L. Neil Smith's

Number 3, December 1995

Deja Vu from the ACLU

by John Taylor

Exclusive to The Libertarian Enterprise

         Excerpts from "Director's Notes", by Stuart Comstock Gay, as published in the Fall, 1995 edition of Free State Liberties, the newsletter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland:

         Politicians in our democratic system are driven by majorities. And in order to maintain their popularity, politicians frequently feel compelled to "do something -- anything," even if it's the wrong thing. ...
         It is due in part to the political urge to "do something -- anything" that there is an ACLU. Crime "control" is one of the most obvious examples of the "do something -- anything" maxim.
         In the last year, a handful of cities in the Free State have either passed or considered curfew laws as a means to correct a variety of problems. Curfew laws have an obvious impact on freedom of assembly and association rights. But you don't have to look at civil liberties issues to wonder if they aren't just more of the "do something -- anything" movement. The laws have been passed on the grounds that they are needed to prevent juvenile crime and/or to protect children from the violence of the streets. Yet kids who are committing the worst crimes won't pay any attention to the law...
         When [a town curfew] bill's constitutionality was questioned ... [the mayor] reportedly replied, "If they (the ACLU) like it, it almost certainly means we won't be interested." ...
         Like it or not, some ideas are simply bad and unconstitutional. It is ACLU's role to point that out. ACLU will always be needed to stand in the face of majority and point out that expedient answers may be no answers at all.

         And a letter in response:

Dear Mr. Gay:
         Welcome to my world! For nearly 30 years now, constitutional activists who support the whole Bill of Rights have been making the same arguments that you present 'afresh' above. That we have gone largely unnoticed (at best, and castigated at worst) by the powers-that-be in the ACLU is a source of continuing wonder to me.
         I joined the ACLU (as a Life Member) over thirty years ago. I was naive enough then to believe that the ACLU was the pre-eminent advocate for individual rights in the nation. I have staunchly defended the ACLU in the intervening years when we fought on the side of individual liberty, no matter how unpopular or unsavory the person or organization being defended.
         In recent years, however, it has become increasingly more difficult for me to 'represent' the ACLU's position, given the organization's propensity to ignore and even refute portions of the Constitution and Bill of Rights -- not so much, it appears, out of principle as out of political expediency.
         It took more than 40 years of difficult labors for the ACLU to reach the point where it was recognized by 'authority' as an organization which could -- and would -- repeatedly and aggressively defend the First Amendment rights of America's citizens. It remains to be seen if the ACLU can revive its now-somewhat-tarnished reputation by taking the next step and aggressively defending the whole Bill of Rights. I pray it will happen, and that it will not take an additional forty years.
         Second Amendment advocates have been making all of your arguments cited above, and then some, for over 60 years now -- most notably for the last 25, since the advent of the National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action. Too many of us forget that the NRA's original objectives did not include political activism to the extent that we see from it today. The fact is, the ACLU left the field to the NRA in the area of defense of the Second Amendment. Yes, the ACLU is, in essence, responsible for the creation of the ILA. If the ACLU had aggressively opposed unconstitutional legislation such as the Gun Control Act of 1968, the NRA might today only be counted among the organizations supporting the ACLU's efforts in that arena. Instead, the NRA formed the ILA; and it became necessary to form such organizations as Gun Owners of America, Citizens' Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, and Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership (to name but a few) to fill the void in the ranks of the forces defending America from big government infringement on individual liberties.
         There is some good news, however. In the past few years, the ACLU has teamed up more than once with the NRA/ILA and other individual rights advocates to send a message to the federal government that their intrusive activities must cease. Such small breakthroughs, though, are largely offset by the fact that the ACLU, especially at a national level, is still dwelling in a glass house when it comes to the Second Amendment. Repeated articles and position papers from the ACLU reflect animosity toward freedom in supporting the 'reasonable' restrictions that statists seek to place on our right to defense of self and others. Until such time as that situation is rectified, the ACLU will continue to miss out on the chance to tap a large, enthusiastic, energetic base of support in the form of (conservatively estimated) 65 million firearms owners in the United States.
         I urge you to keep your well-considered arguments in defense of the First Amendment firmly in mind the next time the Second Amendment comes 'under fire' in your presence. You may be surprised to find yourself on familiar ground, refutations already in hand. When we count you and the ACLU as being firmly in the camp of supporting us, you'll find us far more likely to consider being supportive of you.
         Not to mention the added value inherent in defending a consistent ethical philosophy.


         John C. Taylor
         Maryland Coordinator
         Libertarian Second Amendment Caucus

John Taylor is a card-carrying Life Member of both the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Rifle Association. While he personally fails to see anything wrong or contradictory with that, his family, on occasion, wants the money back.

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