The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

For Americans’ Gun Rights, the Stakes in 2020 Are as High as Ever

A Glock 22 pistol is seen laying on a Palmetto M4 assault rifle at the Rocky Mountain Guns and Ammo store in Parker, Colorado (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: The National Rifle Association gathers in Indianapolis during challenging times, Joe Biden jumps into the presidential race and attempts to refocus the nation’s attention back to the Charlottesville white-nationalist rally, and my easily-mocked mock draft.

The National Rifle Association’s Easy Days Are Over

Often when you attend the convention of a political group or movement, you’ll hear applause lines such as “Our movement is only growing stronger!” or “The future of our cause has never looked brighter!” At this year’s National Rifle Association Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, an honest assessment would require acknowledging that the outlook was a little brighter two years ago.

In the two years that the GOP controlled the House, Senate, and the White House, they never quite got around to passing concealed-carry reciprocity — which would ensure that a gun owner’s concealed-carry permit in his home state was valid in all other states. The legislation has been introduced again, but it will probably not get a vote in the House this cycle. The Democrats now control the House, with pro-gun-control members elected in many suburban swing districts, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi will be determined to avoid any difficult votes for her members. There was a time when a few House Democrats like Heath Shuler would address the NRA’s annual convention; reliably pro-gun Democrats are few and far between these days.

After the Parkland shooting, Florida’s GOP then-governor, now-senator Rick Scott signed a bill into law raising the age to purchase any firearm from 18 to 21. Vermont and California passed similar bills and Washington State voters passed a similar referendum. There was a time not that long ago when one of the rare exceptions to the progressivism of Vermont Democrats such as Bernie Sanders and Howard Dean was their opposition to new gun-control laws in their own state.

Then there’s the dispute between the NRA and its primary marketing public-relations firm, Ackerman McQueen, which threatens a 38-year relationship over access to the firm’s documents relating to expenditures. A recent article in The New Yorker painted an ugly portrait of wasteful spending and unaccountability, and while Ackerman McQueen denied any wrongdoing through a spokesman and disputed the magazine’s reporting, the concerns about expenditures were serious enough to spur an NRA lawsuit demanding the financial documents.

Earlier this year, two NRA board members complained to the New York Times that the organization had strayed from its core mission of defending gun rights and the Second Amendment, and waded too deeply into general conservative culture-war issues — particularly in the NRATV programming and messaging coming from Ackerman McQueen.

Foes of the NRA see an opportunity in the dissent and scrutiny. Last week Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund filed a Tax-Exempt Organization Complaint with the IRS, alleging that directors or officers are using income or assets for personal gain and the organization itself is engaged in commercial, for-profit business activity. Even if the IRS doesn’t find the Bloomberg group’s complaint compelling, New York State’s new attorney general, Letitia James, pledged to investigate whether the NRA is complying with the requirements for nonprofit organizations. James, a fierce proponent of gun control, may very well be driven by political ambitions, but she can cost the NRA a lot of time and money through the litigious fight.

On the one hand, this is inside baseball that may not interest the average gun owner. But for NRA board members and leadership, it puts a cloud over the gathering in Indianapolis this week.

This isn’t the worst of times for the Second Amendment. If a case similar to the landmark Second Amendment case District of Columbia vs. Heller came before the Supreme Court, it would probably be a 5-4 pro-gun vote, the same as in 2008. But the security of two years ago is gone, and the stakes in 2020 are as high as ever. Trump losing the presidency to a Democrat could have dire implications for the Second Amendment and America’s gun owners.

California senator Kamala Harris has threatened that “Upon being elected, I will give the United States Congress 100 days to get their act together and have the courage to pass reasonable gun safety laws, and if they fail to do it, then I will take executive action,” which is a creative vision of the authority of the executive branch to rewrite laws on the books. Harris wants to reinstate the Assault Weapons Ban that expired in 2004, ban high-capacity ammunition clips, and perhaps most significantly, make gun manufacturers liable if their weapons are used in criminal activity. As state attorney general, Harris prosecuted several gun shops,  citing an obscure provision of state law barring the images of handguns in advertising and contending that pictures of guns in the stores’ windows violated the law. A federal judge ruled in 2018 Harris’s charges represented a “highly paternalistic approach to limiting speech,” and declared it “unconstitutional on its face.”

When the NRA endorsed Donald Trump in 2016, he was an imperfect vessel. In his 2000 book, The America We Deserve, Trump wrote, “I generally oppose gun control, but I support the ban on assault weapons and I also support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun.” Even while basking in the NRA’s endorsement and applause at the annual meeting in Louisville that election year, Trump hit an awkward note: “My sons are members. They have so many rifles, so many guns, that even I get concerned. I say, ‘That’s a lot!’” The crowd greeted that admission with what can best be described as polite silence.

But in a contest between Trump and Clinton, the choice was obvious, and in a contest between Trump and just about any of the 2020 Democrats, the decision will be similarly easy for most gun owners. Both Trump and Mike Pence will address the convention Friday, as well as Indiana governor Eric Holcomb; Kentucky governor Matt Bevin, who’s up for reelection this year; both of Indiana’s Republican senators, Mike Braun and Todd Young; Texas senator Ted Cruz; Representative Steve Scalise; and Turning Point USA’s Candace Owens.

