A spokesperson for the National Rifle Association (NRA) announced on Wednesday that the organization will not endorse any of the Alaska candidates in the U.S. Senate race.
The campaign of Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), who is running for re-election, and the Alaska Republican Party (ARP) issued dueling press releases celebrating the NRA’s failure to endorse the other.
Begich’s press release included an Associated Press article noting Begich’s lifetime NRA membership and A-minus rating with the organization. While this rating would be higher if Begich had voted against Barack Obama’s nominees for the U.S. Supreme Court, NRA spokesperson Andrew Arulanandam said Begich voted with the NRA “100 percent of the time” on legislation.
One of those votes for which Begich drew flak from Outside Democrats was on the Manchin-Toomey Amendment to the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013 (S. 649). Begich deemed the amendment, which would have required background checks from a licensed dealer for the purchase of a firearm, to be too restrictive.
Like the Begich press release, the ARP made no mention of the NRA’s failure to endorse its candidate, instead focusing on Begich’s support of Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor as the reason for the NRA’s lack of a Begich endorsement. “For every gun owning Alaskan, that is reason enough to go to the polls on November 4th and vote for Dan Sullivan. He is the only candidate who we can trust to stand up to President Obama and protect our Second Amendment rights in Washington, D.C.,” said ARP Chairman Peter Goldberg.
In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in McDonald v City of Chicago that states could not ban the possession of handguns, a victory for gun rights advocates. Sotomayor joined Justice Stephen Breyer’s dissent, arguing that federal gun control should not trump state regulation. Kagan had not yet ascended to the Supreme Court.
Consequences for the Candidates
A lack of an endorsement in the race by the NRA should come as a relief to Begich. The NRA has spent almost $500,000 directly on candidates during this election cycle, all but $20,000 of that going to Republicans. While the NRA has given $30,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which has in turn spent nearly $2 million against Begich, the incumbent will not have to overcome direct expenditures or attacks from the NRA.
Sullivan, by contrast, will be extremely disappointed with the lack of an endorsement. The U.S. Marine has worked hard during the campaign to burnish his credentials as a defender of the Second Amendment. He has even appeared in an ad awkwardly shooting a television with a handgun from close range.
In another ad referencing the aforementioned McDonald case, Sullivan says, “As your attorney general, I lead Alaska’s efforts in the Supreme Court to protect our Second Amendment rights.”
The ad could only be considered a gross mischaracterization of Sullivan’s involvement. In fact, Sullivan signed on to an amicus brief, along with attorneys general from 37 other states, arguing for the federal government’s jurisdiction over firearm regulation. Such briefs are common in any high profile case.
The same radio spot says that, as attorney general, Sullivan “fought to protect our Second Amendment rights and pass Stand Your Ground,” the law which allows Alaskans to use deadly force against a perceived threat in any location in which they have a right to be. However, Stand Your Ground did not pass in Alaska until 2013, three years after Sullivan left the attorney general’s office.
To Sullivan’s credit, his office submitted a letter in 2010 to House Judiciary Chair Jay Ramras expressing his “serious concern” about the Stand Your Ground bill. Sullivan wrote,
Every experienced prosecutor with whom I have spoken about this bill uniformly agrees that it would promote violence and be a bad idea for our state. We believe that as drafted this bill will encourage unnecessary violence in our state. Whatever source one thinks our laws should be drawn from- the ten commandments which say “thou shalt not kill,” simple morality, utilitarianism principles of the greater good, or simply the concept that life is sacred- this bill would encourage the needless taking of human life. (emphasis in original)
For campaign purposes, Sullivan has abandoned that cautious approach to the law in favor of Second Amendment absolutes. But the letter does not support his campaign claims to have fought for Stand Your Ground, which earned a “false” rating from PolitiFact.
A TV variant of the ad did not mention Stand Your Ground, but retained the claim about McDonald.
