Advocates of gun rights are drawing on the old and the new in their criticism of Attorney General-designate Eric Holder Jr.
The criticism appears in letters sent in the last week to the Senate Judiciary Committee from two organizations that generally oppose restrictions on gun ownership. Their letters preview what may come up Thursday and Friday during Holder’s confirmation hearing, when a lawyer who has written often about the Second Amendment is scheduled to testify at the request of Republican senators.
Gun Owners of America is opposing Holder outright. The National Rifle Association says it has “serious questions” and “substantial concerns.”
In its letter (pdf), the NRA cites a criminal case from Holder’s time as U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia in which a New York man was convicted of carrying a pistol without a license. Robert Bieder, who was licensed to carry a gun in New York, had brought the gun to Virginia for recreational purposes and, while returning to New York, stopped in Washington to visit the U.S. Capitol with his daughter. When he tried to check the gun with the Capitol Police, Bieder was arrested.
“Pursuing this trivial case to such lengths imposed substantial costs on taxpayers, with no benefit at all to public safety,” reads the NRA letter. “A reasonable prosecutor might have exercised his discretion by sending Mr. Bieder home to New York with a far better understanding of the District’s strict gun laws. That Mr. Holder chose to do otherwise raises serious questions about his judgment.”
In a 1998 opinion upholding Bieder’s conviction, the D.C. Court of Appeals cited the limited scope of the innocent possession defense. It also wrote that Bieder loaded the gun with 14 rounds before bringing it into the Capitol. (The NRA letter doesn’t mention the latter.)
Stephen Halbrook, a Fairfax, Va., lawyer who is scheduled to testify at Holder's confirmation hearing, has served on an NRA committee, according to his Web site.
The NRA letter and the letter (pdf) from Gun Owners of America both cite recent statements from Holder in support of gun control, including an amicus brief he signed in support of the District’s gun restrictions in District of Columbia v. Heller. In a 5-4 decision last term, the Supreme Court struck down those restrictions as violating the Second Amendment.
For Gun Owners of America, Holder’s statements are enough to disqualify him. “The selection of Eric Holder as nominee for Attorney General is a cynical slap in the face of law-abiding gun owners. Gun Owners of America urges the U.S. Senate to reject this anti-Second Amendment activist should the incoming president persist in pushing this nomination forward,” the letter reads. It adds that a Holder confirmation vote would affect its 2010 congressional rankings.
Opposition to Holder’s nomination—as opposed to criticism—has been rare amid the many letters received by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Holder has a diverse group of supporters, including police organizations, prosecutors, and civil rights advocates.