The Corner

William Saletan: The NRA Supports Criminals

Over at Slate, he compiles a list of examples. Not one is convincing.

What Saletan misses is the distinction between convicted criminals and those simply accused of a crime. The Second Amendment confers a constitutional right. Constitutional rights may not be taken away without due process. The NRA has always supported appropriate punishment, including loss of gun rights, for people who have actually been convicted of crimes.

As Saletan notes, the NRA opposed a bill to deny guns to people on the terrorist watch list. In Saletan’s words, the bill’s proponents “reasoned that it made no sense to pull such people aside as they were boarding airplanes but to look the other way when they purchased guns.” This is poor reasoning, because there is no constitutional right not to be pulled aside as you are boarding an airplane. Law enforcement has the authority to compile lists of people it wants to keep an eye on, and to take steps to investigate those people. It does not have the authority to take away their constitutional rights until it has secured a conviction.

The same thing goes for protective orders in domestic-violence cases: These orders are granted based on accusations, not convictions. They cannot be the basis for taking away a constitutional right.

The NRA also opposed the Fix Gun Checks Act. This bill would have required background checks on all gun sales — I am somewhat sympathetic to this goal myself, but the practical obstacles to implementation and the potential inconvenience to law-abiding gun owners are significant. It is absurd to say the NRA opposed this because it wants criminals to own guns. The bill also would have taken gun rights away from people who had been arrested — not convicted, just arrested — for minor drug offenses including use or possession. Saletan seems baffled that anyone could have a problem with that.

Finally, Saletan hits the NRA for opposing the federal government’s expansion of the ATF’s asset-forfeiture authority. As with universal background checks, there are plenty of non-sinister reasons to be concerned about asset forfeiture.

Saletan calls the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre a “lawyer” for people who misuse guns. That’s true in a sense: LaPierre’s positions do reflect a basic understanding of how the law works.

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