San Francisco Seeks Dismissal of NRA Lawsuit, Says It Did Not Retaliate With 'Domestic Terrorist' Resolution

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A picture of Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre is seen at the National Rifle Association (NRA) booth during CPAC 2019 February 28, 2019 in National Harbor, Maryland. Alex Wong/Getty

San Francisco is asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the National Rifle Association (NRA) in September, after the city passed a resolution declaring the nation's largest gun-rights group a "domestic terrorist organization."

The NRA complained that the non-binding resolution, passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on September 3, called on the city to review and reevaluate its relationships with contractors who also do business with the NRA.

After its passage the NRA swiftly objected, and in a federal lawsuit accused the city of violating the group's First Amendment rights. San Francisco quickly retreated: a late-September memorandum from Mayor London N. Breed was sent to all city department heads instructing that the resolution "does not impose any obligations" upon officials.

"No department will take steps to assess the relationships between City contractors and the NRA," she wrote. "And no department will take steps to restrict any contractor from doing business with the NRA or to restrict City contracting opportunities for any business that has any relationship with the NRA."

In its motion to dismiss on Thursday, San Francisco argued that because the resolution was non-binding and did not result in any official action being taken, the NRA lacked standing to sue the city, meaning that the non-profit did not suffer any specific harm that would necessitate compensation.

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The city also alleged that because the resolution "does not restrict" the NRA's free speech, the group cannot claim its First Amendment rights were being infringed.

The NRA had argued that the city, while not barring its viewpoints outright, constructed a campaign that was "designed to suppress the NRA's speech." The NRA accused San Francisco of quietly intimidating contractors who might do business with it, based on nothing more than its constitutionally protected pro-gun advocacy, effectively punishing the organization for exercising rights under the First Amendment.

But San Francisco lawyers argued that the city's supervisors have a constitutionally-protected right themselves to express their own viewpoints, and that the NRA cannot claim an injury under the law for adverse views being expressed by a government body against it.

In Thursday's motion, San Francisco cited press releases from the NRA which it claimed served as tacit acknowledgments that there was never any real cause for alarm due to a non-binding resolution. In one memo, the NRA characterized how Breed described the resolution in her city-wide letter as "a bunch of hot air with no legally binding effect whatsoever."

This would appear to undermine a central position taken by the NRA in court, that the organization suffered concrete harm due to the resolution, San Francisco argued. However, further down in the same memo the NRA does assert that a "chilling effect" on its business remains, even if the legal cloud in situations like these may dissipate.

Furthermore, the city asked the court to dismiss the NRA's portion of the suit filed against San Francisco supervisors. The motion cited doctrine providing local legislators with "absolute immunity" from liability in conjunction with lawmaking activities.

A hearing on the city's motion is expected in November.