Saturday, January 21, 2006

Volokh on guns and the ACLU in Texas

Reacting to this Grits post, Eugene Volokh this week continued his defense of the ACLU against conservative hyperbole, praising ACLU of Texas' work on gun rights:
I'm pleased that the ACLU of Texas is taking a pro-right-to-self-defense view; Scott Henson, director of the police accountability project for the ACLU of Texas, testified this Spring -- on the ACLU of Texas's behalf -- in favor of a proposal to let law-abiding citizens carry guns in their cars. The law ultimately passed, and Mr. Henson is now trying to check how well it's being implemented, by filing state open records act requests for any instructions that government agencies are giving police officers about the new law. Sounds like good work to me.
I appreciate that. I also appreciate the sensible position that Volokh wants to avoid unfair criticisms of the ACLU precisely BECAUSE he's sometimes substantively critical of them, so he doesn't want substance drowned out by the flow of vitriolic garbage spewed the group's way. Check out Volokh's other writing on the subject linked at the bottom of the post. (Texan blogger Tbagg discussed the post here.)

The comments were another matter. Boy, do a lot of people out there hate the ACLU - apparently even when it's defending gun rights! There were ACLU
defenders, too, and some substance presented, but quite a bit of silliness, too. Actually I found the comments a little surreal, in a way. Most of the talk ignored ACLU's pro-gun rights position Volokh highlighted in Texas, instead attacking ACLU for never supporting gun rights. Many were lambasting some idea in their head of what a liberal is, barely bothering to link their critiques to the facts discussed in the post. An odd disconnect. Toward the end of the discussion I responded, and thought I'd also post my thoughts here:
The very first commenter was correct -- in practice ACLU's various affiliates take differing 2nd amendment stances, and several state affiliates have differed from the policy on the national website. In Texas for the last several years ACLU has supported the rights of legal gun owners more, perhaps, than some other affiliates.

That said, it'd be easy for an ACLUer to support the Texas law no matter what your view of the Second Amendment as a collective or individual right. Guns are legal property. Lots of people own guns in Texas, including me. To say your gun is legal in your home and legal at the gun range but not legal in your car between your home and the gun range defies common sense and criminalizes average behavior by law abiding people more than it restricts criminals. That's what the bill was designed to address.

This actually wasn't the only legislation last year in Texas where ACLU worked with the gun folks. They also helped us pass a bill (that was vetoed, sadly) that would have required police to obtain written or recorded consent to search private vehicles at traffic stops. That's because basically the only things police are searching for are drugs and guns.

It seems kind of silly to think of ACLU in black and white terms as good or evil, etc. -- it's a sprawling, vast organization that nearly everyone of any political stripe agrees with on some things and disagrees on others. I'm glad the NRA is there, too. There's room enough in this big ol' world for both of them.

RELATED: Grits gun toon.


Anonymous said...

To say that the ACLU helped pass laws that benefit freedom and gun rights in Texas during the last session...or sessions before that is to VASTLY overstate their non-involvement. Bringing rationality to Texas gun laws is a job which should be credited mostly to the Texas State Rifle Association, their members, and lobbiests in Austin. We have been involved in protecting freedom and gun rights in Texas for decades and helped pass meaningful and significant legislation this last year, following up on efforts the previous session, and sessions before that. I don't remember the ACLU testifing, bringing witnesses, working with legislators, spending money OR lobbying except in opposition to the rights and freedoms of Texans to own and use firearms.
Don't get me wrong, everyone is welcome to join the TSRA and their legislative efforts..even converts from the other side! But the ACLU would be coming late and not bringing much, if and when we see them in the gun rights fight on the side of the angels and the TSRA.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

For the past two sessions, ACLU has backed TSRA bills at the Texas Lege and I don't remember being on the opposite side of any bill with TSRA since I began with ACLU in 2000. I didn't mean not to credit TSRA, and if you check the links, in the posts about the bill when it was in the Legislature they were always fully credited. I don't want to overstate ACLU's role. That said, here's the witness list, and here's the video feed. The hearing on HB 823 starts at 9:55 -- see for yourself how the debate went on the bill, and decide ACLU's significance.

Anonymous said...

Hey Grits, I need to check your site more often. I didn't realize you had made that OR request. It will be interesting to see what comes back, particularly from the Houston DA.

Perhaps in a future post you might provide a list of the agencies you queried as well as the text of the letter you sent.