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Trump Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett puts years of gun safety progress at risk

Shannon Watts, Opinion contributor
·5 min read
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In the years since I founded Moms Demand Action at my kitchen table, the gun safety movement has made unmistakable progress at the ballot box, in statehouses and in Congress. We’ve elected thousands of gun-sense candidates, passed background check and red flag laws in states across the country, and beat back 90% of the National Rifle Association's priority bills — five years in a row.

But now, after the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill her seat, all of that progress is at risk.

The president’s decision to try to ram through a new Supreme Court justice while early voting in the most important election of our lifetimes is already underway — and his selection of a judge with an alarming interpretation of the Second Amendment — lay bare just how high the stakes are for the gun safety movement.

Supreme Court is best NRA hope

If we don’t stop President Donald Trump and his Senate Republican allies, the coming years could bring legal decisions that threaten to undo decades of progress for public safety. Over 145,000 Americans have been killed by guns with President Trump in office, and if he succeeds in appointing another opponent of gun safety laws to the court, even more Americans will die.

After years of losing in the courts and at the ballot box, it’s not surprising that the beleaguered NRA and other opponents of strong gun safety laws see the Supreme Court as one of the last venues where they can try to turn the tide. That’s why President Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other leading Republicans in the Senate are attempting a bold-faced, hypocritical power grab to reject the will of the American people. The president has made it clear that when it comes to choosing judges — just as when it comes to laws — he’s committed to letting the gun lobby take control.

Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett on Sept. 26, 2020, in Washington, D.C.
Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett on Sept. 26, 2020, in Washington, D.C.

We see this clearly in his selection of Judge Barrett, who has already expressed extreme views from the bench on the Second Amendment. “There is no doubt that Barrett would dramatically expand the Second Amendment, invalidating gun control measures around the country,” concluded lawyer Mark Joseph Stern, Slate's courts and law writer.

Judge Barrett’s dangerous views were on full display just last year, when she and two other judges heard an appeal from a man who claimed his serious felony conviction should not have prohibited him from possessing firearms. Dissenting from her two colleagues — both appointed by President Ronald Reagan — Judge Barrett sided with the plaintiff, taking an outlier approach to Second Amendment analysis that no federal appeals court has ever adopted. She even went out of her way to endorse a gun lobby-backed interpretation of a 14th century English firearms law — a law unrelated to the case at hand but central to many recent and ongoing challenges to public safety laws regulating the carrying of guns in public.

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Judge Barrett’s striking dissent, and the expansive view of the Second Amendment she laid out, sent an unmistakable signal of where she stands. And the signal has not gone unnoticed by those working to gut lifesaving gun laws: Within minutes of Saturday’s announcement, the NRA praised Judge Barrett’s record and urged the Senate to “act swiftly to confirm her.”

Barrett record shows threat to safety

As far as what’s at stake for our gun laws if Judge Barrett is confirmed, we need only look to this past Supreme Court term. In a closely watched case, the NRA and its New York affiliate — represented by Paul Clement, who (not coincidentally) “earned” his way onto President Trump’s Supreme Court shortlist — tried to bait the court into issuing a wide-reaching ruling that would have endangered commonsense gun safety laws across America.

Fortunately, Justice Ginsburg was there to tear through these weak arguments. Just as she had done throughout her inspiring career, she stood up for public safety and for what was right –– and the NRA lost.

But in that same case, we saw the threat to gun safety from President Trump’s Supreme Court appointees. Justice Neil Gorsuch joined a 31-page dissent against the court’s decision, and Justice Brett Kavanaugh indicated that he was ready — eager, even — to constrain gun safety laws in a future case. In Judge Barrett, they’ll likely have a willing partner.

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What does that mean for gun safety? Nothing good. Background checks on all gun sales, a lifesaving policy supported in polls by over 90% of American voters and gun owners, could be at risk of being ruled unconstitutional. Red flag laws, which also have broad support, are also in danger.

Each of these lifesaving policies has repeatedly withstood legal challenges in the lower courts –– but that isn’t stopping President Trump, Senate Republicans and the NRA from trying to ignore the will of the people and undo decades of progress by stealing a Supreme Court while votes are already being cast in a presidential election.

Over the past few years, Moms Demand Action volunteers have taken on the NRA at the ballot box, in statehouses and in Congress. Our movement is winning. But our progress on this public health crisis, and on racial justice and so many critical issues, can be halted — and even reversed — with one more Trump-appointed Supreme Court justice. Every one of our nearly 6 million supporters will fight like hell to make sure that the American people –– not President Trump and Sen. McConnell –– get to decide who picks Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s replacement.

Justice Ginsburg fought for us for decades. Now, it’s our turn.

Shannon Watts is the founder of Moms Demand Action and a board member of the Supreme Court Voter project. Follow her on Twitter: @shannonrwatts

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to letters@usatoday.com.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump Supreme Court nominee Amy Barrett threatens gun safety progress