protections for Americans’ privacy, such as laws that guard against the registration of guns or gun owners.”
The Supreme Court has recognized that involuntary disclosure of the membership of advocacy groups inhibits the exercise of First Amendment rights. Congress has recognized that government recordkeeping on gun owners inhibits the exercise of Second Amendment rights. The NSA’s mass surveillance program raises both issues, potentially providing the government not only with the means of identifying members and others who communicate with NRA and other advocacy groups, but also with the means of identifying gun owners without their knowledge or consent.
As the brief notes, “It would be absurd to think that Congress would adopt and maintain a web of statutes intended to protect against the creation of a national gun registry, while simultaneously authorizing the FBI and the NSA to gather records that could effectively create just such a registry.”
The brief concludes that, “If programs like those currently justified by the government’s interpretation are allowed to continue and grow unchecked, they could also—contrary to clear congressional intent—undo decades of legal protection for the privacy of Americans in general, and of gun owners in particular.”