The swearing in of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court caps a yearlong battle to save the court and put America back on the road to freedom.
This feature appears in the June ‘17 issue of NRA America’s 1st Freedom, one of the official journals of the National Rifle Association.
April 10 marked a new era for freedom in the Unites States.
On that day, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath of office to Neil Gorsuch, making him the ninth member of the nation’s high court. And it largely came about because of people like you—National Rifle Association members willing to put in the time and effort to ensure a U.S. Supreme Court that recognizes the Second Amendment as protecting an individual right to keep and bear arms.
“We are here to celebrate history,” President Donald Trump said at the White House ceremony later in the day. “I have no doubt you will rise to the occasion, and the decisions you make will protect our Constitution today and for many generations of Americans to come.”
A Long, Hard Fight
April’s celebration of victory for freedom’s future didn’t come quickly, and it didn’t come easily.
When the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away unexpectedly in February 2016, leaving the court evenly split on whether the Constitution protects an individual right to keep and bear arms, freedom became more imperiled than it had been in decades. Then, on March 16, President Barack Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to fill the seat left open by Scalia’s death, raising a major red flag for the NRA and its 5 million members.
That concern was well-founded, as Garland had a record of voting against the Second Amendment while on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. As NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said at the time, “Judge Garland’s actions on the federal bench cut to the very heart of the Second Amendment as an individual right.”
With the prospect of Garland on the high court looming, tilting the court 5-4 against the Second Amendment, America’s law-abiding gun owners also had to deal with the prospect of an impending Hillary Clinton presidency. If elected, would she be able to appoint one, two or even three justices to the Supreme Court over the next four or eight years? Would the Second Amendment be relegated to the dustbin of history?
Enter Donald Trump—and the NRA.
On May 20, 2016, before a packed crowd at the NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits in Louisville, Ky., NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris W. Cox announced that the Association would be the first major organization to endorse Trump for the presidency
“We have to unite, and we have to unite right now,” Cox told those in attendance. “So on behalf of the thousands of patriots in this room and the 5 million NRA members across this country and the tens of millions who support us, I’m officially announcing the NRA’s endorsement of Donald Trump for president.
The Battle Rages
If anyone thought the 2016 presidential election would be anything but an all-out dogfight, they would have been wrong. With a vast array of far-Left billionaires and other huge donors backing Hillary Clinton—along with nearly every major media outlet in the country—many Americans openly scoffed at the thought that Trump might find himself living in the White House this January. To them, a Hillary Clinton administration was all but assured.
If anyone thought the 2016 presidential election would be anything but an all-out dogfight, they would have been wrong.But there were those who believed that Trump not only had a chance, but that it was absolutely necessary for the future of the country that he arise victorious in November. Among that group were the NRA leadership and you—its 5 million members.
Social media postings constantly badgered Trump supporters, portraying them as flyover dummies, uneducated rubes, country hicks and worse. At the same time, those very Trump haters completely excused Clinton’s failed political career and the litany of lies she has told throughout her years in the public limelight.
As for Clinton herself, she doubled down on her supporters’ efforts to demean and derail Trump supporters, including gun owners. At a campaign fundraiser last September, Clinton said: “To just be grossly generalistic, you can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it.”
Clinton then added that some of these people were “irredeemable” and “not America.”
Undaunted, NRA members, rather than abandon Trump, wore the “deplorables” label as a badge of honor. You continued to stay the course—never wavering, despite the constant attacks—and worked hard all the way through Election Day.
A Bullet Dodged
In truth, Trump’s unexpected—even surprising to most “mainstream” media outlets—victory was a true turning point in the battle for freedom’s future. And there’s little doubt about the role you played in that victory.
In fact, a weeklystandard.com article detailing NRA’s importance in the 2016 presidential election concluded: “Absent the NRA, I think we know how Trump would have fared. He’d have lost.”
In looking back, it’s important to see exactly where we could have been if NRA members hadn’t put forth such a Herculean effort to fund the campaign, tell others about the importance of the election and then work to get out the vote.
In fact, it’s not hard to imagine what the current state of freedom would have been had the election gone the other way. Just look at some of the things Hillary Clinton said and did on the campaign trail while repeatedly and completely embracing more restrictive gun control laws.
At a private campaign event in New York, Clinton told those in attendance concerning the 1996 Australian gun ban: “Certainly the Australian example is worth looking at.” Most America’s 1st Freedom readers likely recall that what actually happened in Australia is that the government forcefully confiscated nearly 650,000 firearms of all kinds and destroyed them. The government threatened harsh prison sentences for those not turning in their guns, and it specifically stated that owning a gun for self-defense was not a valid reason to keep it.
In 2015, Clinton said of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, “The Supreme Court is wrong on the Second Amendment. And I am going to make that case every chance I get.” What ruling was so “wrong” that Clinton had to make the case over and over again? The court in Heller simply ruled that individual Americans have a right to keep a gun in their home for self-defense.
