But Monday's ruling was only the latest in a string of setbacks the high court has dealt the NRA and other national gun groups. The gun lobby was flying high after its 2010 victory in the McDonald v. Chicago, in which the justices ruled that the Second Amendment applies to state and local governments. But since then, the Supreme Court has refused to take up another major Second Amendment case. During the court's latest term, which began in October 2013, the justices have rejected at least five high-profile petitions supported by the NRA and other pro-gun lobbying groups, and ruled against two challenges backed by pro-gun organizations that they did consider. Here are the highlights:
In February, the Supreme Court declined to hear a case the NRA brought against the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) in which the group was aiming to legalize the sale of handguns to Americans between the ages of 18 and 20.
In March, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled the federal law barring domestic violence offenders from owning guns applies to a broad range of abusers. (In this case, the NRA did not file a brief against the government, although the Gun Owners Foundation did.)
In May, the Supreme Court declined to hear Drake v. Jerejian, a major Second Amendment case that challenged a New Jersey law barring most citizens from toting handguns around in public unless they can prove "justifiable need." (The NRA had argued that citizens' right to bear arms applies everywhere.)
Eugene Volokh, a law professor at the University of California-Los Angeles, says the Supreme Court's recent refusal to rule on major gun lawsuits isn't necessarily unusual, since the high court only hears a small percentage of all cases. But Adam Winkler, another law professor at UCLA, says he's "definitely" seen a trend in the Supreme Court dealing blows at the NRA since the agency's last big win in 2010, and he's seen lower courts consistently fall on the side of gun control. "Gun control is dead everywhere except the courts," Winkler says. "The courts are not as much of a victim to political pressures, and the judges rightfully see while there's a right to bear arms, there's plenty of room for gun control." (The NRA did not respond to comment.)
But gun control advocates aren't satisfied with their legal victories."What's shocking and appalling," says Jonathan Lowy, the director of the legal action project at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, "is not that courts have recognized that the constitution allows for sensible gun laws. It's that Congress hasn't acted."
Missouri Republicans are pushing for a measure to expand early voting in the state. The move seems like a departure from the nationwide, GOP-led effort to shrink the window of time voters have access to the polls, but Democrats say it's more of the same. The measure from Missouri's Republicans, who in May failed to amend the state's constitution to implement stricter voter ID requirements, comes at the same time as a citizen-led ballot measure that would expand early voting significantly. State GOPers say their version, which expands early voting by a much smaller amount and includes restrictions, will combat voter fraud and help voters make up their minds. But critics say the Republican-backed measure excludes days when working families and African American voters are more likely to hit the polls.
The hullabaloo started after Martin Luther King Jr. Day, when volunteers such as Greg Oelke, a retired pipefitter in Missouri, gathered signatures to place an initiative on the ballot that would give voters six extra weeks to get to the polls at multiple locations and provide time to vote on the weekends. Oelke, who often worked overtime on construction projects both in and out of Missouri, collected signatures around Springfield because he said it was hard for him to make it to the polls on Election Day. "Early voting is an issue that really means a lot to me," he told Missouri Jobs With Justice, a group that helped organize the petition drive.
In early May, after hundreds of volunteers collected signatures in church basements and break rooms, citizens delivered a petition with more than 300,000 signatures to Missouri's secretary of state, whose office has until August to verify the signatures and decide whether to place the measure on the November ballot. But Missouri Republicans won't let that happen without a fight.
On April 1, a couple months after the petition drive had begun, Rep. Tony Dugger (R-Hartville) sponsored a competing measure. In May, the GOP-led House passed a version of the bill that expands early voting by six days—excluding the weekend—to a limited number of polling places, while also prohibiting same-day voter registration. If the citizens' initiative is approved, both measures will appear on the ballot in November. "The testimony in the Legislature in favor of the sham early voting bill was actually testimony against early voting," says Lara Granich, the director of Missouri Jobs With Justice. "That makes the real motivation behind it clear. They want it to be more difficult for folks to vote."
GOP-led legislatures in other key swing states, including Ohio, North Carolina, and Wisconsin, have all recently advanced measures to cut down on early voting. Democrats contend that Republicans target early voting because people who utilize it—low-income voters and minority voters—tend to also vote Democrat, a perception fueled by President Obama success with early voters, the Associated Press notes.
Republicans have offered different theories as to why six days of early voting makes more sense than six weeks. Last week, state Rep. Paul Curtman (R-Pacific) told the Missourian that six weeks of early voting would give voters too much time to commit voter fraud. (Between 2000 and 2010, there were 13 credible cases of in-person voter impersonation nationwide.) State Sen. Brian Nieves (R-Washington) said that six weeks of early voting "invites and begs" voter fraud, because it's not uncommon for people to lie about their addresses, or to have people vote who are not registered. Mother Jones reached out to both Curtman and Nieves for information about documented voter fraud cases in Missouri, but did not receive a response.
