LOS ANGELES (CN) – The National Rifle Association sued Los Angeles in federal court Wednesday, claiming the city overstepped its constitutional authority by passing a law requiring contractors to disclose ties to the organization.
The Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved an ordinance in February requiring companies that do business with the city to disclose any financial connections to the gun-rights advocacy organization or its subsidiaries.
But the ordinance stops short of barring NRA-connected contractors from doing business with the city.
Government contracts and pension funds are among the exemptions listed in the final version of the ordinance.
The Fairfax, Virginia-based organization says in its 20-page federal complaint that Los Angeles intended to silence NRA members and supporters in the city – thus violating their First Amendment rights – by forcing them to disclose their ties with the organization.
Citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette and other cases, the NRA claims governments can’t prescribe what is orthodox in politics or compel contractors to hold certain views in exchange for doing business with the city. Furthermore, the group says the ordinance amounts to compelled speech and a violation of their free-speech rights.
“Government-compelled speech is presumptively unconstitutional when it burdens speech by demanding that speakers disclose that which they might be reluctant to disclose, thus deterring them from engaging in speech,” the NRA says in its complaint.
The group accuses the city of viewing the NRA with “disdain” and says the city wants to pressure NRA members to sever their political and financial ties to the organization.
“Should defendants succeed in cutting off revenue streams necessary for NRA to continue engaging in protected speech and association, NRA will have been drained of its financial resources and been harmed in its ability to fulfill its mission to protect and preserve the right to keep and bear arms,” the NRA says in its complaint.
The organization, headed by former U.S military official and player in the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal Oliver North, seeks a court order barring the city from implementing the law and a declaration that the law violates the U.S. Constitution.
The law, which took effect April 1, was introduced by LA Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell in September 2018. In a statement, O’Farrell called the NRA’s lawsuit “an act of desperation.”
“The NRA promotes extremism and violence to rally its base, and sell enough lethal weapons to fund their fight against sensible gun safety legislation at every level of government. They hide behind their perverse interpretation of the Second Amendment to do so,” O’Farrell said. “The NRA’s First Amendment rights remain firmly in place while the city chooses to exercise its own rights to require disclosing who has ties to the NRA, so residents of Los Angeles know how and where their tax dollars are being spent.”
LA City Attorney’s Office spokesman Rob Wilcox said the city will “vigorously defend” the ordinance.
More than 300 mass shootings occurred across the nation in 2018, including one at a Western-style bar and grill in nearby Thousand Oaks which left 12 people dead. According to the ordinance, that massacre was one impetus for its passage.
The preamble of the ordinance notes Angelenos deserve to know more about the “NRA’s influence,” adding the organization has caused gridlock on Capitol Hill that has kept any gun safety or reform legislation from passing since 1994.
“The city’s residents deserve to know if the city’s public funds are spent on contractors that have contractual or sponsorship ties with the NRA,” the ordinance says. “Public funds provided to such contractors undermines the city’s efforts to legislate and promote gun safety.”
LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and Holly Wolcott, the city treasurer, are also named defendants.
The NRA is represented by Chuck Michel and Anna Barvir of the firm Michel & Associates in Long Beach, California. Michel said the law creates a fearful environment for those contractors.
“Politicians are free to disagree with the NRA’s pro-freedom, firearm safety, and self-reliance message, but they aren’t free to censor it — as this would do when NRA supporters drop their NRA affiliations for fear of losing work from the City because they get put on this blacklist. This is modern day McCarthyism, and my clients are confident no judge will let it stand,” Michel said in an email to Courthouse News.