Civil Liberties

The ACLU Defends Gun Rights

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Since I live in Texas, I'm embarrassed to say I was not aware of this story until I saw it in yesterday's New York Times: The ACLU of Texas has joined with the Texas State Rifle Association and the NRA to fight local prosecutors who are defying a law aimed at protecting law-abiding Texans from being arrested for having guns in their cars. State law has long exempted people who have guns in their vehicles while "traveling" from being prosecuted for unlawful carrying of a weapon (UCW), an offense punishable by up to a year in jail. But the definition of "traveling" was fuzzy, leaving gun owners vulnerable to arrest, prosecution, and conviction, depending on how police officers, prosecutors, and judges decided to read and apply the law. In 2005, at the urging of the gun groups and the state ACLU, the legislature passed a law that creates a presumption of "traveling" for any motorist in a private vehicle who is not legally disqualified from owning a gun, does not belong to "a criminal street gang," is not engaged in criminal activity (beyond minor traffic infractions), and is not carrying the gun in plain view. But in a report issued last February, the ACLU of Texas, the Texas State Rifle Association, and the Texas Criminal Justice Association showed that many district and county attorneys are instructing police to carry on as before, arresting motorists for UCW at their discretion and letting prosecutors and judges sort things out.

Given its mission, the ACLU certainly should be fighting such lawless harassment of innocent people. But it is notable that the gun angle did not prevent the Texas chapter from getting involved, despite the national organization's position that the Second Amendment does not protect an individual right to keep and bear arms. Since it does not believe the Second Amendment imposes any limits on the government's authority to restrict possession of guns, the national ACLU has never challenged gun control laws. By contrast, the ACLU of Texas supported statutory changes aimed at allowing law-abiding Texans to keep guns in their cars, whether for self-defense or while on the way to and from the shooting range, and now it is monitoring enforcement of the changes and recommending further revisions to ensure that the legislature's intent is implemented.

Scott Henson, who testified in favor of the "traveling" law on behalf of the ACLU, has background over at Grits for Breakfast here, here, and here