The Washington Post's Volokh Conspiracy blog failed to disclose a writer's relationship with the National Rifle Association, whose piece offered a false attack on expanded background check legislation.
The Volokh Conspiracy is a blog operated by law professor Eugene Volokh that has been published on the Post website since January 2014. The blog is editorially independent from the Post and describes its contributors as “generally libertarian, conservative, centrist, or some mixture of these.”
In a November 2 post, writer David Kopel attacked a common version of expanded background check legislation with the false claim that such legislation criminalizes benign activities such as merely handing a friend a gun to look at. He was identified by the site as “Research Director, Independence Institute, Denver, Colorado; Associate Policy Analyst, Cato Institute, Washington, D.C; and Adjunct professor of advanced constitutional law, Denver University, Sturm College of Law” and “author of 15 books and 90 scholarly journal articles.”
That description ignores Kopel's longstanding ties with the NRA, which include large grants given by the NRA to the Independence Institute and Kopel's frequent contribution as a writer to NRA publications. Kopel most recently contributed to the NRA's paranoid and inflammatory America's 1st Freedom magazine in the November 2015 issue.
According to an investigation of Kopel's relationship with the NRA by journalist Frank Smyth, “Kopel has managed to establish himself as an independent authority on gun policy issues even though he and his Independence Institute have received over $1.42 million including about $175,000 a year over eight years from the NRA.”
Following the publication of Smyth's exposé, The New York Times added language to an opinion piece submitted by Kopel to indicate that the Independence Institute “has received grant money from the National Rifle Association's Civil Rights Defense Fund.”
But the Post's Volokh Conspiracy blog made no such disclosure, even though his post helps advance the NRA's agenda in several ways. Kopel uses the Volokh Conspiracy to give credence to the NRA's go-to argument against expanded background check legislation, attacks by name NRA opponent Everytown for Gun Safety for favoring such legislation, and specifically attacks legislative language in an upcoming ballot initiative in Nevada that the NRA opposes.
Moreover, Kopel's claim about expanded background check legislation is baseless.
The NRA previously attacked the legislative language discussed in Kopel's post as it was enacted in Washington state in 2014 via a ballot initiative and in legislation in Oregon in 2015 by claiming that the language was drafted in way that -- either through nefarious design or drafting incompetence -- turned many routine activities involving a gun into crimes.
Law enforcement officials charged with enforcing background check laws have rejected these hysterical claims, calling them “semantics” arguments. And the NRA and other opponents of expanded background checks have been unable to provide reporters examples of gun owners being prosecuted over technicalities of the law.
Following the publication of this post, the Volokh Conspiracy blog added the following language to Kopel's biography: “Kopel is an NRA-certified safety instructor. The Independence Institute has received NRA contributions.”