Question: Does the A.C.L.U. avoid property rights and 2nd Amendment cases?
Nadine Strossen: Well, on the right to bear arms, the ACLU's position is that there is not a fundamental civil liberty to unregulated gun ownership and that is separate and apart from the big constitutional law debate that is going on now in a case before the Supreme Court and it is important for people to know that the only past Supreme Court decisions that have discussed this issue and the vast majority of scholarship and lower courts and historians conclude that the Second Amendment was intended only to protect the right to bear arms in the context of a well regulated militia. For us, that is of interest, but it is a separate question from should…do we think that a statute should be passed to protect unregulated gun ownership and the answer is no. To me, that is not so surprising because we even when it comes to something that we are classically associated with such as freedom of speech, we don’t say that there can never be any restrictions. Actually no right is absolute except freedom of thought and freedom of belief, but once it gets out of your hand and into the world, the government may justifiably impose limits in very narrow circumstances. So, if the government over regulated or discriminatorily or arbitrarily enforced regulations on gun ownership, we would be there. I mean that would be consistent with our general concepts of due process and in fact we have often collaborated including post 09/11 with the National Rifle Association Guns Owners of America, The Second Amendment Foundation, because particular actions that have been taken by the government against their members do in fact violate many rights, including to take some examples that come from earlier during the Clinton administration, the Waco and Ruby Ridge were well publicized examples of really a shocking government over reaching by federal agencies that were violating their Fourth Amendment rights against search and seizure using dipropionate force, shooting to kill people who are simply suspected of exercising what is after all a legally protected right to bear arms and there have been many examples of people's privacy being violated because they are exercising their now lawful right to own guns. The gun owners organizations have worked very closely with the ACLU in opposing government surveillance, the so called REAL ID act that would create a national identity card in effect. There is a lot of overlapping issues even beyond that core issue of what to extent can the government directly regulate gun ownership.
Recorded On: 2/14/08