The National Rifle Assn. deserves all the condemnation it has received and more for standing in the way of reasonable, lifesaving gun-control efforts. Because of the gun group’s cynical hard-line policies and near-religious embrace of the 2nd Amendment, more and more Americans live at daily risk from gunfire, be it from a random shooter, an intimate partner or by their own hands.
But the NRA is a legally constituted organization with the same right to exist and go about its business as any other organization (though society would be better off if its adherents tore up their membership cards). So a decision by the Los Angeles City Council this week to compel contractors who do business with the city to divulge whether they also do business with the NRA is an objectionable overreach. Worse yet, it may violate the companies’ 1st Amendment right to free speech.
This isn’t the City Council’s first step down this road. It enacted an ordinance last year requiring companies doing business with the city to disclose whether they have done work related to the federal barriers erected along the U.S.-Mexico border. The idea then, as now, was to “name and shame” firms and contractors that have engaged in a legal activity that’s associated with something the City Council finds contemptible. Last year the target was President Trump’s cockamamie wall proposal. Now it’s the NRA’s political activities. There are several exemptions in the new ordinance, such as for contracts entered into by the city’s pension funds and other investment agreements, but that does nothing to mitigate the silliness at play here.
The city can and should pursue aggressive gun control policies as it sees fit. The mayor and council members can also speak out forcefully against the gun lobby’s policies that put the freedom to own a gun and carry it anywhere ahead of common sense and public safety. But it is not acceptable for government to punish people or businesses over lawful political expressions with which the government disagrees. That is a bedrock tenet of civil liberties.
The council isn’t likely to harm the NRA as much as the contractors it would stigmatize for having business connections with the disfavored organization. And that’s a ludicrous goal. What benefit is served by, say, making an office supply store confess that it contracted to sell printer paper to the NRA before it can sell printer paper to the city of Los Angeles? This is a classic example of good intentions — curbing gun violence — leading to inane results. It’s probably too much to expect, but there ought to be some red faces in the council chambers.