The National Rifle Association is set to square off against the city of Los Angeles as the gun-rights group seeks to overturn a law requiring contractors to disclose all business ties to the organization.
The NRA is seeking a court order blocking the ordinance while it pursues a lawsuit to nullify it. The city wants the suit thrown out. A federal judge in Los Angeles is scheduled to hear arguments from both sides Monday.
Passed unanimously by the City Council in February, the law requires companies seeking do business with California’s largest city to disclose NRA contracts or sponsorships, including discounts offered to members for products and services, ranging from outdoor gear to travel insurance.
“The ordinance is extreme, a first-of-its-kind law that threatens contractors that oppose the city’s anti-NRA agenda with loss of lucrative government contracts,” the gun-rights group said in a court filing.
Los Angeles has a $10 billion budget for the current fiscal year and buys everything from pens and pencils to computers and helicopters from qualified vendors.
The NRA says the law violates its First Amendment rights to free speech and association by trying to freeze out the group’s corporate supporters.
The hearing comes amid renewed calls for restrictions on firearms after massacres in Texas and Ohio left more than 30 people dead, and with the gun group split by a bitter leadership clash and allegations of reckless spending.
Read more on NRA’s internal strife here.
Los Angeles residents “deserve to know if the city’s public funds are spent on contractors that have contractual or sponsorship ties with the NRA,” according to the ordinance.
The NRA says law-abiding gun owners are increasingly “falling prey” to unfair legal traps enacted by cities, states and the federal government. The group accused city officials of disparaging it with “false and hyperbolic” language, quoting one council member who accused the NRA of pandering to extremists and white supremacists.
The NRA is mischaracterizing the scope of the law to create a bogus First Amendment argument, and falsely claims the ordinance requires it to hand over its membership list, city lawyers said.
The “repeated misstatements of what the ordinance actually requires invokes Shakespeare’s Hamlet — plaintiffs doth protest too much,“ they said in a court filing.
The ordinance doesn’t “prevent anyone from engaging in free speech,” the city said. “The disclosure has no effect on whether a potential contractor obtains the contract.”
G.S. Hans, a professor at Vanderbilt Law School who isn’t involved in the case, said the lawsuit may be premature because the NRA can’t yet show it’s been harmed. A better case may be brought by a company that believes it was denied a contract because of ties to the group, he said, but even that may prove to be a tough sell.
“It’s going to be hard to argue you have a First Amendment right to a government contract,” he said.
The real intent of the law is to get city contractors to stop doing business with the NRA, the gun-rights group argues. It quoted another City Council member who said Los Angeles “should have the ability to make decisions about whether we want to do business with companies that feel that they can profit from what the NRA is doing throughout our country.”
To make its case, the group accused the city of holding up a warehouse contract for FedEx Corp. last year “based solely” on the company’s affinity program for NRA members. When FedEx announced it was canceling the program, one council member “took a victory lap,” the NRA said in a court filing.
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The NRA compares the ordinance to a 1950’s-era law in Alabama that sought access to the membership lists of The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and another one in Arkansas that forced teachers to disclose their group associations, as part of an anti-communism crusade. The Supreme Court rejected both laws, and the Los Angeles court should now do the same, the NRA said.
The group is locked in another battle in New York, challenging the state’s crackdown on an NRA-branded insurance policy that protects holders against the financial consequences of using a gun. Critics call it “murder insurance.”