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The Gun Lobby's Two Faces on Judge Sotomayor

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With confirmation hearings for Judge Sonia Sotomayor scheduled for next month, it is worth noting the gun lobby's disingenuous -- and surprisingly muted -- reaction to her nomination so far.

On the eve of those hearings, the National Rifle Association still has not decided whether to score Senate votes on her confirmation.

Up to now, the NRA has instead taken a more timid official line against Judge Sotomayor, while apparently outsourcing a much harsher line of attack to members of its Board of Directors who speak on behalf of other organizations which have comparatively little to do with guns.

For example, one official NRA spokesperson said, "The rulings [Judge Sotomayor] has made are troubling, and concern us," while their top lobbyist has said,

We still have serious concerns about positions she's taken in the past, and the answer as far as following precedent [in the Supreme Court's Heller decision] is somewhat meaningless, because it does not answer the question of where she stands on the fundamental right of law-abiding Americans to keep and bear arms.

These statements are remarkably weak, especially compared to the vitriol coming from prominent members of the NRA Board of Directors.

Take Ken Blackwell, for example, who recently wrote that President Obama's nomination of Judge Sotomayor "declares war on America's gun owners."

Pulling no punches, Blackwell said "President Obama has nominated a radically anti-Second Amendment judge to be our newest Supreme Court justice" and warned that red state Democratic "senators will jeopardize their seats if they vote to support an anti-gun radical for the Supreme Court."

While Blackwell -- a former officer holder in Ohio and unsuccessful candidate for Chair of the Republican National Committee -- now identifies himself as a Senior Fellow of the American Civil Rights Union or the Family Research Council in this context, he neglects to disclose that he is also an elected NRA Board member.

Meanwhile, a letter submitted by an organization calling itself the "Third Branch Conference," calls on Republican Senators to filibuster Judge Sotomayor's nomination. Among the co-signers of this letter are David Keene -- the NRA's newly-elected first vice president and president of the American Conservative Union -- and Grover Norquist, longtime NRA Board member and president of Americans for Tax Reform. Neither notes their high-level NRA connection in this context.

NRA officials seem to say one thing while their surrogates say another, indicating that either NRA leaders are afraid of showing their weakness on this vote, or they have lost control of their message -- or both.

So far, the only open and direct anti-"gun control" opposition to Judge Sotomayor's nomination seems to be from Gun Owners of America, who call her "a politically correct lover of centralized government power" and a judge who "has racked up an anti-Second Amendment record and has displayed contempt for the rule of law under the Constitution."

Echoing Ken Blackwell, GOA Executive Director Larry Pratt said, "A vote for her says you don't really support the Second Amendment."

Make no mistake, the gun lobby's histrionics about Judge Sotomayor ignore her record as a distinguished jurist who practices judicial restraint and who interprets the Second Amendment narrowly -- unlike the activist majority in the Heller case.

As a former prosecutor who saw the effects of easy access to guns up close, her experience promises to bring a real-world understanding of the effects of gun violence to the Supreme Court.

That said, given the National Rifle Association's alleged power to rule Congress "with an iron fist," I am pleasantly surprised that their official position is so weak and apparently divided on a nominee who many gun advocates -- including NRA Board members -- are certain is a grave threat to Second Amendment rights.

We'll see during Judge Sotomayor's confirmation hearings how much stock, if any, NRA officials take in their legendary influence over Congress -- this time, whether they have the spine to score Senators on a vote that really matters.

(Note to readers: This entry, along with past entries, has been co-posted on bradycampaign.org/blog and the Huffington Post.)