by James Oliphant
Here, on the weekend that we celebrate the successful armed rebellion by America's founders, is the thought question of the day.
For years, anti-gun activists and others have whispered that the National Rifle Association, the most powerful gun lobby in the nation and one of the most powerful Washington lobbies on any issue, has really never wanted the Supreme Court to define the Second Amendment.
Why? Well, the theory went that a ruling such as the one the court handed down last week in District of Columbia v. Heller could dent the group where it hurts the most: fundraising.
After all, the NRA became the powerhouse that it is today largely because of the basic proposition it offered the American voter: The government wants to take your guns away.
(It's similar to the conspiracy theory that holds Republicans never really want Roe v. Wade overturned, because of the money and political support that would rush to pro-choice groups.)
And in fact, it wasn't the NRA that filed the lawsuit that brought Washington, D.C.'s gun ban down, it was a group of libertarians, acting on their own with help from the CATO Institute.
After the Heller decision, in which the court found, for the first time, a constitutional right to gun ownership for self-defense, can the NRA still suggest to the public at large that the government is able to pull firearms from households? The court's ruling suggests that no regulation can deny a resident the right to keep a functional handgun at the ready.
It's interesting that the legislative arm of the NRA, which conducts its public message-making, has already adopted an approach in reaction to the ruling: eternal vigilance.
A right gained, the NRA says, can easily become a right lost.
In an email the association sent out Thursday, it warned about about the decision inflaming the media's "anti-gun hysteria."
The email invoked many of the conservative bogeyman in one ready-to-go package: Rev. Jesse Jackson, Adrian Fenty, the mayor of D.C,. Chicago mayor Richard Daley, the New York Times and, yes, the Chicago Tribune's editorial page, which, after the decision, (with some collective tongue in collective cheek) suggested the Second Amendment should be repealed.
Here is an excerpt from the NRA missive:
[T]he sad truth is that [the Heller decision] will motivate the Second Amendment's enemies to redouble their efforts to destroy the right to arms. Given the timing--just over four months before the November elections--we all have more than ample reason to redouble our efforts to ensure that November's winners will be the kinds of elected officials who will help us build upon the victory achieved in the Supreme Court.
Of course, the landscape after Heller is not a defined one. More questions remain than answers, the primary one being whether the decision applies to gun bans in localities such as Chicago and San Francisco. Also, whether the government can ban short-barreled shotguns, automatic weapons, concealed weapons or guns outside the home. Some analysts (including pro-gun ones) believe the Heller decision may have damaged the gun-rights movement by suggesting that there is a great amount of room for the government to regulate guns, more than many Second Amendment absolutists would like.
The debate has shifted, and an avalanche of litigation lies ahead, which should keep the money flowing to the NRA and its opposition, at least in the short-term. The game has changed, but it hasn't gone away. Not by a long shot.