NYTimes Tries to Take Down a 2A Expert

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File

The New York Times has a new target in their attack on our Second Amendment rights. It's not the NRA, a sitting Supreme Court justice, or a gun influencer like Colion Noir. In fact, I'd bet that even most of the highly engaged 2A activists in the country wouldn't recognize the name of the subject of the hit piece from the Times. Dr. William English is an economics professor at Georgetown University, but he's also Public Enemy #1 for the gun control lobby, at least in terms of 2A lawsuits. 

English is the author of the National Firearms Survey, which has been favorably cited by the Supreme Court and Second Amendment groups in numerous court cases over the past few years, including Bruen. English supposedly came up with the idea for the survey as part of a plan for a book, but the New York Times suggests that English is hiding something nefarious about his past.  

But his interest in firearms goes beyond writing a book, which he has never published. Although it is not mentioned in his research papers or professional credentials, court records reveal that Dr. English served as an expert for pro-gun litigants in at least four lawsuits from 2018 to 2020, often charging $250 to $350 an hour. 

In a 2019 deposition in one case, Dr. English expressed a personal interest in guns that included sports shooting, hunting and a lifetime N.R.A. membership. He also said he had once brandished a gun to scare off an intruder at his home.

He said in the deposition that, without tenure, he was reluctant to go public with firearms research because it was a subject “some people find controversial.” Asked whether Georgetown administrators had questioned him about it, he said, “They don’t know about my interests in that.” 

In another case, plaintiff’s lawyers asked him to survey Vermont gun owners. The lawsuit, backed by the N.R.A., challenged the state’s ban on high-capacity magazines. The plaintiffs sought to show that such magazines are popular, meeting the Supreme Court’s test of whether a firearm is in “common use” for lawful purposes, making it harder to restrict.

Dr. English, who testified that the plaintiffs’ lawyers paid him about $20,000 for his work, wrote a report in 2019 saying that an online questionnaire he devised showed that high-capacity magazines were popular among gun owners and useful for self-defense. The lawsuit was ultimately unsuccessful. But his survey would have far-reaching consequences.

Reporters Mike McIntire and Jodi Kantor know damn well that expert witnesses are nothing unusual in court cases. Heck, gun control advocate Ryan Busse made a pretty good chunk of change over the past few years serving as a paid witness in defense of gun control laws in states like California and Washington before launching his bid to become the Democratic candidate for governor in Montana. 

Even if English has become a favorite of 2A groups like the Firearms Policy Coalition, the gun control lobby has its own stable of experts that appear in almost every one of their filings. Robert Spitzer and Saul Cornell were the first to come to my mind, but attorney Kostas Moros rattled off a few more names who are ubiquitously cited in pro-gun control briefs.  

The Reload's Stephen Gutowski noted another omission in the New York Times report; this one dealing with an "expert" who routinely finds fault with any pro-Second Amendment decision that comes out of the judiciary. 

Gutowski points out that Joseph Blocher is the co-director of the Duke Center for Firearms Law, which gets a large chunk of its funding from a three-year grant from the Harold Simmons Foundation. That same foundation has given additional cash to the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University (a hotbed of anti-gun academics), along with gun control groups like the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and Sandy Hook Promise.

If English's payments as an expert witness is cause for the Times to question his qualifications, what about Blocher, Busse, and all of the academics who've been paid to provide support for gun control laws? Gutowski says it doesn't make sense for the Times to focus only on English's status as a paid witness, which would be true if the Times was engaged in real journalism here. Instead, the paper is engaged in a hatchet job to hack away at English's credibility while promoting him as one of the primary reasons why the Supreme Court struck down New York's "may issue" carry laws in Bruen

There is no suggestion that Dr. English’s work alone tipped the balance in the justices’ deliberations, which included input from many experts and legal scholars. But his credentials and findings carried weight. At least five briefs cited his research.

The draft opinion that Justice Clarence Thomas circulated to his colleagues in February 2022 was sweeping, with the potential to outlaw many common gun-control measures. The majority was slow to sign on. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Kavanaugh requested modifications, according to people familiar with the deliberations, who requested anonymity because that process is intended to be secret. 

By May, Justice Thomas still had not mustered the five votes needed. Mass shootings that month in Buffalo and Uvalde galvanized public attention anew on gun violence. It was not until June that his opinion prevailed, when Justice Kavanaugh signed on but wrote his own more moderate concurrence, joined by the chief.

Justice Alito’s concurrence went the other way: dismissing the significance of the Buffalo shooting, noting the New York law being overturned did not prevent it, and faulting Justice Breyer for focusing only on research that concluded more guns in public contributed to more crime. There are other studies, Justice Alito said, that suggest the opposite.

“See also Brief for William English et al,” he wrote.

In that same footnote Alito also cited the RAND Corporation, Arizona's amicus brief, and another amicus brief submitted by law enforcement groups. The Times report only mentions English, leaving its readers completely oblivious to the fact that there were multiple sources indicating more guns doesn't lead to more crime. 

Frankly, that shouldn't be a controversial statement no matter who makes it. The evidence is all around us. We have more tens of millions more guns than we did just four years ago, yet according to the FBI and local police statistics, violent crime is plunging across most of the country. If more guns equated to more crime, homicides would still be trending in the wrong direction. Instead, last year murders declined by about 13% nationally, and so far appear to be trending down even further this year. 

The Times report is a classic case of shooting the messenger. They don't like what English has to say, so they have to paint him as a bought-and-paid-for academic who sold his soul (or at least his credentials) to the gun lobby. The goal is twofold; first, to give judges an excuse to ignore his research going forward, and second, to warn other academics of the fate that awaits them if they too decide to publish anything that could benefit the plaintiffs challenging gun control laws in the future.

Meanwhile, the Ryan Busse's of the world don't have to worry about any sort of critical reporting from Times reporters. You can be paid to testify in support of an "assault weapons" ban before declaring you're not in favor of a ban while running for office, and the Times will shrug its collective shoulders. Academics and gun "experts" only have to worry about their careers if they find fault with any gun laws on the books. So long as they toe the Democratic party line, they're safe from any legitimate media scrutiny... as well as hit pieces like the one the Times has performed on English.