Via the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, the White House has responded to my post about Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan’s apparent comparison of the NRA with the KKK.
The provision she was studying protected volunteers from tort liability in some cases. From the words “Volunteer liability bill” at the top of Kagan’s notes, and from the fact that Allegra looked the NRA and the KKK up on a list of tax-exempt volunteer organizations, it is clear that the discussion was not about “product liability,” as Sargent claims. He seems to be conflating the Volunteer Protection Act, which became law in 1997, with the Common Sense Product Liability Legal Reform Act of 1996.
Here’s the administration’s take on the documents, as summarized by Sargent:
First, Clinton officials were concerned that the proposal would make it tougher for victims of gun violence to pursue liability claims. Officials viewed the bill as a major giveaway to the gun industry and the NRA. As part of analyzing the impact in this area, Clinton lawyers looked at how it would benefit the NRA.
In a second, separate development, Democratic members of Congress were worried that the act could protect the KKK and other hate groups from liability. Senator Patrick Leahy branded it the “KKK protection act.” That prompted Clinton lawyers to analyze how it would impact such groups — the KKK included.
Bearing in mind that the issue was volunteer liability, not product liability, the first explanation doesn’t make much sense. If the concern was that the bill in question would protect volunteers who injured people with guns — and thus benefit the NRA somehow — there would be little reason to check whether the NRA itself was covered. The NRA’s being covered would be relevant only if an NRA volunteer shot someone by accident. The real question would be whether the law applied to volunteer-inflicted gun injuries in general.
Further, there is no evidence in the documents that the NRA’s inclusion and the KKK’s were being investigated for different reasons. In Kagan’s notes, they are both identified as “Bad guy orgs”; in Allegra’s response, after explaining that the NRA and KKK will not be covered by the bill, he adds: “We probably need to be careful about suggesting that ‘bad’ organizations will qualify for the provision in the bill as it would suggest we are allowing ‘bad’ organizations to qualify for tax-exempt status.”