ACLU Finally Stepping Up In NY And California

The state branches of the American Civil Liberties Union in New York and California appear to be stepping up to oppose measures aimed at the gun culture.

First, in California. The ACLU is joining with groups like the Firearms Policy Coalition to oppose AB 1968 which mandates a lifetime ban on firearm ownership by anyone who has been involuntarily admitted to a mental health facility more than once in one year.

In a letter to Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell) who is the author of the bill, they said:

“This bill stigmatizes people with a history of mental health issues, and perpetuates the harmful and false stereotype that such people are inherently violent and dangerous.”

As AWR Hawkins notes in an article in Breitbart, the bill’s approach is essentially the same as that was used to deny Social Security recipients that needed help managing their monies. That is, it didn’t differentiate between non-violent and violent behavior and lumped them all together.

Duke University psychiatrist and behavior health professor Jeffrey Swanson had an op-ed in the Washington Post at the time criticizing this lumping together. He said then, ““the vast majority of mentally ill individuals pose no threat to themselves nor to others. Yet the ban stigmatized a broad swath of the mentally ill by treating them as a threat.

Now on to New York where the ACLU filed an amicus brief supporting the NRA in their lawsuit against Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY). To me, this is the more important of the two because the ACLU’s defense of the NRA rightly points out the danger of using the administrative state against any organization that is out of favor at the time with a politician.

Reason.com describes the efforts of the Cuomo administration to deny the NRA the ability to obtain banking and insurance coverages.

A timeline prepared by the NRA suggests the intimidation campaign began last fall. The anti-gun group Everytown for Gun Safety met with New York officials in September 2017; a month later the Department of Financial Services began an investigation that started with a company called Lockton, which administered the NRA-branded personal liability insurance program known as Carry Guard. Despite a 20-year relationship, Lockton responded by abruptly ditching the NRA as a customer in February; so did Chubb and Lloyd’s.

Emboldened by this initial success, Maria Vullo, head of the state’s Department of Financial Services, sent a pair of ominous letters to all banks, financial institutions, and insurers licensed to do business in New York. Vullo warned companies to sever ties with pro-Second Amendment groups that “promote guns and lead to senseless violence” and instead heed “the voices of the passionate, courageous, and articulate young people” calling for more restrictions on firearms. All companies receiving the letter, she advised, should “review any relationships they have with the NRA or similar gun promotion organizations, and to take prompt actions to managing these risks and promote public health and safety.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo underlined the regulatory threat in a tweet the next day: “The NRA is an extremist organization. I urge companies in New York State to revisit any ties they have to the NRA and consider their reputations, and responsibility to the public.'”

As a result of those not-very-veiled threats, the NRA says, multiple banks withdrew bids to provide basic depository services. The NRA is also worried about being able to continue producing its NRA TV channel, with hosts including Dana Loesch and Cam Edwards, unless it can obtain normal media liability insurance.

David Cole, the ACLU Legal Director, explained in a blog post why they filed their amicus brief even though they still cling to a collective right view of the Second Amendment.

In the ACLU’s view, targeting a nonprofit advocacy group and seeking to deny it financial services because it promotes a lawful activity (the use of guns) violates the First Amendment. Because we believe the governor’s actions, as alleged, threaten the First Amendment rights of all advocacy organizations, the ACLU on Friday filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the NRA’s right to have its day in court.

His blog post points out that while it may be the NRA that is targeted today, it could be a liberal group that is being targeted tomorrow for “disapproved speech” and that violates the First Amendment.

The amicus brief opposes NY’s motion to dismiss the NRA’s case. Their argument centers on two major points. First, that the court must consider all circumstances to determine whether or not Cuomo and company threatened adverse actions against the NRA’s banks and insurers. In essence, it urges the court to look beyond the “wink-wink, nudge-nudge” wording of the press releases and guidance letters and look to the substance of what was being communicated. That is, if you do business with the NRA we will consider it a reputational risk and make it hard for you to do any business in New York State.

The second argument in the amicus brief is that Cuomo and the other defendants misstated the requirements for a First Amendment claim. The ACLU says the requirements to make a First Amendment claim are rather straightforward and the NRA met the standard. However, the defendants (Cuomo and company) have tried to add some “non-existent requirements on to the test.” The brief then takes these apart one after another and finds they have no merit. They conclude that the NRA’s lawsuit should not be dismissed and that the case should go forward.

While I don’t agree with the ACLU on a lot of things and certainly not their incorrect interpretation of the Second Amendment, I do applaud their efforts in both California and New York State. It isn the latter case where I think they’ve really stepped up in their protection of constitutional rights.

On The HIPAA Exclusion

Someone at the Department of Health and Human Services jumped the gun earlier today on the Executive Action on the HIPAA exclusion to the states on mental health records. The screen cap below is from Google cache thanks to a post on Arfcom. It was put up and then taken down soon after posting.

The final rule is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Wednesday, January 6th. The full 56 page rule is now online and can be examined here.

The rule summary states that the following are persons subject to the GCA 68 mental illness prohibition.

Among the persons
subject to the Federal mental health prohibitor
established under the Gun Control Act of
1968 and implementing
regulations issued by the Department of Justice
(DOJ)
are
individuals who have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution; found
incompetent to stand trial or not guilty by reason of insanity; or otherwise have been
determined by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority to be a danger to
themselves or others or to lack the mental capacity to contract or manage their own
affairs, as a result of marked subnormal intelligence or mental illness, incompetency,
condition, or disease.

This seems to me to expand the 18 U.S. Code § 922(d)(4) prohibition which only states “has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution”. Other lawful authority is very broad and does not seem to take due process into account. If they are indeed expanding the legal definition, I fully expect that this will be challenged in the courts as it well should. While no one wants a truly mentally ill or defective person to have a firearm, this is a real slippery slope in my opinion.