Biden Is in, and He Wants to Talk About Charlottesville

After a whole lot of hints and rumors, Joe Biden is running for president. Frankly, there’s been so much dissection of his strengths and weaknesses, so many reviews of his long record, so many observations and reminders about his shameless dishonesty, that it feels like he’s been running for a while.

Biden’s announcement video begins pretty boldly, going straight back to the white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., calling it “a defining moment for this country in the past few years.” Biden declares:

That’s when we heard the words the president of the United States that stunned the world and shocked the conscience of this nation. He said there were quote ‘some very fine people on both sides.’ Very fine people on both sides? With those words the President of the United States assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it. And in that moment I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I had ever seen in my lifetime.

There are some Trump defenders who argue that the president was trying to draw a distinction between the neo-Nazis and those who merely opposed removing statues of figures associated from the Confederacy. I’m not so sure the transcript is so exculpatory, or that most people believe there was a clear distinction between two groups supporting the statue:

REPORTER: You said there was hatred and violence on both sides?

TRUMP: I do think there is blame – yes, I think there is blame on both sides. You look at, you look at both sides. I think there’s blame on both sides, and I have no doubt about it, and you don’t have any doubt about it either. And, and, and, and if you reported it accurately, you would say. 

REPORTER: The neo-Nazis started this thing. They showed up in Charlottesville. 

TRUMP: Excuse me, they didn’t put themselves down as neo-Nazis, and you had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides. You had people in that group – excuse me, excuse me. I saw the same pictures as you did. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down, of to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name.

Charlottesville was probably the worst moment of Trump’s presidency so far, but it also represented a giant setback for the white-nationalist movement. A follow-up rally in 2018 attracted “20 to 30 people” in Washington, D.C., and was greeted by thousands of counter-protesters. Facebook, Google, Twitter, and YouTube all took steps to restrict white-nationalist content. By last April, white-nationalist groups were faltering under “lawsuits and arrests, fundraising difficulties, tepid recruitment, widespread infighting, fierce counter-protests and banishment on social media platforms. Taken together, they’ve exhausted even some of the staunchest members.” Just as Timothy McVeigh made the mid-1990s militia movement morally radioactive to the vast majority of Americans, Charlottesville did the same for white nationalists in recent years.

Still, Biden may be calculating that if he brings it up, Trump will insist he never defended the white nationalists — and the more Trump is talking about white nationalism, the better it is for Democrats.

An Easy-to-Mock Mock Draft

I contemplated doing a full preview of tonight’s first round of the NFL Draft, but most of the drama is in the top five selections. Also, most years at least two teams make a dramatic trade, which louses up the order.

One: Arizona Cardinals: They’re going to pick Kyler Murray, quarterback out of Oklahoma, right? Everybody’s been talking about this and expecting this for weeks. If they don’t, they’ll blow up everything, as everybody who needs a quarterback and who figured Murray wouldn’t be an option suddenly gets interested.

Two: San Francisco Forty-Niners: Nick Bosa, defensive end, THE Ohio State University. As discussed on yesterday’s Three Martini Lunch podcast, some folks say Bosa’s old pro-Trump social media posts would make him unacceptable to San Francisco’s fan base. As a New York Jets fan, I fully support runaway hyper-partisanship forcing teams to not select good edge rushers that the Jets could use. Alas, I believe the Niners are willing to alienate the woke fan base in exchange for ten sacks a year.

Three: New York Jets: The Jets should pick defensive end/outside linebacker Josh Allen here, but I think they’ll pick the defensive tackle Quinnen Williams. Williams is by consensus the best or at least most pro-ready player in the draft, but the Jets need an edge rusher and outside linebacker more than they need a defensive tackle. Williams is an easy pick to defend, but I just figure good outside rushers are harder to find than good guys who can clog up the running lanes.

Four: Oakland Raiders: Here’s where it gets interesting, as apparently the Raiders told their scouts to go home because they have some sort of surprise in mind.  Head coach Jon Gruden may very well be having some sort of psychological breakdown, but then again, he was always tightly-wound. Who’s good but unexpected? How about quarterback Dwayne Haskins of THE Ohio State University, indicating that current quarterback Derek Carr is on his way out? Quarterbacks almost always get picked earlier than expected.

If two quarterbacks go in the first four picks, you could very well see a panic among the remaining quarterback-needy teams. There are at least three — the Giants, Dolphins, and Redskins. There are two other quarterbacks considered worthy of a first-round pick — Daniel Jones out of Duke and Drew Lock out of Missouri. No team will want to be the one left out.

Five: Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Assuming their phone isn’t ringing off the hook with teams looking to move up, everybody thinks they’ll take Devin White, linebacker from LSU — a safe, quality, easily-justifiable pick.

ADDENDUM: A perfect anecdote about Steve Moore attempting to advise John Kasich on economics:

Before meeting with the larger group, candidates would huddle with the committee’s founders to receive economic tutorials. Or in the case of Ohio Governor John Kasich, to give one. “We were all sitting there, and he would talk for an hour,” Moore recalled. “We’re like, ‘No, we’re supposed to be talking to you,’ and he’s talking to us.” Moore called the episode “Classic John Kasich.”

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