Against a Backdrop of Extremism
The Anchorage Second Amendment Task Force (Anchorage 2ATF) attached the ARP’s press release to the bottom of an article in a Wednesday blast email. While the article from Conservative Daily does not reference Begich specifically or the NRA, a common theme between it and the press release is the threat posed by Obama and liberals to impose restrictions such as background checks on gun purchasers. In addition to logging its support for Sullivan, the goal of Anchorage 2ATF is obviously to associate Begich with the president and his liberal buddies coming for our guns, even though Begich voted against the background checks.
The article, which is dangerous reading for anyone allergic to exclamation marks, laments the passage of the Undetectable Firearms Act last year. That bill was actually a ten-year extension of a 1988 law banning plastic guns. It was not controversial, passing the House with a voice vote and the Senate by unanimous consent.
The reason these guns are banned in simple; they cannot be detected by the metal detectors and x-ray machines that dominate security at federal facilities and airports. Plastic objects on an x-ray machine appear orange. The orange outline of a firearm might be recognized by an x-ray machine operator, but individual components would be hard to notice amidst the other organic materials in bags like clothing or makeup. Thus, a handful of people could carry separate parts for a single plastic gun through security, then assemble it on the other side.
Metal gun components, on the other hand, appear blue or green on an x-ray screen. These are easily detected.
(As an editorial aside, let me say I am not one to advocate we sacrifice civil liberties to fear. However, I recently had the privilege of seeing Michelangelo’s Pietà, the world’s most beautiful sculpture, albeit behind a metal railing and bulletproof glass with 50 feet of marble floor between. That is because in 1972, someone jumped onto the sculpture and broke off Mary’s nose and left arm. While I would have liked to have seen the Pietà without barriers, sometimes stupid people ruin it for the rest of us. The glass means future generations will get to see it, too.)
The article forwarded by Anchorage 2ATF warns of the introduction of another bill, H.R. 5606, that “would outlaw ‘homemade’ firearms” and “make it illegal for citizens to build their own guns!”
Again, this is inaccurate. Though the text of the bill has yet to be published by the Library of Congress, the purpose of the bill is to require homemade firearms to have serial numbers, not to ban them.
Anchorage 2ATF describes the Second Amendment Task Force as a “national movement,” the Alaska iteration of which started in Fairbanks in 2009. The founder of that branch was Schaeffer Cox, eventually convicted of conspiring to kill state officials in defense of his Alaska Peacemakers Militia. In this video, Cox appears with Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), the state’s only federal candidate to receive money from the NRA during this election cycle.
Cox, who considers himself a “sovereign citizen,” also argues that firearms that do not cross state lines should not be regulated by the federal government. Anchorage 2ATF’s support of Sullivan is ironic given his championing of an amicus brief that affirms that exact role.
Perhaps because of the negative publicity around Schaeffer Cox, Anchorage 2ATF notes on its website that all Alaska task forces were independently formed and, pointedly, that “Anchorage 2ATF is not affiliated with any attempts to organize militias.”
In May, the NRA took a moderate stance after numerous open carry demonstrations in Texas, saying, “Using guns merely to draw attention to yourself in public not only defies common sense, it shows a lack of consideration and manners.” It quickly reversed its position after Open Carry Texas threatened to end its affiliation with the NRA. The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart pointed out that open carry advocates were potentially endangering themselves under Stand Your Ground laws. Meanwhile, gun manufacturers and lobbyists continue to make money.
In Alaska, guns are ubiquitous. Gun ownership, and the support thereof, is truly a non-issue. But there’s money to be made when the pot is stirred. That explains all of Conservative Daily’s exclamation marks, heard through the bullhorn of Anchorage 2ATF. The more extreme the message and the more afraid the listeners, the looser the wallets get.
Just as the NRA jumped when financially threatened by a moderate position, Dan Sullivan has moved to the right on guns, seeking to unlock the treasure chest that accompanies Second Amendment advocacy. For the NRA, it hasn’t been enough. The organization has a staunch defender in Begich. It would be inexpedient to attack a proven friend for one with a documented history of moderation.