- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The National Rifle Association is keeping its powder dry on a second straight Supreme Court nominee, even as other conservative groups and Republican lawmakers have sharply questioned nominee Elena Kagan’s views on gun ownership and other issues.

As Ms. Kagan’s confirmation hearing entered its second day, NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said Tuesday that the powerful lobby group has not yet taken a position on President Obama’s choice, even though the NRA has publicly stated that Ms. Kagan’s views appear to be “out of the mainstream” and at times “extremely troubling.”

“The KKK references are bizarre,” said Mr. Arulanandam, referring to notes Ms. Kagan apparently took during a phone conversation in which somebody characterized the NRA and the Ku Klux Klan as “bad guy” organizations. Ms. Kagan said Tuesday the notes recorded someone else’s comments, not hers, and called the comparison “ludicrous.”

The NRA issued a statement Monday, the first day of the hearings, noting that “because Ms. Kagan has no judicial record and few academic writings, the NRA is carefully reviewing her record in other government posts.”

The statement continued, “What we’ve seen to date shows a hostility toward our right to keep and bear arms, such as her role in developing the Clinton administration’s 1998 ban on importation of many models of semi-automatic rifles,” but did not call for her nomination to be rejected.

The gun group, which has clashed at times with its conservative allies on other issues in recent days, waited until the conclusion of Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings last year to announce its opposition to her Supreme Court bid, and to announce that a senator’s vote would be “scored” on its influential ranking of member voting records.

Ms. Sotomayor comfortably won confirmation, with nine Senate Republicans voting for her.

Other leading conservative groups have been more forward in fighting the Kagan selection.

For example, the anti-abortion National Right to Life Committee last week came out against her, warning in a letter that Ms. Kagan treats the Constitution like “a cookbook in which may be found legal recipes that will allow the imposition of the policies that [she] deems to be justified or advisable.”

The NRA’s low-key approach has upset other influential conservative groups, said Curt Levey, executive director of the Committee for Justice.

“There’s been a lot of grumbling, but conservative leaders are hesitant to talk publicly,” he said.

Mr. Levey praised the NRA for its long record of fighting for gun rights, but thinks the group has been slow to realize the battlegrounds have shifted from statehouses to courts and has failed to see the bigger picture in the Kagan nomination. He added that a strong early push by the NRA against Ms. Kagan would have placed Democrats in conservative states in a political bind.

“The NRA has misunderstood what the fight is about,” Mr. Levey said.

Ms. Kagan’s hearing coincided with a momentous 5-4 Supreme Court ruling Monday striking down a tough Chicago gun law and strongly reaffirming the idea that the Second Amendment includes a right for individuals to own firearms.

On Tuesday, both Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee pressed Ms. Kagan on her views of the Second Amendment. She appeared to be trying to ease the concerns of the NRA and other gun-rights groups in one exchange with committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat.

There is “no doubt” that the individual right to gun ownership is a “binding precedent,” she told Mr. Leahy. “That is settled law.”