The ACLU, the NRA, and the First Amendment

Dec 19, 2023
Abdi Soltani

On December 9, the ACLU’s national office announced it will represent the National Rifle Association (NRA) in a case before the United States Supreme Court, NRA v Vullo. The case raises important First Amendment concerns about government overreach in targeting certain organizations for their disfavored viewpoints. This decision has led to dissent from the New York Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU affiliate in the state where the case originates, and it has ignited vigorous debate and disagreement within ACLU affiliates nationwide. 

Decisions about which cases to take – including when to represent a client directly and when to weigh in as an amicus or “friend of the court” – are made independently by each ACLU affiliate and the national ACLU. Decisions about cases at the US Supreme Court, including this one, are made by the national ACLU. As the executive director of one affiliate in the ACLU’s federated network, I share in the successes and victories of the ACLU nationwide, and I bear responsibility for the impact of difficult decisions. 

Here in Northern California, we have examined the facts of this case and discussed the legal issues involved. Although we are not directly involved in the case, I have heard strong concerns from our affiliate staff, members of our boards, and a number of our supporters. I know this decision is painful and angering for many. 

I write to share a few core points as we navigate this issue and follow this case in the coming months. 

The ACLU of Northern California vehemently opposes the advocacy of the National Rifle Association. The NRA has a dangerous impact not only on gun regulations but also on racial justice and our nation’s democracy. It consistently blocks sensible gun control measures in state and federal legislatures and courts. After each mass shooting, it obstructs the legitimate efforts of policymakers to ban assault rifles. It enables and empowers stand-your-ground laws and militia culture that are interwoven with white supremacy and threaten the lives of people of color. Armed intimidation of voters, election officials, and peaceful protestors has become normalized, presenting real dangers to our democracy. 

The ACLU of Northern California stands with communities harmed by the epidemic of gun violence in Northern California and beyond. The NRA’s advocacy contributes to the devastation of gun violence that plays out in our communities in countless ways — from homicides in our towns and cities to the role of guns in deaths by suicide to mass shootings in the places where we learn, worship, work, and gather. At the ACLU of Northern California, the reach of this violence has cut short the lives of people we love in our families and communities. 

While we all pay the price, systemic racism and discrimination mean that the impacts of gun violence fall most heavily on certain communities. Studies show that Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people, other people of color, LGBTQ+ people, people with disabilities, youth and young adults, and targets of anti-religious violence bear these costs at much higher rates. 

We firmly believe that governments have the authority and duty to enact sensible, non-discriminatory gun regulations to protect public health and safety. The ability to participate in our society free from the fear and intimidation of gun violence is integral to freedom, equality, and democracy. 

The legal brief for this case will be submitted to the Supreme Court in early January, argued in the spring, and decided by the end of June. During that time, the case will likely garner further attention and questions about the ACLU’s representation of the NRA as well as the First Amendment issues involved. To our community partners, volunteers, members, and supporters in Northern California, I invite you to contact me at to share your perspectives, concerns, or questions, and I will do my best to respond.