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The NRA's True Target
By Mathew S. Nosanchuk

A telling article on how the other side thinks.  If the tables were turned, and it were trial lawyers or civil rights types from the ACLU giving advise to Klan mutants and other sordid criminals, the writer and his ilk would certainly claim that this was sound legal advise and an issue of free speech, while quoting several legal references & the Bill of Rights.

"Enforce the gun laws already on the books." This mantra has become the foundation of the National Rifle Association's strategy to defeat any new laws designed to reduce gun violence in the United States. And it's worked like a charm. By endlessly repeating this single sentence, the NRA has concocted a one-size-fits-all response suitable to any and all venues from radio call-in shows to network news programs.

Ignoring the fact that the NRA lobbied vociferously to defeat the laws it now says should be enforced, the gun lobby has created the false impression that enforcement of existing laws and enactment of new laws are mutually exclusive. To be blunt, we've been duped. If you believe the NRA is committed to the vigorous enforcement of our nation's gun laws, there's a bridge in Brooklyn I'd like to sell you.

While in public the NRA sings the praises of vigorous enforcement, the organization plays a different tune for its true believers. At the NRA's annual meeting in Kansas City this spring, those attending the National Firearms Law Seminar were offered advice, strategies and legal theories for undermining enforcement of gun laws.

The seminar's opening session was a veritable "how to" lesson for lawyers representing defendants charged with federal gun law violations, with the goal of seeing such laws declared unconstitutional. The first presenter was a former NRA lawyer who now represents offenders charged with firearm violations. He explained how to make life difficult for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms when that agency seeks to deny the renewal applications of corrupt federally licensed gun dealers. And he declared that the law regulating federally licensed dealers "needs to be changed."

He described how pro-gun lawyers are challenging prosecutions under the Gun Control Act of 1968 using a handful of recent Supreme Court decisions that struck down federal laws that lacked a sufficient connection to interstate commerce. With efforts like these, he offered, "we can dream" that those federal gun laws such as the 1968 act, which, as amended, bans gun possession by felons, fugitives and spouse abusers, will someday be declared unconstitutional.

Lawyers at the seminar also were advised on how to challenge their guilty clients' convictions. For example, under federal law, it is illegal to possess an unregistered fully automatic machine gun. If a person is arrested after police discover his machine gun, the presenter advised, just make sure that the defendant tells the judge he was on his way to return it to a gun show where he bought it to have it retooled to fire only in semiautomatic mode. The hoped-for result: a "complete" defense against the charge that possession of the weapon violated federal law.

Moreover, the presenter said, if a federally licensed gun dealer is indicted for lying on his license renewal application, there are ways to argue that the dealer still can have his license renewed and the charges against him dismissed.

Finally, a veteran pro-gun attorney offered his tricks of the trade for lawyers who want to challenge firearm regulations in test cases. These included: how to "nitpick" regulations and cause "chaos" in an agency's process for responding to lawsuits; how to launch Freedom of Information Act "ambush[es]" to undermine an agency's efforts to defend its enforcement actions; and how to ensure test cases are defended by government lawyers in Washington -- with their "Beltway mentality" -- rather than by more "courtroom-wise" local federal prosecutors (the answer: send the complaint to the agency head in Washington by overnight mail).

These sorts of tactics are not new to the NRA. In the 1980s the organization worked tirelessly to pass a law specifically allowing felons convicted of federal gun crimes to have their gun privileges "restored." This law put guns back into the hands of felons who otherwise would never be able to buy guns legally -- individuals such as Sherman Dale Williams, who was convicted of two counts of illegal transfer of machine guns after federal agents found three illegal machine guns and five improvised explosive devices at his home.

When you strip away the NRA's disingenuous rhetoric about enforcing the law, the gun lobby's true agenda is laid bare: promoting the widespread ownership and use of firearms by eliminating any laws that make it harder to get them.

The writer is litigation director and legislative counsel at the Violence Policy Center.



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