- The Washington Times - Monday, July 14, 2008

Gun rights are so popular in Nevada that they are backed by even the state chapter of a liberal group that conservatives usually love to hate. And Republicans are in clover.

Nevada’s pistol-packing Gov. Jim Gibbons, a Republican, welcomed the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada to his posse in the gun debate after the group broke with the national ACLU to champion the Second Amendment guarantee for an individual right to keep and bear arms.

“Obviously, the ACLU in Nevada has seen the light on this issue, and we are happy they have,” said Ben Kieckhefer, a spokesman for the governor - an outdoorsman who holds a concealed-carry permit. “It adds to the long list of supporters of Second Amendment rights in the state. … It is a state where the right to bear arms is held close to the heart.”

The National Rifle Association applauded the Nevada ACLU for “thumbing its nose at New York.”

“It’s a testament to the rugged Western spirit of Nevada,” NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said. “We are heartened that there is a chapter of the ACLU that actually believes in the entire Bill of Rights.”

The Nevada ACLU decided to change its gun stance - it appears to be the first state chapter to do so - in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling last month that struck down the handgun ban in the District and for the first time interpreted the Second Amendment as an individual right, breaking with the national group.

“The ACLU of Nevada will defend this right as it defends other constitutional rights,” the group said in a statement posted on its Web site.

A pro-gun ACLU is at home in Nevada. The state leads the nation in per capita firearm ownership, but since 2000 also recorded the highest rate of gun-related deaths, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study last year.

The state’s Democrats aren’t up in arms over the group’s gun-friendly turn either.

“I support the Second Amendment and I’m an NRA member,” said state Assembly member Marilyn Kirkpatrick, North Las Vegas Democrat.

Unlike the Nevada chapter, the national ACLU does not view gun control as a civil liberties issue. It disagreed with the Supreme Court ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, in which D.C. security guard Richard Heller successfully challenged the city’s 1976 law that banned handgun possession by making it a crime to carry an unregistered firearm and prohibiting the registration of handguns.

The court held that “the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.”

The landmark 5-4 decision was expected to ignite a heated national debate over gun control, but few, if any, expected the disagreement to bubble up within the community of civil liberties advocates.

ACLU officials in Nevada and at the national headquarters in New York quickly tamped down any rumbling about a fissure in the organization.

“Our local ACLU affiliates are free to take positions that differ from those of the national office,” said Dorothy M. Ehrlich, ACLU deputy executive director. “While the organization is unified in purpose, we do not impose uniformity regarding specific positions.”

Gary Peck, executive director of the Nevada ACLU, said his group had done “nothing bold.”

He said a “lively discussion” has been raised within the ACLU’s national and state ranks about the meaning of the Supreme Court ruling, which did not abolish gun-control laws but put the onus on states not to violate the right to keep and bear arms.

“I don’t think it is as simple as liberal versus conservative,” Mr. Peck said. “There are certainly other folks inside the ACLU universe who agree with us and other folks who don’t.”

He said ACLU should be applauded for giving its affiliates room to disagree with national policy, adding “that is a very healthy thing.”

The move nevertheless elicited some double takes.

“It’s surprising, but it tells you how much Nevadans value the Second Amendment,” said Sen. John Ensign, Nevada Republican.

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