Dugger, who introduced the measure, did not comment on the voter fraud allegations. He told Mother Jones that six weeks of early voting is too much because voters who cast a ballot early might end up changing their minds by Election Day. "I don't want anyone to feel as if they wasted their their vote," he says, noting that keeping the polls open for six weeks is a financial burden. "I think six days is a reasonable step."
Granich argues that "if you are juggling two jobs and a family, six more days of bankers' hours does nothing for you. This is really a cynical attempt to confuse voters." Denise Lieberman, senior attorney at the Advancement Project, says that other states have demonstrated that early voting makes voting significantly more accessible, and voters aren't required to vote early. As for the argument that early voting could promote voter fraud, she says, "I find it flabbergasting."
Van McCann, the gleeful 21-year-old frontman of Welsh indie-rock band Catfish and the Bottlemen, doesn't appear to have a sarcastic bone in his body. We meet in a shady spot on Randall's Island in New York City, at the Governor's Ball music festival. Even among the Brooklynites jockeying to out-hipster each other, McCann's bouncy rocker haircut and skinny pants stand out. He informs me that I have a face that makes him happy to look at, which is also how he feels about Scottish actor Ewan McGregor's face. In fact, the band's new video for the song, "Kathleen," features almost three minutes of McGregor smiling on screen. McCann isn't being ironic. "I just love him!" he exclaims.
McCann's band, which debuted Kathleen and the Other Three, its new EP, in the US earlier this month, has the kind of back story a label might try to make up to draw buzz. (The UK's Communion Records, which also works with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, signed Catfish and the Bottlemen in 2013). McCann says his mom couldn't have children naturally, and he was born in the final in-vitro fertilization attempt. When he was a kid his family traveled around Australia, where he saw a busker named Catfish and the Bottlemen, hence the name. He met his bandmates—guitarist Billy Bibby, bassist Benji Blakeway, and drummer Bob Hall—in school back in Llandudno, Wales, and when McCann was 15, he got kicked out of school, not "because I was a little shit," but because he was playing too many shows and missing exams.
"Everyone just went crazy; we got arrested for sound pollution!" McCann says.
Since then, Catfish and the Bottlemen have been busting their asses and playing a lot of gigs—including ones they're not invited to. McCann recalls one time when the band couldn't get on the opening slot of a show they wanted to play, so they rented a generator, revved it up, put on ninja masks in the parking lot, and waited for everyone to leave the gig before starting to rock out. "Everyone just went crazy; we got arrested for sound pollution!" McCann says. Last year, they played upward of 100 shows in 18 months. This summer, they're scheduled to play more than 30 festivals.
Their EP's title track is a catchy, sex-drenched rock song that wouldn't sound out of place on an Arctic Monkeys record, or maybe the long-lost dirty Killers album. "It's impractical, to go out and catch a death with a dress fit for the summer/So you don't/Instead you call me up with a head full of filth," McCann sings. The other songs aren't quite as much fun, although "Homesick" reminds me of all the times I emo-ed out in my car to Dashboard Confessional as a teenager—which as far as I'm concerned, is a good thing. McCann notes that right now he's listening to British indie group Little Comets and the National, but he's also a fan of the Strokes, Van Morrison, and the Beatles, of course.
At the Governor's Ball, the Bottlemen played around noon, long before fans flooded the park to see Skrillex and Jack White. But speaking with McCann, I got the sense that the band could cheerfully propel itself straight to world domination. McCann says his goal is to play giant stadiums, not just intimate indie-rock clubs. "Right to the top, all the way to the top. To me, I don't see the point of doing it otherwise," he says. He describes playing New York as, "Fucking ace, man. It's amazing, I love it!" He adds, giddily, "When I was walking through the streets of New York the other day, this girl came up to me and was like, 'Dude your band is awesome!' I was like, 'I've only been here a day!'"
David Brat, the libertarian professor who rocked US politics when he beat House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) in Tuesday's GOP primary, regularly touts his experience as an economist to bolster his political credentials. He notes on his campaign website that his economic expertise has been "recognized by his peers"—but some of Brat's colleagues in academia are not impressed with his academic résumé. They say that the few journals that have featured his work in the past decade are obscure; one of them is published by a local economics association Brat once headed. Fellow economists also point out that his published research isn't often cited by other scholars in his field.
Brat, who chairs the economics and business department at Virginia's Randolph-Macon College, published his most prestigious papers in 1995 and 1996, each of these two cowritten with his Ph.D. adviser at American University. These two papers appear in Google Scholar and are cited by other academics. Since then, Brat "has published in places of little consequence to the profession," says Dr. Nicolaus Tideman, an economics professor at Virginia Tech. Tideman notes that by his count Brat has only published three works that have been cited by another academic since he coauthored the papers with his adviser. "One could say this lack of citations reflects a career that is not impressive," Tideman says.
