The Volokh Conspiracy

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Hate Speech

A response to the latest vilification campaign against the NRA

David Kopel at the National Firearms Law Seminar


This morning I spoke at the NRA Foundation's annual National Firearms Law Seminar, a continuing legal education program. Below are my introductory remarks. In a future column, I will describe how mass murders at schools could be halted immediately, through multistate programs like FASTER—Faculty/Administrator Safety Training and Emergency Response. On Tuesday, the executive director of FASTER Colorado explained the program on the Jesse Watters show.

Good morning.

I'm here to tell you about how the legal protection of the right to keep and bear arms has changed in the 14 years since the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in District of Columbia v. Heller. And I will, with 71 slides that I guarantee will be completed by 10:10 a.m., on time.

But first, I'm going to address something that every one of us is thinking about: the heinous murders at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

Some of the speakers you will hear later today recently received demands from the media—specifically, from Reuters and from Law360—asking if they would cancel their presentations here today because of the Uvalde murderer.

As if the acts of a criminal made it wrongful for lawyers to become better-educated in the law.

I've gotten to know some of the victims and families of victims of mass shootings, including from the Luby's Cafeteria murders in Killeen, Texas (Suzanna Gratia Hupp); from Columbine High School (Evan Todd); from Parkland, Florida (Pollack family).

These people are among the many good and decent Americans who don't believe that the proper response to the crimes of evildoers is to punish the innocent.

Today, hate groups are demonstrating against us for even daring to gather. They have declared that they will shut us down. Certainly, they have the right to demonstrate as they wish, and they have no right to suppress the free speech and free association of other people.

The haters declare guilt by perversely imagined association. They operate by the same rule as the medieval malefactors who thought they were entitled to kill Jews because, supposedly, Jews from 1,500 years before had been responsible for the killing of Jesus.

This was the same evil thinking as people who used the acts of foreign terrorists on September 11 as a pretext to attack and persecute patriotic and law-abiding American Muslims.

The same malice that used an illegal alien's murder of Katie Steinle in San Francisco as a pretext to deny due process rights to peaceful persons who were accused of noncompliance with immigration laws.

Blood libels are used sooner or later against almost every civil rights group. For many decades, our Association has been libeled precisely because we are the oldest and most effective civil rights association in America.

Among other things, the NRA was virtually the only sporting organization in the early 20th century not to draw a color line against participants. Later, NRA-affiliated gun clubs became the arsenal of the Civil Rights Movement.

Ironically, none of the bigots whose lips drip with blood libel can point to a crime committed by an NRA member. Since 1871 the millions of members of our Association have among the most safe and responsibly-behaved people in human history.

Twenty-three years ago, and fewer than two weeks after the Columbine High School murders, the NRA canceled all its public events for its Annual Meeting in Denver. The hate groups construed this as an admission of guilt.

At the legally-required Members Meeting, we members entered that Hilton Hotel despite a bomb threat. Every cowardly politician who had been scheduled had canceled. But the surprise speaker at that meeting was Colorado Secretary of State Vikki Buckley, the first Black person elected to that office. She described her personal victimization by criminal gunshot wound, affirmed the importance of all constitutional rights, including the Second Amendment, and urged NRA members to join with her in fighting against what she called "New Age hate crimes"—that is, the irresponsible failure to teach children self-control and right from wrong.

So as we begin our day of studying the Law, we say to each and every hate group, we reject your sick and twisted lies against us, for exactly the same reason we reject the blood libels against every race, every religion, and every other group: We reject Satan and all his works.