NRA apologists have insisted that Congressman Heath Shuler is a Second Amendment supporter, as demonstrated by bills he has cosponsored and votes he has made. But is he really, or is he posturing? He has a history of cosponsoring ostensibly pro-gun bills which, coincidentally, never see the light of a committee hearing, as documented in “A response from the NRA?”
And few but the NRA would deny that brokering House passage of the DISCLOSE Act is an attempt by Shuler and House Democrats to silence conservative organizations in general and gun rights groups in particular during elections. (Although the NRA claims Shuler did not broker passage of HB 5175, POLITICO says otherwise.) Those who claim DISCLOSE is “not a Second Amendment issue” should listen to Gun Owners of America Executive Director Larry Pratt in his interview with fellow gun rights examiner David Codrea:
“GOA also rated the vote on the DISCLOSE Act which was McCain-Feingold on steroids. The NRA and GOA went to the Supreme Court seeking to overturn McCain-Feingold, so obviously the NRA sees the danger to the Second Amendment in gagging political speech. Unfortunately, the NRA did not take a position on the DISCLOSE Act. Attempts to stifle the political speech of Second Amendment organizations is without question an attack on your gun rights … we ARE a single-issue group, we just recognize that our enemies are attacking us on multiple fronts.”
And now a brouhaha is brewing in western North Carolina between the organization I direct, Grass Roots North Carolina,and the NRA over its endorsement of Shuler. An excellent (and objective) synopsis of the battle by John Richardson can be found on “No Lawyers -- Only Guns And Money.”
So what about the votes NRA apologists cite in supporting Shuler?
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA PERSONAL PROTECTION ACT
This shill known as the D.C. Personal Protection Act has been introduced at NRA behest for the better part of two decades, giving cover to mediocre incumbents who can cosponsor it or vote for it, all secure in the knowledge that it will never become law.
Worse, it was widely conjectured that the 2003-2004 version was run by the NRA as a means of rendering moot the litigation which eventually forced the U.S. Supreme Court to recognize the Second Amendment in D.C. v. Heller. At around the same time, the NRA was also trying to derail what was then Parker v. D.C. by having its own copycat case consolidated into Parker. In the words of Alan Gura, the lawyer who won the Parker/Heller case:
“Before the court could rule in our case, the National Rifle Association sponsored a copycat lawsuit, entitled Seegars v. Ashcroft (subsequently Gonzales), and immediately sought to have their lawsuit joined with ours. The NRA had tried to dissuade the filing of Parker. Having failed in that effort, they lobbied unsuccessfully to alter our litigation strategy. Seegars was designed to raise issues we had rejected in our case, in an attempt to have the courts avoid interpretation of the Second Amendment.”
In 108th Congress (2003-2004, pre-Shuler), the D.C. Personal Protection Act was H.R. 3193, which passed the House by 250-171 before disappearing into oblivion in the Senate. In the 109th Congress (2005-2006, also pre-Shuler), it was H.R. 1288, which drew 235 sponsors but no committee hearing, once again killing it.
In the 110th Congress (2007-2008), it was H.R. 1399, which never got a hearing. Interestingly, Shuler was one of 248 sponsors but, in a chamber where 218 signatures on a “discharge petition” can force a bill out of committee, the petition for H.R. 1399 drew only 166, suggesting that some of its “cosponsors” weren’t all that interested in getting it heard. Significantly, Shuler was NOT among signers of the discharge petition. The Act also surfaced as the Childers Amendment to H.R. 6842, which Shuler voted for but which also never became law.
H.R. 6691, also of the 110th Congress, apparently decided to really mean it, this time, and was called the “Second Amendment Enforcement Act,” but “enforced” nothing because despite 135 cosponsors, it never got a hearing.
H.R. 5162, introduced in the current 111th Congress under the high-minded title “To restore Second Amendment rights in the District of Columbia,” garnered 159 sponsors before in April, 2010 disappearing into oblivion in the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
So did Shuler cosponsor and vote for the D.C. Personal Protection Act? Sure he did: He and a majority of other “Second Amendment supporters” who, despite being in the majority, can never quite seem to get the bill passed. In reality, only one effort stands a chance of bringing the Second Amendment to the District of Columbia, and that is the Heller decision which the NRA apparently tried to derail.
GUNS IN NATIONAL PARKS
Says the NRA apologist who commented rather extensively on my previous columns and might be NRA Director of Federal Affairs Chuck Cunningham, Shuler “Voted last year for (the Senate amendment to H.R. 627) allowing carry license or permit holders to carry and transport firearms for self-defense in national parks and wildlife refuges.”
Absent background, there is a measure of truth to this. The Senate made an amendment to credit card reform bill H.R. 627. (Specifically, S. Amdt. 1067, made by Sen. Tom Coburn to another amendment, S. Amdt. 1058). And the House did vote to concur on that language separately as Section 512, which passed in a somewhat lopsided 279-147 vote, opposed primarily by the most anti-gun House members.
Neither GOA nor our organization elected to use the vote for candidate evaluation purposes for a number of reasons, including the fact that it was actually the previous Bush administration which promulgated the regulation allowing guns in parks (Section 512 was merely intended to require courts to adhere to the law), and the fact that it doesn’t actually permit guns in parks. What it says is that guns are permitted in parks if the state in which the park falls allows it. This ambiguity has yet to be resolved. Indeed, when I called the North Carolina Attorney General’s office on it earlier this year, they refused to supply an opinion.
