Guns & Patriots

Response from David Keene, NRA First Vice President, to DISCLOSE Act Criticism

"As an NRA member, I am writing to express my outrage that the NRA would do a backroom deal with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to regulate and limit the First Amendment right to political free speech of other groups, while carving out an exemption for the NRA. Your unsavory and unprincipled deal with the Democratic leadership makes it likely that the House will now pass the DISCLOSE Act, H. R. 5175. Besides being unconstitutional, the DISCLOSE Act could have dire political consequences in the 2010 Congressional elections. The NRA’s leadership should be ashamed of selling out the interests of its members."

I am writing in response to your email to NRA Institute for Legislative Action Executive Director Chris Cox protesting what you term a "backroom" deal with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to "regulate and limit the First Amendment right to political free speech of other groups."

I have been an NRA Board member for some years and currently serve as NRA’s First Vice-President — that you may know. What you may not know is that I have been in the forefront of the fight against liberal attempts to tilt the political playing field their way for decades through what they like to call campaign finance reform. This is a battle that began in the seventies when I put together the case that went to the United States Supreme Court known as Buckley v. Valeo. I was a vocal opponent of the so-called McCain-Feingold "reforms" that shackled groups like the NRA in recent years, and I have served as a First Amendment Fellow at Vanderbilt University’s Freedom Forum.

I can assure you that I would never countenance a "deal" of the sort you think the NRA made with Congress to further Democratic attempts to restrict political speech. I consider such restrictions to be not only repugnant, but blatantly unconstitutional, an opinion shared by NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre and Institute for Legislative Action Executive Director Chris Cox.

The so-called "DISCLOSE ACT" is a horrible piece of legislation designed to do exactly what you suggest. It would require advocacy groups to run a regulatory gauntlet designed to make it very difficult for many of them to play the role for which they were formed and is both bad policy and flies in the face of recent Supreme Court decisions.

But I’m afraid there’s more … particularly how it would affect the NRA. When you think of the NRA you no doubt think mostly about the NRA’s advocacy on Second Amendment issues, but the NRA also provides training to its members, law enforcement and military personnel, works with states, counties and private organizations to build ranges and runs competitive events such as those at Camp Perry in Ohio. Since Camp Perry is a military base, public monies go into range development and federal funds go to training military and police personnel, the NRA would be classed with government contractors and TARP recipients under the DISCLOSE ACT as originally written and effectively prohibited from engaging in any meaningful political activity.

In other words, this act as originally written by anti-gun legislators like New York Senator Chuck Schumer would have silenced the NRA …which would have been the death knell for the Second Amendment.

NRA has one major mission … to defend the right of its members and all Americans to keep & bear arms as guaranteed by the Second Amendment. Therefore, the NRA served notice on Congress that since the act threatened our very existence, we were prepared to do anything and everything that might be required to defeat it unless it was changed so that we could continue to represent the views of our members in the public arena. The letter, sent on May 26, was public. The NRA did not engage in back room shenanigans, but told Congressional leaders quite clearly that we would do whatever we needed to do to protect the rights of our members and our ability to defend the Second Amendment.

Last week Democratic leadership in the House capitulated by agreeing to exempt the NRA from the act – not in return for NRA support, but to avoid a political war that might cost them even more seats this fall.

I have to tell you that I never thought the Democrats would agree to this – not because they have much regard for constitutional rights – because I didn’t believe their left wing would allow it. The events since their capitulation convince me that their fear of NRA retaliation forced them to take steps that split their coalition and could easily doom the whole bill.

Consider this: on Thursday night, California Senator Diane Feinstein, one of the most anti-Second Amendment members of the Senate, announced that she wouldn’t support the DISCLOSE ACT if it exempted the NRA. By Friday some two-dozen left wing activist groups that had previously been pressing Congress to pass the bill announced that now they wanted it defeated.

The bottom line is that in refusing to risk its members’ rights and the very survival of the Second Amendment, the NRA has also made it less rather than more likely that support for this terrible legislation will collapse and the free speech rights of every one of us will benefit.

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