Adam Winkler, a professor at UCLA School of Law specializing in constitutional law, is the author of Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America and, most recently, We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights. (February 2018)
Huey Long was a populist who championed the little guy over big business, but his attempt to muzzle the press empowered the very corporate interests he inveighed against. When Long imposed a punitive tax on Louisiana newspapers to stifle criticism, it was not at all clear that for-profit business corporations had free speech rights—the prevailing law was on Long’s side. But in 1936, the Supreme Court ruled for the newspaper corporations and struck down Long’s tax. Instead of a shield for persecuted dissenters from tyranny, the First Amendment became a sword for business to strike down unwanted regulation.
The Second Amendment does not stand in the way of better gun laws; the NRA does. The NRA can still count on an influential bloc of intense single-issue, anti-gun-control voters to sway members of Congress, and on the Trump White House to appoint justices committed to the expansion of gun rights. Yet just as electoral politics, rather than the words of the Second Amendment, is the source of the NRA’s power, the democratic process is how the NRA can be defeated. Change is possible. But it won’t come from gutting the Second Amendment. It will come from the same type of political mobilization that gave us the modern NRA.