Gun Rights Policy Confab a Major Success

Our GRPC 2000 report is divided into sessions for easier reading.
Click on the desired section to read.

September 29, 2000

September 30, 2000

October 1, 2000

State Legislation

After a break, attendees were eager to get back to their seats for the latest scoop on state and local legislative efforts. Panelists were state Sen. Sam Slom (R-HI), Evan F. Nappen, Dennis Fusaro and Paul Moog.

Slom, trustee and secretary of SAF, said the real action is at the local and state levels. "That's where the action is. That's where you come from. That's where the grass roots movement is most important and that's where you can make the most changes."

Slom said that there is always an argument whether the pro-gun groups are winning or losing, but no one can deny that they are always fighting the battle for Second Amendment rights. He encouraged the GRPC attendees to take back the materials and information provided by the conference and use them to create new ideas and new thoughts to fight the anti-gun forces in their communities. He also related a major flop for the gun grabbers in his home state of Hawaii.

"I am really pleased to be here, but I am sorry that I had to leave Hawaii at this time because we are in the midst of the fourth extension of our famous gun buy-up program. It has been so 'successful' that it had to be extended four times. They hoped to collect over 250 guns, but the last tally was something like 79."

Slom cautioned people not to feel overwhelmed by the anti-gun forces and that one person or one vote can make a difference. Slom, himself, is just one of two Republicans in a 25-member state senate, so he knows what it's like to buck the odds. But no matter how outnumbered you may feel at the local level, the strongest weapon you have is the family. If the family retains the qualities and values that the country was founded on, the stronger the support for rights such as the Second Amendment. But there are forces that would subvert family cohesion, Slom said, mentioning MTV as an example.

Evan F. Nappen
While Slom may have some complaints about his home state of Hawaii, Evan F. Nappen, Esq., founder of ReformNewJerseyGunLaw.com, told listeners that without question, New Jersey is heaven to gun haters and hell to freedom lovers.

"If I can convince you that New Jersey is the worst place to be if you are a gunowner, perhaps you can feel better about your state and know what to avoid."

Nappen explained that unlike other states in the union, in New Jersey all gunowners are guilty until they can prove themselves innocent. He elaborated on what one might consider a contradiction in basic constitutional principles. "Under New Jersey State Statute 39-5, all guns are banned. It's up to the citizen to show by way of exception under NJS 39-6 that he lawfully qualifies for exemption. In law, those exemptions are called an affirmative defense and it is incumbent on the defendant to prove that he is within the exemption."

Exemptions include possession in one's residence, possession at the target range or possession while hunting and they all come with a series of technical requirements. It's up to the gunowner to prove at any time that he is within the exemption. Some time ago, New Jersey came up with the requirement for a firearms owner identification card to possess a long arm. Now, one would think that having an owner's ID card would override the ban on all firearms, but the New Jersey legislature figured how to slide out of that one.

One example involved Joseph Pelleteri, a law-abiding citizen with no prior record who won a .22-caliber Marlin Model 60 in a shooting match. He supplied his firearms ID card to acquire the gun, took it home and locked it up in a safe with the factory tags still on it. He was convicted of possessing an illegal "assault" rifle under New Jersey law, which carried a five-year sentence and the complete loss of all his rights to own guns-ever. Nappen said that this was bad, but the appellate court ruling was even worse. "The appellate said that when dealing with guns the citizen acts at his peril. In New Jersey, the gun laws are, as a matter of law, perilous to gunowners!"

Before turning over the podium to Dennis Fusaro, director of state affairs, Gun Owners of America, Nappen plugged his new novel, The Declaration, about a person who finds the original Declaration of Independence. According to Nappen, it's loaded with pro-gun sentiments.

Dennis Fusaro
"We have a motto at the State Legislative Affairs at GOA," said Fusaro. "Pain is good and extreme pain is extremely good...for politicians, that is. We divide the political world of gun rights into two seasons, the election season and the legislative season. Whatever they do to us in the legislative season, it's our job to do back to them during the election season."

Fusaro encouraged everyone to log onto GOA's website at www.gunowners.org to get legislative alerts for their states and to get involved in GOA's state candidate survey program. The purpose of the survey is to mobilize grass roots gunowners to get them involved and use pressure to educate local candidates.

