The Brady Campaign And The NRA
The Brady Campaign And The NRA
Paul Helmke (President, The Brady Campaign) gives expert video advice on: How does the NRA use the 2nd and 4th amendments as political platforms?; Does the second amendment apply only to militiamen?; What do you fear from the NRA? and more...
How does the NRA use the 2nd and 4th amendments as political platforms?
The 2nd Amendment is the one that's talked about most when we deal with the issue of gun control. The NRA likes to focus on the last half of the 2nd Amendment and ignore the first half of the 2nd Amendment. The last half talks about "... the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed," and those are the words the NRA has chiseled on their headquarters. The first half of the 2nd Amendment talks about a "well-regulated militia" being necessary to the security of a free state. In my mind, you need to read the entire amendment when you try to analyze it. I point out to people that the 2nd Amendment is the only amendment to the U.S. Constitution that has the word "regulated" in it. You can argue about whether they're regulating a militia or whether they're regulating private ownership. But obviously, if you're using the word "well-regulated" you're contemplating some level of regulation. The 2nd Amendment though, by talking about the right to bear arms has become, for the NRA, the preeminent, and sometimes the only, amendment they really focus on. The 4th Amendment to the Constitution deals with unreasonable search and seizure, and I don't hear that as much from the NRA. But, as with other amendments, it's something there that protects the individual from the government stepping in. Again, this is the amendment that requires that before you go into someone's house or look at their papers or their possessions, you have a warrant from a judge to do it. I think the important thing, whether we're talking about the 2nd Amendment or the 4th Amendment or the 1st Amendment or any other amendment, is that our amendments are written to protect the people, but they're also written by the government to deal with some common sense approaches to problems. I think it's interesting that when folks talk about the 2nd Amendment, they talk about it as if this is some Commandment that was handed down on Mount Sinai, and they don't look at the fact that it does have the word "regulated" in it. When we talk about the 1st Amendment, which is also pretty absolutist, "Congress shall make no law respecting the freedom of speech..." we still have laws against libel, we still have laws against obscenity, we still say people can't yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater. We have common-sense approaches to things. When you have restrictions on the 4th Amendment, on reasonable search and seizure, Congress and the courts have a whole set of laws and restrictions that talk about if something's in plain view or not in plain view, something's an imminent danger, the rules for the police are different. All of our amendments need to be looked at in the context, not only of what the framers intended and what they wrote, but how they've been interpreted by courts and how they work in the real world.
Does the second amendment apply only to militiamen?
Lawyers are going to argue the second amendment back and forth. The bottom line though, is, that the second amendment has the word regulated in it, the second amendment even under the interpretations that it applies to individual rights, talk about reasonable restrictions. The second amendment is not a bar to Brady background checks is not a bar to banning fifty calibre style sniper rifles, is not a bar to stopping military style weapons coming into our country. The second amendment probably was written to deal just with militia, when you look at the history. The founders were concerned about a strong federal army overwhelming the state's militia, so they wanted to make sure the states had the strong militia. Whether the courts are going to end up agreeing with that interpretation is yet to be seen. The last time the U.S. Supreme Court talked about the second amendment in 1939, they said it applied to a militia. Most of the cases since then have agreed with that. But regardless of what the second amendment is interpreted to mean, obviously reasonable restrictions, regulations, well regulated militia or well regulated individuals are part of what the second amendment contemplates, that's why we need common sense gun laws in this country. The second amendment isn't a bar to any of that.
Is the NRA a dangerous group?
I think any group that has the power to affect the media and affect Congress and affect an impassioned membership who listens and follows very closely the ideas and commands and exhortations from the leadership, can be dangerous. Power can translate into dangerousness in the wrong hands. So because the NRA is one of the most powerful advocacy groups on any issue that's out there, because they have such sway over Congress, because they've created this myth about their political power -- I think they have the potential to be the most dangerous. Similarly though, they have the potential to be one of the most significant groups in finding common sense regulations. If they decide that yes, it makes sense to have strong Brady background checks and expand those stall sales and get the records of mental illness reports, then they can help get something passed. So they're powerful, and because they're powerful they have the potential for danger but they also have the potential for good.
Are NRA doctrines dangerous?
I think any doctrines that play on people's fear, that convince people not to look for areas of compromise -- those can be dangerous in any group. If the NRA is willing to look for areas of compromise and are willing to be honest with their members, then clearly they can be a force that we can work with. They can be a force for good, but if they rely only on fear, and they rely only on scare-mongering, then they do become very dangerous and their doctrine becomes dangerous.