Launching MSLF’s Center to Keep and Bear Arms
Mountain States Legal Foundation is launching its first-ever legal center of excellence, dedicated to defending Second Amendment protected rights. Communications Director Sean Paige sat down with attorney Cody J. Wisniewski to learn more about the strategy and motivation behind the creation of MSLF’s Center to Keep and Bear Arms.
(Paige) First, let’s start with the big news. Tell us about the new MSLF initiative you’ll be heading- up and explain what led to its creation and why it’s needed now:
(Wisniewski) The purpose of MSLF’s new Center to Keep and Bear Arms is to renew MSLF’s litigation efforts in the gun rights and Second Amendment area. Mountain States is no stranger to this type of litigation. We successfully represented an individual in a self-defense case after he was nearly attacked by a grizzly bear in the 1980s and continued on with major litigation victories throughout the 2000s. Our arguments were highlighted and cited by the Supreme Court in two landmark Second Amendment cases—D.C. v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago.
Building on that success, we saw an opportunity for Mountain States to become an even greater resource to the national gun rights movement.
A lot of gun rights organizations have done great work, but there was no group that solely focused its efforts on litigation. Some organizations have focused solely on appellate courts, waiting for cases to be litigated in trial courts and then taking them over on appeal. But this approach does not lay a strong foundation for cases in the trial court. By focusing on trial court litigation, all the way through the Supreme Court, the Center will become a major resource to the gun rights movement as a whole.
What will set the Center’s work apart from work done by other Second Amendment organizations?
First and foremost, we are litigation-only, meaning that we do not lobby or write policy. Other organizations have achieved good results through legislative action or by working with their legislatures but the Center will focus on setting sturdy, long-lasting legal precedent in courtrooms across the nation. This allows the Center to avoid any political issues and focus simply on bringing cases to vindicate our Republic’s foundational principles. Second, all of the Center’s litigation will be done in-house by MSLF attorneys. Keeping our cases in-house allows us to direct the arguments and the narrative from day one, from the trial court all the way through the Supreme Court if necessary.
How will the Center to Keep and Bear Arms decide which cases to take?
The Center will focus on cases within its issue areas—Keep, Bear, and Arms. “Keep” focuses on individuals’ ability to own and possess the arms they deem necessary, for instance, to defend their lives, loved ones, and property. “Bear” focuses on individuals’ ability to carry arms on their person, both in their home and in public. And “Arms” focuses on ensuring that courts and legislatures respect the broad definition of protected arms envisioned by the Founders and Framers. While based in the West and founded on preserving the Western way of life, the Center will litigate across the nation, as needed, to fight for all Americans’ right to keep and bear arms.
Where is the biggest threat to the Second Amendment coming from these days?
Guns and gun owners have been demonized for the past few decades. In reality, gun owners are simply everyday Americans, rural or urban, who recognize the importance of being able to defend themselves. The Founders and Framers recognized the importance of individual arms ownership. Specifically, I expect very extreme city governments and municipalities to continue trying to push the envelope on gun control ordinances that they cannot get passed through state legislatures—everything from semi-automatic firearm and magazine bans to carry prohibitions.
How does this fit into the core mission of Mountain States Legal Foundation?
Nothing is more sacred to the Western way of life than individual responsibility and property rights. Gun owners take responsibility for their own safety and that of their community. Owning a firearm, or any other type of arm, allows them to protect their lives and their property.
How long have you been with Mountain States Legal Foundation and what motivated you to join the legal team?
I have been with Mountain States for just over three years. I started my legal career at the Department of Justice and took an Oath of Office to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. After spending a short amount of time working for the federal government, I realized the best way to uphold my oath was to join Mountain States Legal Foundation and bring the fight to the government on behalf of everyday people. I saw an opportunity to build on Mountain States’ history of Second Amendment litigation.
Looking five or ten years into the future, what do you hope the Center will have accomplished?
We are at a turning point. Ever since the late Justice Scalia brought constitutional originalism into the mainstream, and as Justice Thomas has continued to advocate, more Judges are respecting the original public meaning of the Constitution. What we are seeing now is the importance of setting good legal precedent in courts. I am confident that, with the partnership of Mountain States’ generous donors, the Center will grow to be the foremost gun rights litigation outfit in the United States. In 10 years, we will have a massive impact in courts across the nation and will continue to establish legal precedents that protect the rights of all Americans.
How did you gravitate toward Second Amendment work as an area of interest?
I’m not a typical gun owner. I didn’t grow up in a household with guns and didn’t shoot my first gun until I was 20 years old. However, I have always had a healthy distrust of government overreach—growing up in California will do that to you. When I saw what my dad had to go through to buy and own a gun in California, simply to defend his home, I began to see just how detrimental gun control laws are to hard- working Americans. As I went to law school and experienced classmates’ and even professors’ lack of care for our nation’s founding principles, I saw where the problem came from. To me, the natural right to self-defense is one of the most important foundations of our system, and if we allow that to be trampled upon by the government, we will be on a road to forfeiting all of our other rights. I saw the gun control movement as a microcosm of the macrocosm—what happens to gun rights over the next 20 years will signal what happens to all of our rights. But the fight is far from over. There is still time to positively impact gun rights across our nation. And that’s what we intend to do with our Center to Keep and Bear Arms, with the help of MSLF’s generous supporters.
Donate to support MSLF’s Center to Keep and Bear Arms.