NRA, the Supreme Court, and Free Speech

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

The NRA has long been the boogieman for gun control advocates at all levels, from the suburban soccer mom who thinks she understands the issue to the pandering politicians that seek to make those ill-informed soccer moms happy, they all blame the NRA for, well, everything.


Yet the NRA represents millions of Americans and is an entity in which gives them a voice in the halls of power.

In the wake of the Parkland, shooting, things started to go sideways for them. Some of that may have been self-inflicted but not all of it was. Especially that which splashed onto the gun industry as a whole–the term “NRA” has long been used interchangeably with “gun industry” for some reason.

And the NRA is going to the Supreme Court over it.

The Supreme Court is to decide a dispute between the National Rifle Association and New York State amid growing tension between the NRA and Democrat-controlled states across the country.

In National Rifle Association v. Vullo, the Supreme Court will consider whether New York had the right to urge companies to cut their NRA ties in the aftermath of the Parkland school shooting in Florida that killed 17 students and staff.

Maria Vullo, then-head of New York’s Department of Financial Services, urged banks and insurance companies that did business in New York to consider the “reputational risks” from doing business with gun-rights groups like the NRA.

The NRA went to federal court, where it argued, among other things, that Vullo had violated its rights to freedom of speech by threatening the banks and insurance companies that had worked with the NRA so that they would end their relationships with the group.


What Vullo did was disgusting. Yet if she were the only one involved in this, it would be bad enough. You could chalk it up to an ill-advised comment and make the case that the NRA’s ability to speak freely hadn’t been inhibited at all.

The problem was, it wasn’t just Vullo.

In a filing in the case, Vullo’s lawyers say that, two months after the Parkland shooting, then-New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, issued a press release noting that he had directed New York State’s Department of Financial Services “to urge insurance companies, New York State chartered banks, and other financial services companies licensed in New York to review any relationships they may have with the National Rifle Association and other similar organizations.”

The NRA said that this was part of the New York governor’s attempt to silence it by destroying its financial relationships.

And, in the ensuing months, numerous companies in the firearm industry started seeing themselves cut off from the financial services they’d used lawfully for years. It wasn’t just the NRA that got hammered, but the gun industry as a whole.

The comments by Vullo and Cuomo were problematic to an extreme. With those words came an implied warning; a warning that if they failed to do as directed, they might face repercussions in New York state. Considering how many financial institutions are headquartered there–and even those not based in the state tend to have a presence there–it’s kind of hard not to see it as a threat.


It was an attempt to undermine both the NRA and gun companies in such a way to make it difficult for them to stand up to anti-gun efforts and to provide lawful products to law-abiding consumers.

The Supreme Court agreed on November 3 to hear the case, based on the question of whether New York State had immunity to say what it wants about the NRA and its financial relationships, without fear of an NRA lawsuit.

It’s just the latest spat in the standoff between the NRA and Democrat states that want to limit the gun lobby.

NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre told Newsweek that the Vullo case is “a historic step forward for free speech, the NRA’s millions of members, and for all who believe in freedom.”

Wayne is right. However, I won’t be surprised to see the Supreme Court decide otherwise.

The issue here is that the threat wasn’t explicit. Yes, you and I read those comments and we can see it plain as day. Anti-gunners can make the opposite claim and who knows where those in the middle will see it.

Yet my hope is that the Supreme Court will recognize that when the government makes remarks like that, it has all the hallmarks of, “It’s a nice place you’ve got here. It would be a shame if something happened to it.”


When the state of New York began telling financial institutions to reevaluate their relationships with the NRA and others in the gun community, it carried all the makings of a threat, and that should not be permitted.

Just as anti-SLAP lawsuits are intended to prevent the powerful from silencing others, this kind of veiled threat shouldn’t be permitted either.

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