ALEC and the 2nd Amendment

By Emily Theroux

The National Rifle Association has long relied on a catchy bumper-sticker slogan to justify its campaign to defeat gun control and thereby help corporate giants like Walmart sell more guns: “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.”

In Florida, unfortunately, the two opposing premises don’t cancel each other out. The state’s “Stand Your Ground” law makes it possible for people to kill people, using guns, and theoretically “get away with murder” (or manslaughter, or the “justifiable homicide” designations that tripled between 2006, the year the law went into effect, and 2010. As long as they claim they felt “threatened” in some indeterminate way and that they acted in self-defense, shooters are immune from civil suits and criminal prosecution.

It’s been one month since Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager walking alone through an unfamiliar gated community, was shot to death in Sanford, Fla. by self-designated “neighborhood watch captain” George Zimmerman, who maintained, in the absence of eyewitnesses, that he acted in self-defense after Trayvon attacked him. Since that tragic night, a maelstrom of strident and conflicting opinions about whether the shooting was racially motivated and which man was the real “victim” have turned the case into a media circus.

This week, the news broke that lead investigator Chris Serino didn’t believe Zimmerman’s story from the outset and wanted to charge him with homicide or negligent manslaughter. The Seminole County State Attorney’s office informed Serino, however, that the “Stand Your Ground” law required more evidence than the investigator had yet gathered in order for him to make an arrest. The measure was signed into law by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush in 2005. And that’s where the NRA – and a little-known legislative lobbying organization that spends as much as $7 million a year to spin conservative ideology into law – come into the picture.

If the NRA hadn’t collaborated for years with the secretive American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to lobby for passage by state legislatures of the “Stand Your Ground” law’s almost identically worded precursor, the “Castle Doctrine,” Zimmerman may not have even considered using deadly force against another human being whom he encountered in a public place. Last summer, the Center for Media and Democracy, a non-profit investigative reporting group, put up its latest website,, to shed light on the shadowy group. ALEC officially masquerades as America’s largest group of state legislators, yet 98 percent of its budget comes from corporate donors like Walmart (the top seller of guns and ammunition in the country), Altria (the parent company of Philip Morris), Coors, Bell South, Verizon, and Koch Industries. ALEC’s activities are also underwritten by the Koch-funded Heritage Foundation. ALEC pushes its far-right agenda by drafting “model” bills, many of which are later adopted by state legislatures virtually as written – in one case, so hastily that the lawmaker who proposed the bill reportedly forgot to remove ALEC’s mission statement from the copy she submitted for a vote.

After New York Times columnist Paul Krugman made the connection between Trayvon Martin’s death and ALEC’s  “Stand Your Ground” model, I listened intently to that night’s cable TV commentary. My knee-jerk reaction was as follows: You could have heard the grubs foraging in the lawns around the headquarters of television broadcasting outlets. I didn’t hear a single left-leaning cable TV pundit bring up ALEC on that evening’s prime-time programming – not even Rachel Maddow, whose silence on the subject initially stunned me. Later, I typed “Any reaction to Paul Krugman’s column about ALEC?” into Google’s search engine. What surfaced first were a few comments by fellow economists and progressive bloggers, along with a handful of tweets from the Netroots faithful. Digging deeper, I discovered that John Nichols of “The Nation,” who had written extensively last summer about ALEC’s entanglement in other state laws, discussed his findings on Current TV’s “Countdown” with Keith Olbermann. In addition, Lawrence O’Donnell did a segment about ALEC’s model bills on his MSNBC show last May.

Nicole Belle of the progressive blog “Crooks and Liars” showered praise on MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, who delved into ALEC’s sponsorship of the “Stand Your Ground” law a day before Krugman’s column appeared. “While other Sunday morning bobbleheads contented themselves to debate whether President Obama was politicizing the Trayvon Martin death by speaking on it, Hayes opted to talk about something no other news outlet thus far has been brave enough to raise,” Belle wrote.

It’s true that programs like “Meet the Press,” “Face the Nation,” and Chris Matthews’ “Hardball” don’t often venture into the netherworld of controversial organizations like ALEC – which, of course, denies that it has a partisan agenda. After all, the mainstream media have been accused of “liberal media bias” for so long by Fox News and right-wing radio hosts that they’ve overreacted by kowtowing to their critics and failing to challenge guests who answer direct questions by spouting evasive Republican talking points. The braver pundits cited above, however, dared to expose the underbelly of an organization that feeds on class and racial anxiety in order to scare more affluent citizens into arming themselves to the teeth.

The mainstream media have long maintained an uncomfortable truce with popular corporate mainstays like Coca-Cola, UPS, and AT&T, by declining to bring up their financial backing of right-wing political activities. (It’s not surprising that the same corporations support large media conglomerates by running advertisements, both in print and on the air.) “Big Think” blogger Kris Broughton recently applauded a local Omaha TV reporter for asking a Nebraska state senator why a bill he had sponsored sounded exactly like a model bill from the “ALEC Exposed” website. Broughton then speculated about “why NBC wastes good money on David Gregory and his lap dog routine” when feistier journalists are out on their beats demanding real answers.

On the right-wing blogs I visited, ugly invective against Paul Krugman surged like larvae from beneath a jagged rock. Like ALEC itself, the “creepy cronyism” Krugman described tends to shun the disinfecting power of sunlight. Meanwhile, at the “Rally for Trayvon Martin” being held tomorrow at high noon in front of ALEC’s D.C. headquarters, a coalition of gun-control advocates will wage yet another battle against what organizers are calling “Kill at Will” bills. The protesters stand to score a minor victory even if all they do is expose ALEC’s machinations to the flesh-and-blood world beyond the blogosphere – a world where, when lobbyists’ hypothetical guns are fired, real people die.

Note: Tomorrow’s rally is being sponsored by the Center for Media and Democracy, the National Urban League, the NAACP,, the AFL-CIO, SEIU, Common Cause, People for the American Way, and the National Council of Churches, among other organizations.

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2 Responses to “ALEC and the 2nd Amendment”

  1. Russ Layne Says:


    I believe this organization is playing a big role in the privatization movement of public education.


  2. Anita Says:

    A great piece, Emily. It’s difficult not to despair over the future of a country where the same people who think it’s not okay to kill embryos, declare open season on Black kids in hoodies.

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