June 25, 2019


The Cold, Dead Hand of the NRA (Matt Seaton, 6/25/19, NY Review of Books)

The catalyst for the blood on the carpet at the NRA's Virginia headquarters has been a series of public-relations and legal-political setbacks. In reverse chronological order, the latest boardroom mayhem was precipitated by New York State Attorney General Letitia James's legal challenge to the charitable status of the NRA (enabled by its historical incorporation in the state). That, in turn, had developed out of the earlier effort by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to pressure New York-based banking and insurance companies doing business with the NRA to boycott the organization. Above all, these "inside" moves against the NRA gained vital momentum from the "outside" wave of gun-control sentiment that followed the February 2018 mass shooting at Parkland, Florida. The powerful advocacy on a national stage of the surviving high-schoolers--followed by the financial services boycott, and then the attorney general's investigation into the IRS status and business dealings of the NRA--created the sustained pressure that forced open the internal rift in an organization already troubled by a financial shortfall and growing disquiet about how much of its budget was going to one media and marketing agency, Ackerman McQueen, and who inside the NRA was benefitting from that relationship.

These, at least, are the proximate causes of the NRA's disarray. But viewed in the longue durée, the NRA's vulnerability to this spectacular implosion can be seen as the result of a political movement that had won its "long war" of marching through the institutions of legislative government and conquering them. In short, the NRA became a victim precisely of its own success. The NRA's current predicament is thus in part a historical consequence of its evolution--a story aptly told by the historian and law professor Adam Winkler in Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America (2011)--from a quiescent hunting association up until the early 1970s into the radical Second Amendment rights group that progressives came to fear, despise, and secretly envy for its ability to channel the energy of a social movement into effective political action. As Michael Waldman of the Brennan Center for Justice has described in his 2014 book The Second Amendment: A Biography, a radicalized NRA then succeeded in changing the political weather on gun rights. It mobilized a more or less racialized fear of crime to advocate for an absolutist redefinition of the Constitution and create a new personal right to bear arms as a necessity for domestic self-defense.

Judicial activism is no sounder when it favors the Right instead of the Left.

Posted by at June 25, 2019 12:00 AM