Fusaro also brought up two initiatives pending in Oregon and Colorado that would require background checks at gun shows for private sales, and in the case of Oregon, it would lead to registration of the firearm with the state police. "You need to educate your friends and neighbors why legislation like this is bad," Fusaro directed. "Registration leads to confiscation. It happened in DC. It happened in New York City, and it's happening in California."

The final speaker on state and local legislation was Paul Moog, president, Virginia Citizens Defense League Inc. He expressed surprise that with just a few key activists in 1994 and help from the NRA and GOA, Virginia Citizens Defense League was able to get a concealed carry law passed. "This year and the past five years we've been working on getting rid of the ban on carrying concealed weapons in restaurants. Hopefully, this year we will end that ban."

Moog said that he knew what it feels like to be a lone activist and try to get something done. It's only through networking and operating with other people can you really accomplish a lot. "One thing I've found very rewarding is starting a grass roots group and working with other grass roots activists. It can be frustrating to be one individual and find you can't get much done, but if you can get 20 or 30 people together, you can get a lot accomplished. We only had about 30 people when we started our efforts to get a concealed carry law in Virginia. If you get people to work together, you can enjoy success."

Tom Gresham
After listening to pro-gun efforts at the local level, GRPC attendees heard about current pro-gun efforts by the industry to defend itself against attacks. Tom Gresham, board member of the CCRKBA and host of the nationally syndicated radio program "Gun Talk," was first to address the subject of fighting back. "The biggest threat to gunowners and the one with the greatest potential for shutting it all down is the suit against the gun-makers themselves. Make no mistake about it, the plan is to end firearms sales by destroying the firearms industry. You can have a Second Amendment, but it doesn't mean anything if you can't buy a gun."

Gresham dismissed the critics that claimed he was pushing for compromise. He cautioned the audience to pay attention. "I keep saying we have to fight smarter. Never compromise. Never give in. You can't take a bat and baseball mitt to a football game. You have to know the game in order to play."

Just because someone is not getting into a face-to-face confrontation over the gun issue doesn't mean that the person is not fighting or is compromising. Perhaps he or she is just fighting smarter. To illustrate the concept of fighting smarter Gresham recalled the massive brouhaha over S-2099, which was introduced by Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI). It was a gun registration bill that amended the 1934 National Firearms Act and called for a $50 tax on handguns. "How many of you received e-mail on 2099?" he asked. Several hands went up. "How many of you wasted your time, effort and money fighting that silly 'Chicken Little' measure?" he asked.

"It was a waste. It wasn't going anywhere. Millions upon millions of e-mails that could have been better spent on something that was effectual were wasted on something that made us feel better. We've got to fight smarter. If a bill is so outrageous that we know it will not pass, we have to ignore it. Let's not be sidetracked by Chicken Little on the Internet."

As a host of a widely successful radio show, Gresham knows what it takes to be heard by the media. In the media, he says, you have to get permission to speak. "It's not enough just to say you have a good idea. You have to earn the right to speak. It's not good enough just being right. You can be right and lose or you can be right and win. It's your choice. But to be right and win you have to get smart. You have to show credibility in order to speak out. Get involved in programs like Project Home Safe. Give away free gun locks. It buys you credibility and therefore a right to speak."
$100,000 a Month

Following Gresham, Chambers delivered some staggering figures on what it costs the firearms industry to defend itself. "Right now the industry is facing lawsuits in 31 cities and counties. It is costing us $100,000 a month to defend against these."

Chambers said most of the suits were leveled against handgun manufacturers and they came in two varieties, the New Orleans model and the Chicago model. The New Orleans model, based on a 1998 suit filed by the mayor of that city, claims that firearms manufactured by gun companies are of unreasonably dangerous design and manufacturers have failed to implement safety devices that would prevent unauthorized users from firing their guns.

The Chicago model is one where the firearms manufacturers are accused of saturating the areas surrounding the city with guns so that even though you cannot buy or sell within the city limits, you have free access just outside the line. "This suit purports that gun manufacturers knowingly flood cities with more guns than they could ever expect to sell to law-abiding citizens, knowing full well that criminals are going to pick up the slack," Chambers explained.

The industry has had several successes against these suits, Chambers said. Suits have been dismissed in Cincinnati, OH; Bridgeport, CT; Miami/Dade and Tampa, FL. Both Louisiana and Georgia have state laws that prohibit cities from filing against firearms manufacturers, but that hasn't stopped the opposition from trying.