A spokesperson for Randolph-Macon directed questions relating to Brat's academic career to his campaign, which did not respond to a request for comment.
Having been booted off the Benghazi beat, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is firing up conservatives about yet another Obama scandal: a supposed White House plot to put gun dealers and other lawful merchants out of business by denying them banking services. Issa, who chairs the House oversight and government reform committee, alleges that Operation Choke Point, a Justice Department program that cracks down on fraud by scrutinizing banks and payment processors, is being used by the Obama administration to target gun sellers and other businesses the administration doesn't fancy. "Operation Choke Point is the Justice Department’s newest abuse of power," Issa said, in a report released May 29.
Issa wants the program dismantled, and he is deploying some of the same tactics he's used to slam the administration on Benghazi and the so-called IRS scandal—dumping documents, whipping the conservativemedia into a frenzy, and accusing the administration of overstepping the law—to get his way. The same day Issa's report came out, the House approved an amendment to the annual Justice Department spending bill that strips the program's funding.
Meanwhile, some Democrats are mystified that conservatives are up in arms about an anti-fraud program, and the Justice Department is emphasizing this effort has nothing to do with limiting gun-selling.
Operation Choke Point compels banks to take greater steps to prevent fraud and not engage in financial transactions with companies they suspect might be breaking the law. Under Choke Point, the Justice Department has opened civil or criminal investigations into at least 15 banks and payment processors—which serve as the middleman between banks and businesses in credit card transactions—to determine if these firms have enabled fraud.
The Justice Department is working with Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) on the initiative. The controversy began in part because the FDIC in 2011—years before Operation Choke Point launched—issued a list of businesses that can be associated with high-risk activity that financial institutions should watch out for. These include enterprises peddling firearms, pornography, drug paraphernalia, and racist materials. The FDIC noted that financial institutions that "properly manage these relationships and risks are neither prohibited nor discouraged from providing payment processing services to customers operating in compliance with applicable law." In other words, there was no reason for a bank not to handle payments for these businesses just because of the goods they sell.
Nonetheless, Issa's report alleges that the Justice Department is using the FDIC guidance as a hit list. "The FDIC's policy statements on firearm and ammunition sales carry additional weight in light of FDIC's active involvement in Operation Choke Point," the report reads. But a Justice Department official tells Mother Jones that this conclusion is incorrect. "We're not using the FDIC's list at all," the official says. "There's been a lot of misunderstanding, there's been accusations were going after gun owners...None of our cases involve gun merchants or porn."
The Justice Department insists it's committed to ensuring its anti-fraud campaign doesn't inhibit lawful merchants. Issa, though, claims that Attorney General Eric Holder knew that banks would drop clients deemed "high risk" by the government, such as gun-sellers, as a result of Operation Choke Point. His report cites a recent Washington Times article reporting that a number of firearms merchants had their bank accounts shut down, supposedly because of the Obama administration. "The experience of firearms and ammunitions merchants...calls into question the sincerity of the Department's statements," the report states. Fox News promoted this charge, declaring, "The Obama administration, after failing to get gun control passed on Capitol Hill, has resorted to using its executive power to try to put some in the firearms industry out of business, House Republican investigators say."
The Justice Department maintains there's no reason banks should feel threatened by the government for doing business with certain industries, including gun-dealers. The Justice Department official notes that when the department subpoenas banks, it's looking for payment processors that might be engaging in fraud. "We're not saying give us all the docs you have on risky businesses," the official says.
What about the gun-sellers who say their bank accounts were shut down? One of the gun-merchants who was cited in the WashingtonTimes, and who says he's a victim of Operation Choke Point, first complained publicly about his dispute with Bank of America long before the initiative was launched. The other banks in the story wouldn't say why they closed the accounts. The Justice Department official says the agency isn't sure why the gun merchants' accounts were allegedly shut down, because the information its investigations have obtained does not include any links to gun dealers. "Banks are making their own assessments, that's not something we can control," the official says. (Last month, when several news outlets reported that JPMorgan Chase & Co shut down the accounts of people in the porn industry because of Operation Choke Point, a Chase official toldMother Jones that the government program had nothing to do with the bank's action.)
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and a number of other Democrats, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), support Operation Choke Point. "It is a mystery to me why Chairman Issa is attacking the Department of Justice for cracking down on fraud against American consumers," Cummings tells Mother Jones. "Contrary to the chairman's accusations, documents produced to the committee show that the Department is using lawful investigative techniques to reduce consumer fraud." In over 850 pages of internal Justice Department documents that Issa released, there isn't a single mention of firearms dealers.