Supreme Court’s NRA decision a win for all Americans | GUEST COMMENTARY

Gun Rights

There’s a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin that I think of often. It goes “Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.”

It’s only recently that the First Amendment has taken up much space in my brain. Like most Americans, I took our freedom of speech for granted. But in the past couple of years, I’ve become increasingly aware of the gift that our founders gave us when they enshrined our right to freely speak our mind and of the precarious fragility of that right.

I feel lately, as I’m sure many others do, that our country is at risk of falling apart. It feels like conservatives like me are having our speech stifled and suppressed on social media, in traditional media and in the workplace.

So, it’s easy to feel down but I’m an optimistic guy, and I like to look for the bright spots. Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered me reason to feel assured that all is not lost. The unanimous decision in favor of free speech in the case of NRA v. Vullo filled me with optimism.

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Let me explain. Yes, I’m a card-carrying NRA Life Member and yes, I proudly support the Second Amendment but that’s not why this case fills me with hope. This case was not about gun rights or about the Second Amendment at all. This was a First Amendment case and it is history-making.

In brief, the situation is that in 2018 the former New York State Department of Financial Services Superintendent Maria T. Vullo, at the urging of then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo, sent written memos to financial and insurance institutions urging them to sever ties with the NRA, which some did. They did so apparently concerned about regulatory action from the state if they did not take action.

Obviously, Vullo and Cuomo disagreed with the advocacy work undertaken by the NRA. To attempt to put the NRA out of business with regulatory action of this type should be terrifying to every American who truly believes in the principle of free speech. The American Civil Liberties Union, no friend to conservative ideals, argued the case at the Supreme Court on behalf of the NRA. That should tell you how egregious Vullo’s actions were and how momentous this Supreme Court decision is.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in her opinion that Vullo was “free to criticize the NRA” but “could not wield her power, however, to threaten enforcement actions against DFS-regulated entities in order to punish or suppress the NRA’s gun-promotion advocacy.”

Imagine if the situation were reversed. Imagine if the anti-Second Amendment organization Everytown For Gun Safety were incorporated in, say, Tennessee. (Although the NRA is headquartered in Virginia, its incorporation is in New York). And imagine if the governor of Tennessee decided he didn’t like their attitude and asked his financial regulator to pressure banks and insurance companies into cutting ties with them. I don’t like the message of Everytown either, but I want the employees of Everytown to be able to continue spreading their incorrect message because that is America and free speech is for everyone.

This Supreme Court decision isn’t the end of the story for the NRA and their legal battle. The decision only forces the lower courts which had previously dismissed the case to hear it and make a ruling but it is a big win and sends a clear message that free speech is here to stay.

It’s a win for every American who thinks that advocacy groups have the right to speak. Every American who thinks that robust debate, spirited disagreement and the freedom to say something someone else might recoil at is what fundamentally sets us apart from every other country on Earth. It’s a sacred right and I am delighted that all nine Supreme Court justices, at least, still value it.

— Nic Kipke

The writer, a Republican, represents District 31 (Anne Arundel County) in the Maryland House of Delegates.

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