There were some disappointments, too. "In Boston the motion to dismiss was denied," Chambers said. "That's on appeal from us. In Detroit, a partial motion to dismiss was granted on one count. The other is still pending. In Cleveland, the motion to dismiss was denied."

Chambers lauded Rep. Bob Barr's (R-GA) Firearms Heritage Protection Act that, with bipartisan support, will put an end to the frivolous lawsuits against firearms manufacturers in both state and federal courts.

Things weren't always so gloomy, according to Chambers. He said that the NSSF and SAAMI had selective meetings with some of the mayors of major cities and were finding common ground, when the White House interjected itself into the talks. "New York Attorney General Spitzer was the lead component of those discussions but pressure from the White House forced him to break off all talks."

Chambers also provided some insight into the HUD/Smith & Wesson deal. "Cuomo made promises to the White House that he could get the industry to fall in line. Just give me one major firearms manufacturer, he said, and the rest would fall in line. Well, he's fallen on his butt because that did not happen."

Chambers reported that NSSF and seven handgun manufacturers including Beretta, Browning, Colt's, Glock, SIGarms, Sturm Ruger and Taurus filed suit in Federal Court against HUD Secretary Cuomo, Spitzer, Massachusetts Attorney General Blumenthal and elected officials in 14 municipalities charging them with an illegal conspiracy and restraint of trade in violation of the US Constitution.

Chris Dolnack
Chris Dolnack, community outreach coordinator for NSSF, expanded on the role of the trade association in helping the pro-gun fight. "It's a war of attrition," Dolnack said. "Uncle Sam has deep pockets financed by our tax dollars. All of the money being put into legal defenses by the firearms industry should be going to fund R&D, sponsorship of shooting events and sponsorship of conservation organizations."

In response to the financial trouble faced by manufacturers, NSSF started the Hunting & Shooting Sports Heritage Foundation which oversees the Hunting & Shooting Sports Heritage Fund, commonly referred to as the Heritage Fund. "We currently have 73 manufacturers, publishers, web groups, PR and ad agencies who have committed 1% of their net sales of hunting and shooting related items. The contributions to this war chest has given us an $11 million budget. This historic commitment produced quick victories in Cincinnati, Miami and Bridgeport, but we still have a long way to go."

By charter, 50% of the money is used for legal defense and litigation support. The other 50% is used for communications.

"We kicked off our TV campaign during the Republican National Convention," stated Dolnack. "And we ran it again during the Democratic National Convention. In total, we are spending close to $5 million in the media to take our message to the American people."

Dolnack informed the crowd that the NSSF is also engaged in a program called Vote Your Sport, which is a voter mobilization and registration campaign.

The third program that Dolnack shed light on was Project HomeSafe, a partnership program among the firearms industry, government and law enforcement. It provides free safety kits, which includes a gun cable lock, to non-traditional gunowners.

"This program gives us a chance to get into the urban areas and get our safety message out."

There are four ways, Dolnack asserted, by which individuals can help the Heritage program. First, is to write the 73 manufacturers and say thanks for their help. Secondly, individuals can write to the manufacturers who aren't giving 1% of their sales and ask them why. Thirdly, get friends, family and neighbors out to vote. Finally, everyone is invited to log on www.hsshf.org and contribute to the cause.

John Lott
The climax of the morning panels was the arrival of Professor John Lott, senior research fellow, Yale University Law School and author of More Guns, Less Crime, now in its second edition. Lott addressed the truth about the right to carry. There is a lot of fear about guns, he said, most of it unwarranted and fueled by the media. "My guess is that few people outside this room would know that probably the best estimates we have indicate people use guns sensibly about 2 million times a year. That's five times more frequently than guns used to commit a crime."

Lott acknowledged that a dead body is more sensational for a newspaper or TV crew than footprints left by a felon who fled the scene due to the actions of an armed citizen who brandished a firearm. But, he continued, that doesn't explain all the reasons why the media ignores stories where guns were instrumental in saving lives. He recalled the school shooting incident in Pearl, MS, where an assistant principal used his handgun to subdue a gun shooting attacker.

"We did a computerized news search of the incident and found about 700 news stories around the country that covered the incident. Of the 700 stories, only 19 made any mention of the assistant principal. Only 13 of the 19 mentioned that he had anything to do with stopping the attack. And only nine of the 13 mentioned that he used a gun to stop the gunman. None of these were national stories, just local news. One of the stories covering the assistant principal's actions did end up on ABC News, but it was at four o'clock in the morning."

