The Capital Research Center (CRC) has previously noted the ways in which some left-leaning groups weigh in on public policy issues that appear rather disconnected from their professed missions. Hot-button topics like abortion and gun control increasingly attract the attention of organizations that would rarely if ever be associated with these debates in the mind of the general public. Amicus briefs filed in a case currently before the Supreme Court—New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen—serve as another example of this phenomenon.
A Challenge to Gun Control in New York
The case concerns the Second Amendment’s application to state-issued permits for carrying concealed weapons. New York law broadly limits the issuance of such permits to only applicants who demonstrate “proper cause,” which for self-defense generally means showing a “special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general community.” State law also allows officials to issue “restricted licenses” that limit the carrying of a firearm to specific locations or activities, such as while hunting or traveling to and from work.
New York is thus considered a restrictive “may issue” state for concealed carry licenses. According to the gun control advocacy group Giffords, it is one of only eight states (plus the District of Columbia) that give the issuing authority “wide discretion” to deny an application. It is also one of only seven states that require the applicant to “demonstrate good cause or a justifiable need to carry a concealed weapon.” At issue in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association is “Whether the State’s denial of petitioners’ applications for concealed-carry licenses for self-defense violated the Second Amendment.”
Argument in the case is slated for early November, and the Court is expected to issue its decision sometime in 2022—a decision that could have significant implications for states with laws similar to New York’s.
One notable development at this stage has been the filing of a slew of amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) briefs. These are submitted by individuals or organizations (collectively known as “amici”) who are not themselves party to the case but nevertheless claim an interest in its outcome. Amicus briefs often present different arguments, perspectives, or information for the justices to consider and can influence how they ultimately rule.
Amicus briefs are categorized based on which party or ruling they support, and numerous briefs were filed in support of both sides in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association. Many groups that filed in support of New York’s law were gun control advocacy nonprofits like Giffords, Everytown for Gun Safety, the March for Our Lives Action Fund, and Brady. This makes sense: These organizations exist specifically to promote gun control and portray themselves accordingly. There is very little risk of confusion among their prospective donors, supporters, or the general public about their positions on firearms policy.
However, other groups that filed in support of New York’s law are more readily associated with completely different missions. Ordinary Americans—and even some of those groups’ members or supporters—would likely never expect these organizations to take strong institutional positions on the specifics of state gun laws and the Second Amendment, to the point of filing briefs on the matter with the Supreme Court.
Some amicus briefs were filed by groups typically associated with promoting civil rights. The NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund and the National Urban League filed in support of New York’s law. So did the League of Women Voters, which argued that the “unchecked carrying of concealed firearms imperils the electoral process at multiple stages.” LGBT rights activist groups such as Lambda Legal, the National LGBTQ Task Force, and Equality California also signed on to an amicus brief.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and its New York state affiliate argued that striking down New York’s carry restrictions “would pose substantial risks to the fulsome exercise of rights and liberties essential to self-government.” Indeed, despite characterizing itself as “the nation’s premier defender of the rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution,” the ACLU’s hostility to the rights enshrined in the Second Amendment to our Constitution is longstanding, comprehensive, and conspicuous.
Major professional associations also got involved. The American Bar Association (ABA) has a policy of supporting restrictive licensing regimes like New York’s and filed its brief accordingly. Although the ABA’s motto is “Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice,” one need only go back to 2008 to find it arguing that the Second Amendment did not confer an individual right to Americans at all. The American Medical Association, the Medical Society of the State of New York, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry filed a brief characterizing the case as seeking “to transform the Second Amendment into a mutual destruction pact” and arguing that striking down New York’s law would open “the floodgates . . . to still more injury and death.”
Amalgamated Bank—a union-aligned bank that is the largest manager of union pension funds in the United States—also filed a brief supporting New York’s law, joined by the Minneapolis Regional Chamber and the real estate development and management company Meredith Management. Like much of Big Labor generally, Amalgamated’s operations are thoroughly politicized, and it takes left-of-center institutional positions on a full spectrum of American sociopolitical issues. It has engaged in shareholder activism against American firearms manufacturers and refuses to lend to or invest in firearms or ammunition businesses.
Unfortunate and Unnecessary
Although amici explain their particular interest in the case—and accordingly in firearms legislation and the Second Amendment generally—as part of their briefs, that interest can appear rather attenuated (at best) to the casual observer. This is important because Americans can and do hold varying positions on public policy issues, and independent organizations (particularly nonprofits) are a vital vehicle through which individuals can selectively advance their views, values, or interests independent of partisan politics.
When groups whose professed missions would rarely if ever be directly associated with gun control activism take institutional positions on the constitutionality of specific state gun laws, they place their members, donors, supporters, and other constituents in the unfortunate and unnecessary position of acquiescing (perhaps unwittingly) to supporting a cause that they may never have intended to. This is a regrettable, but far from isolated, state of affairs in the world of nonprofit activism.