But those who consider the Section 512 vote to be pro-gun should equally consider Shuler’s (and Larry Kissell’s) previous votes, most succinctly expressed by GOA, which include:
Gun Ban In National Parks
Motion To Recommit
House Roll Call No. 483
110th Congress, 2nd Session
Failed: 202-211 (see complete tally)
On July 10, 2008, the House of Representatives narrowly defeated an attempt by Republicans (by a vote of 202-211) to prevent a 600-mile gun ban along the Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail from going into effect. Instead, the House voted to place the trail under the jurisdiction of the Department of Interior and the National Park Service, thus subjecting the entire trail to a gun ban. A vote in favor of sending HR 1286 back to committee -- with instructions to allow state and local gun laws to govern firearms possession rather than National Park Service regulations -- is rated as a pro-gun vote.
Shuler: No (anti-gun)
Kissell: Not yet elected
Omnibus Public Land Managment Act
House Roll Call No. 117
111th Congress, 1st Session
Failed: 282-144 (see complete tally)
On March 11, 2009, the House voted to "suspend the rules" so they could immediately pass the massive (1200+ pages) expansion of federal control of land that had originated in the Senate as S. 22. Since National Park land is subject to a gun ban, the bill would have greatly reduced the area of the country in which citizens can carry guns for self-defense. GOA had fought to get pro-gun language included to protect gun rights, but a backroom deal was struck whereby "hunting and recreational shooting" would be protected -- but not carrying for self-defense. The leadership did not want to allow any further pro-gun amendments, so they tried to suspend the rules so that no one could do anything. Such a suspension of the rules requires a 2/3 vote. That is why the motion failed, even though more Reps. (282) voted in favor of the ploy than against it (144). A vote against suspending the rules is considered a pro-gun vote.
Shuler: Y (anti-gun)
Kissell: Y (anti-gun)
National Parks Gun Ban
House passage of the Lands bill
House Roll Call No. 153
111th Congress, 1st Session
Passed: 285-140 (see complete tally)
National Parks Gun Ban (3). On March 25, 2009, the House of Representatives voted 285-140 to pass HR 146, an anti-gun lands bill that will greatly expand National Park Service lands, and thus, expand firearms restrictions into millions of additional acres of land. A "no" vote is rated as a pro-gun vote …
Kissell: Y (anti-gun)
Shuler: Y (anti-gun)
Say the NRA apologists, Shuler “[v]oted this year for the Protecting Gun Owners in Bankruptcy Act (H.R. 5827), which would ensure that a person who filed for bankruptcy would not lose their firearms…”
Ignoring for a moment that I have never had a single member of GRNC tell us that his should be a legislative priority, one is forced to ask: “Is this really a Second Amendment issue?” I’ve even had a Libertarian-leaning soul express that if one declares bankruptcy and stiffs creditors, no personal property should be exempt from bankruptcy proceedings.
THE ‘CIRCULAR FIRING SQUAD’
“Sebastian” of the blog “Snowflakes in Hell,” sees it differently. Describing the split between GRNC and NRA on Shuler as a “circular firing squad,” he says:
“GRNC is not only wrong on Schuler, they are supremely wrong. They are lambasting the one Democrat who tried to solve this problem in favor of all 501(c)(4) non-profits, including GOA, including CCRKBA, and including GRNC. I will back GRNC to the hilt when they do good work like participate in lawsuits to try to get North Carolina’s emergency powers laws tossed out, but they are wrong to attack Schuler on this issue, and I believe they are shooting the rest of us in the foot in their attempts to smear him on an issue totally unrelated to gun rights.”
This is, of course, straight from the NRA talking points and is what the NRA is claiming in postcards and e-mail alerts which respond to GRNC postcards, radio spots and phone calls into the 11th Congressional District.
But the NRA rationalization has one glaring flaw: If Shuler is such a friend of gun owners that he tried to exempt non-profits such as GOA, CCRKBA and GRNC from the DISCLOSE Act, when the final version voted on in the House failed to contain protection for gun groups, why did he still vote for it?
Why the split constitutes a “circular firing squad” is unclear. If Shuler wins, Congress gets what the NRA seems to think is a great gun rights supporter. If GRNC 4-star Republican challenger Jeff Miller wins, Congress gets a guy who supports concealed carry, opposes gun control, and knows exactly why the Second Amendment was drafted into the Bill of Rights. Better yet, transfer of control of the House would dump Nancy Pelosi (or whichever slightly less rabid liberal might replace her) from the Speaker’s chair.
From the NRA perspective, what’s to lose, except perhaps credibility and money?
SO WHAT DID NRA USE IN EVALUATING SHULER?
Said Larry Pratt in his interview with David Codrea:
“Consider the dozens of so-called Blue Dogs who were endorsed by the NRA this year. Only three of them got an A or A- from GOA. The NRA obviously did not count the four votes on overturning the ban on guns in national parks, one of which also involved an effort to greatly expand national parkland, thus eliminating hunting and the use of self-defense firearms on those lands.”
We can never be sure, of course, because the NRA won’t tell us, and because NRA ratings and endorsements are subjective. But as the NRA tells it, Shuler’s endorsement had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Shuler exempted the NRA – and among gun groups only the NRA – from the free speech restrictions of the DISCLOSE Act.