What might we have seen with a high court packed with Clinton appointees? No doubt the result would have been truly devastating to our right to keep and bear arms.Clinton, on many occasions, even attacked the good, law-abiding Americans who are members of the NRA—even equating them, on her “enemies list,” with Iranian terrorists during a late 2015 Democratic presidential debate. Such disdain for good, decent citizens who have chosen to join an organization to represent their interest in the Second Amendment says more about Clinton than about NRA members.
Had Clinton won the election, Garland—or someone even worse—likely would have been placed on the Supreme Court, not Gorsuch. And over the next handful of years, Clinton might well have had the opportunity to handpick other justices as well.
What might we have seen with a high court packed with Clinton appointees? No doubt the result would have been truly devastating to our right to keep and bear arms.
Bans of various firearms—and certainly for those considered “assault weapons” by gun-haters and the media—would be commonplace. And while the Trump era has already seen national Right-to-Carry reciprocity legislation introduced in Congress, there’s little doubt another Clinton administration would have spawned a rollback on the ability of law-abiding citizens to carry a concealed firearm for self-defense.
Additionally, both the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals have recently handed down decisions that fly in the face of the Heller and McDonald decisions. A Hillary high court might well have upheld such rulings, making them the law of the land.
In fact, it’s easy to imagine a Clinton-packed Supreme Court rolling back the Heller decision to the point that an individual right to keep and bear arms wouldn’t be recognized anymore in the country, period.
Fight To The Finish
But in the end, you and other loyal NRA members made the difference by electing Trump—not Clinton—and putting him into the position to nominate a stellar jurist like Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. And your efforts to ensure a pro-gun majority in the U.S. House and Senate also paid dividends
“If this nominee cannot earn 60 votes ... the answer is not to change the rules. It’s to change the nominee,” Schumer stated, apparently not interested in the fact that elections matter, and that his side was destined to lose the confrontation just as it had lost on the November ballot.A weaker U.S. Senate prior to the election could have easily resulted in Garland being confirmed. Yet Republicans, despite vicious attacks from those on the Left and throughout the media, steadfastly held the line and refused to let the nomination move forward.
Those attacks increased during the confirmation hearings for Judge Gorsuch, with left-leaning politicians looking for any reason they could find to not support the nomination solely because of their hatred for Trump. Anti-gun Democrats in the U.S. Senate—lead by Senate Minority leader and long-time gun-ban advocate Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.—even threatened an unprecedented filibuster of the nomination.
That threat prompted your NRA to again pull out all of the stops in support of freedom. NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action announced that it would score the confirmation vote for future election scorecards, then launched a campaign in four states—Indiana, North Dakota, Montana and Missouri—urging U.S. senators in those states to oppose the filibuster and vote to confirm Gorsuch. The campaign specifically targeted Democratic U.S. Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Jon Tester of Montana and Claire McCaskill of Missouri.
In the end, Heitkamp and Donnelly voted to confirm Gorsuch, while McCaskill and Tester turned against their constituents and opposed the nomination.
Undeterred, Schumer continued with his filibuster plans. “If this nominee cannot earn 60 votes … the answer isn’t to change the rules. It’s to change the nominee,” Schumer stated, apparently not interested in the fact that elections matter, and that his side was destined to lose the confrontation just as it had lost on the November ballot.
Under the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and with unwavering support of the NRA, Republicans thwarted the filibuster, voting to allow confirmation with a simple majority vote of 51 votes, as opposed to 60. That move forced an end to what McConnell called “extreme escalation in the Left’s never-ending drive to politicize the courts and the confirmation process.” The final vote was 54-45 in support of confirmation.
For many gun owners, it’s possible that the question, “Now what?” might come to mind. That’s a reasonable question, and there is a reasonable answer.
Celebration is warranted: You certainly earned it with this long, hard-fought victory. A pro-gun majority has been assured on the Supreme Court, and that was the unwavering focus of many gun owners from the beginning of the presidential campaign.
Yet even now there is no room for complacency. As we’ve detailed over the past few months, many on the far Left still won’t admit that they suffered defeat in the 2016 election. The attacks on Trump and his supporters continue unabated and we cannot sit idly by and allow his efforts to roll back Obama-era restrictions fall short.
In addition, those intent on further restricting our freedoms have not backed off. Indeed, they have ratcheted up their efforts to halt common-sense Right-to-Carry reciprocity legislation that would protect American gun owners from running afoul of restrictive laws in some anti-freedom states.
Michael Bloomberg’s so-called Everytown for Gun Safety has even pledged to spend $25 million to stop the legislation. And anti-gun forces are pushing a variety of restrictive schemes in states throughout the country to further curtail the Second Amendment-protected rights of citizens living in those states.
It’s true that the battle to save the Supreme Court has been won—and won in a big way. But the war rages on for our right as law-abiding Americans to keep and bear arms.
It’s time to get back in the trenches and take a stand.
Mark Chesnut has been the editor of America’s 1st Freedom magazine for nearly 17 years and is an avid hunter, shooter and political observer.