NRA supports like-minded legal ‘scholars’ to reshape gun laws

Last month the Washington Post had a story describing the role the NRA has played in shaping current US gun regulations. This is an excerpt which I hope will persuade blog readers that my apparent obsession with the NRA is fully justified.

As recently as 1977 the role of the second amendment to the US constitution was still unclear. But the occupant of a chair in ” constitutional law and the Second Amendment at George Mason University, endowed by the National Rifle Association argued that it gave Americans a legal right to own guns and this was affirmed by  the Supreme Court in 2008, making some of the District’s strict gun-control laws ineffective.  The current push for stronger gun-control legislation will have to overcome the transformation brought about by lawyers backed by the NRA when the ruling was made. “I think this was one of the most successful attempts to change the law and to change a legal paradigm in history,” said Carl T. Bogus, a professor at Roger Williams University School of Law in Rhode Island.   “They (the NRA) were thinking strategically. I don’t think the NRA funds scholarship out of academic interest. I think the NRA funds something because it has a political objective.” Prior to the Supreme Court challenge, the consensus view “was that the Second Amendment granted a collective right” enjoyed by the states, not individuals… Under this interpretation, the Constitution provides no right for an individual to possess a firearm.”  Then a series of legal articles began to appear and eventually a majority supported the “individual-rights position”. It was evident that much of this was prompted by NRA financial support.  As one lawyer put it,  “I would think that’s important in the sense that scholars, unless you’re independently wealthy, you need to be paid for your time.” The debate then revolved around transparency; did authors reveal where the funding came from or not?  One of the leading supporters was a professor of constitutional law at the University of Texas at Austin who published “The Embarrassing Second Amendment” in the Yale Law Journal. It was sympathetic to the “insurrectionist theory” that citizens have a right to be armed so they can fight their government if it becomes tyrannical. By 1997, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote, “Marshaling an impressive array of historical evidence, a growing body of scholarly commentary indicates that the ‘right to keep and bear arms’ is, as the Amendment text suggests, a personal right.” Six years later the NRA foundation endowed the Patrick Henry chair at George Mason University with $1 million. For advocates of an individual’s right to bear arms, the Heller decision in 2008 was a vindication. In writing the majority opinion, Justice Scalia said, “The second amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm, unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.” Comforting words for parents of children killed in Newtown.

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