GOA Testimony Re: Holder Nomination

 Testimony of John Velleco
Director of Federal Affairs, Gun Owners of America
Before the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate
January 15, 2009

Good morning Chairman Leahy, Ranking Member Specter, and members of the Committee.

For nearly 35 years, Gun Owners of America has been dedicated to lobbying in favor of the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. On behalf of approximately 300,000 members across the country, I want to thank you for the opportunity to testify today on this important matter.

Gun Owners of America believes that it would be a mistake for this body to confirm a nominee for U.S. Attorney General who would not have the trust and confidence of a significant number of Americans, particularly sportsmen and gun owners.

Eric Holder’s record on gun rights issues is not obscure or insignificant. Both in his capacity as Deputy Attorney General from 1997-2001 and as an attorney in private practice, Mr. Holder has taken positions on gun rights that are outside the mainstream of American thought and jurisprudence and, we would argue, at variance with some of the views articulated by President-elect Obama during the campaign.

While serving as Deputy Attorney General, Eric Holder was active on several gun rights issues. In 1999, Mr. Holder supported legislation that would have limited handgun purchases to one per month, instituted a 3-day waiting period for handgun purchases, made it illegal for adults under the age of 21 to possess a handgun, subjected licensed gun dealers to a host of new laws and gun show promoters to regulations so severe that gun shows would effectively have been banned.

In a statement prior to an expected vote on the bill, Mr. Holder urged the Congress not to cave in to “the special interests that value the cold hard steel of guns more than the lives of children, neighbors and police officers,” and to pass the draconian gun control package. Nowhere in Mr. Holder’s statement was any mention made of the hundreds of thousands of legitimate self-defense uses of firearms every year in America.

When the gun control legislation stalled in the Congress, Mr. Holder participated in an effort to circumvent the legislative branch and enact gun control regulations through what many considered to be legislation by extortion.

The Clinton Administration, through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), spearheaded a class action lawsuit using federally-funded housing authorities as plaintiffs. From the outset, it was clear that government officials were less interested in winning the lawsuit then they were in getting firearms manufacturers to agree to specific regulations in a settlement.

Even the Washington Post, which editorialized in favor of congressional action on the gun control measure, was sharply critical of the lawsuit led by HUD. On December 17, 1999, the Post editors wrote: “That Congress has not been willing to [pass the gun control bill] is no license for the administration to use the courts as an alternative policymaking vehicle.”

Only one company settled with the government. At the ceremony for the signing of the agreement, then-HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo thanked “[O]ur friends at the Department of Justice, Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder,” among the list of government officials who aided the lawsuit.

In the private sector, Mr. Holder continued to be a vocal advocate for stricter gun control laws.

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, in an op-ed in the Washington Post, Mr. Holder stated that “Congress should also pass legislation that would give the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms a record of every firearm sale,” in spite of laws in place that prohibit gun owner registration. Mr. Holder also pushed for greater restrictions on gun shows, even though the terrorists were armed with box cutters that could be purchased at any hardware store.

Perhaps most disconcerting to Gun Owners of America is an action taken by Mr. Holder just last year. In an amicus brief before the Supreme Court in the District of Columbia v. Heller case, Mr. Holder and 12 other former Justice Department officials argued in favor of the gun ban in Washington D.C. The brief also took the position that the Second Amendment does not protect an individual right.

President-elect Obama stated during the campaign that he believed the Second Amendment protects an individual right. According to a February, 2008, USA TODAY/Gallup poll and a June, 2008, Harris poll, the overwhelming majority of Americans believe that as well.

The academic world also is increasingly supportive of the individual rights interpretation of the Second Amendment. Sanford Levinson and Akhil Reed Amar (Yale), William Van Alstyne (Duke) and Laurence Tribe (Harvard) are just a few notable examples of scholars who believe that the Second Amendment protects an individual right. These views, of course, are in accord with what the Supreme Court eventually ruled in Heller.

Eric Holder apparently disagrees with the incoming president and the Supreme Court on a core Constitutional issue. Gun Owners of America believes that Mr. Holder should not, therefore, be entrusted with the responsibility of enforcing and prosecuting federal laws that regulate the possession, sale, and use of firearms.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify on this important matter.