Lott also cited the incident in which five people were brutally murdered in a New York City Wendy's restaurant and that this tragedy made front page news all over the country. What did not make the news during the same time period were incidents where guns were used to prevent similar tragedies.

"None of these cases received any news coverage outside their local media markets," Lott said. "A lot of the debates we have right now would be dramatically different if even a few stories where people used guns defensively got the same type of news coverage that the bad events do."

Self-Defense Myths
Lott discussed the various myths connected with the defensive use of guns against crime. The suggestion by experts that you should act passively when confronted by a criminal is misleading. According to Lott, this advice stems from the National Crime Victimization Survey. Unfortunately, it lumps all sorts of different modes under the heading of active resistance, including fists, fleeing, screaming, baseball bat, pepper spray, knife and gun. By lumping all of these actions together, says Lott, you are getting a false impression that passive behavior is preferable to resistance.

"If a woman resorts to using her fists the very likely result will be a physical response from the attacker with a high probability of either death or serious injury to the victim. When you break down the different types of active resistance, what do you find? By far the safest course of action for anyone to take, but particularly for people who are relatively physically weaker than the attacker, is to use a gun. Women who behave passively when confronted by an attacker are about 2.5 times more likely to be seriously injured than a woman who has a gun. Men who behave passively are about 1.4 times more likely to end up being seriously injured than a man who has a gun."

One of the myths that has permeated both sides of the gun issue is that of having a gun in the home is risky business. Lott claimed that quite the opposite is true. "We often hear the claim that having a gun in the home is more likely to result in a death of you or a loved one than result in the death of an attacker. This claim is based on a few studies that have been published in medical journals by the same sets of authors."

The problem is how the studies are done. Lott explained that what they will do is identify a group of people within a certain area who have died from gunshot wounds. Then they will go and question the victim's relatives to find out whether that person owned a gun or if they knew if there was a gun in the person's residence. If either of these were the case, then they automatically assume that it was the person's own gun that caused the death. "When people have gone back and looked at the data, what they found was that even including suicides, at most only 14% of the deaths could be attributed to the firearm that was in the home."

Another flaw in much of the anti-gun studies is that not all of the benefits of merely owning a gun are taken into account. They only count as a benefit of gun ownership cases where the attacker was killed. "That's extremely rare," admits Lott. "Only one out of every 1,000 times that people use guns effectively is the attacker killed. About 98% of the time simply brandishing a gun is sufficient cause for the criminal to break off his attack. Less than 2% of the time the weapon is fired, and most of those are just warning shots."

The myth most prevalent currently is the one that says safe storage laws reduce firearms accidents and suicides. Lott claims that if you look at the data, little has changed in the states that have passed mandatory safe storage laws.

Also, says Lott, when you hear of children under the age of 10 dying from gunshots, you assume that it's another child who did the shooting. That's not true. "The typical person who accidentally fires a gun is an adult male, who's in his very late teens or early 20s. He's either an alcoholic or drug addict who has a history of arrests for violent crime."

Different Households
The thing you have to take into consideration when you talk about guns in the house, maintains Lott, is that there are two types of households, law-abiding households and criminal households. In law-abiding households the probability of an accidental gunshot involving a child is essentially zero. The cases where a child is accidentally shot in the home, it's likely that the incidents occurred in criminal households and the person who actually fired the shot had a long criminal history.

"I don't care what kind of locking device you are going to require to be sold with a gun, you are not going to stop a 24-year-old male from accidentally firing his own gun," Lott said.

He ended his discussion of firearms myths by dismissing the concept that licensing and registration are important tools for law enforcement.

"The notion is that if a gun is licensed and registered and if it's left at the crime scene, it's theoretically possible to trace the gun back to the criminal. The problem is when you talk to police they can't identify even one crime that's been solved as a result of licensing and registration. Criminals don't register their guns and they virtually never leave them at crime scenes. The only time that ever happens is when the criminal has either been seriously injured or killed."

Our report on the rest of the first GRPC 2000 program will be continued in the next issue.

Our GRPC 2000 report is divided into sessions for easier reading.
Click on the desired section to read.

September 29, 2000

September 30, 2000

October 1, 2000



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