One Man’s Lonely Fight: Existentialism and Gun Rights
September 20, 2003

by Joseph P. Tartaro
Executive Editor

I’ve met and known Francis Warin for many years, but few other Americans do. He has kept me informed of his personal gun rights battle, his arrests, trials and attempts to get a Second Amendment case before the US Supreme Court.

Directly, or through his son, he has kept me aware of his arrest this past May, and of his hunger strike while in jail. For the most part, he has acted as his own lawyer in a lonely fight, which many consider quixotic.

Warin got more notice when Joe Mahr, a reporter for The Toledo Blade, wrote a story about Warin’s case. Mahr’s story, edited for brevity, follows:

“Francis Warin had a nagging habit.

“Nearly 30 years ago, he toted a submachinegun into the (federal courthouse in Toledo, OH), and made a simple demand: Arrest me.

“He got his wish.

“(In June), the Ottawa County, OH, man mailed a homemade gun and silencer to an assistant US attorney. To ensure there was no confusion, he sent the package by certified mail, complete with his return address.

“Warin again got his wish: He was arrested once more.

“Now the 72-year-old gun rights advocate is fighting to get out of the Lucas County Jail—staging a hunger strike to try to force authorities’ hands.

“The French immigrant insists his actions make sense. They’re part of his on-again, off-again quest to challenge what he perceives as restrictions on the right to bear arms as covered by the Second Amendment to the US Constitution.

“His accent still thick after 42 years in America, the balding professional weapons designer believes the courts have stripped the Second Amendment of its meaning, and he’s willing to be the legal guinea pig to fix it.

“ ‘Civil cases don’t go anyplace,’ Warin told The Blade in an interview in jail. ‘So what are you left with?’

“Never mind that Warin’s tried before and failed. Never mind that nearly all courts, for six decades, have limited the power of the Second Amendment. Never mind that even some pro-gun advocates question Warin’s tactics. Never mind he could now spend more than two years in a federal lockup.

“Friends insist Warin isn’t mentally ill or dangerous. They say he’s just passionate—and persistent.

“Back in the 1970s, he had to practically beg to be indicted.

“And the latest indictment took four years of taunting: threatening to bring a bomb to the FBI, boasting of illegal silencers he had made, and even taking out a newspaper ad to question why he hadn’t been indicted.

“Getting out of jail, however, could be even harder.

“Promising to follow the law if released before trial, Warin even enlisted the help of a family friend—the wife of Lucas County Domestic Relations Judge Norman Zemmelman—to vouch for his character in court.”

Mahr quoted Connie Zemmelman, a local attorney, as saying “But there is absolutely no question in my mind that he would never hurt anyone.”

But prosecutors successfully argued before a local magistrate that Warin—the man who for years struggled to get arrested—is now too dangerous to let free.

“You just don’t know what a person like this is capable of doing,” Mahr quoted Tom Weldon, an assistant US attorney in Toledo. “If he’s this desperate to gain attention, what’s next?”

Birth of Crusader
At a London, Ontario, gun show in 1970, a gun collector offered to sell two men a rare German machinegun. They agreed on a price, and decided to meet in Detroit to make the sale. But as the two men crossed the US border, agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) surrounded their car and arrested them. The collector turned out to be an undercover agent.

“Warin was in that car as well,” Mahr reported. “It was his two friends who were detained. He said he escaped arrest only because he happened to be out in the parking lot of the gun show when the undercover agent approached his friends.

“While his friends weren’t prosecuted, Warin said he became enraged at what he considered the trampling of his friends’ Second Amendment rights. So Warin began his quest.

“By day, he worked designing weapons at the Port Clinton defense contractor ARES. By night, he researched case law and the debate surrounding the meaning of the amendment’s 27 words. . . . ”

Mahr’s report then discusses the different interpretations of the Second Amendment, the history of court cases as commonly reported, and the fact that a growing number of scholars and federal courts are adopting the pro-gun “individual right” interpretation, which he notes may change the playing field for Warin.

“That intellectual movement has happened, however, in spite of Warin,” Mahr reports.

“In 1972, the mechanical engineer filed a class-action lawsuit in US District Court in Toledo asking the federal court to revisit the interpretation of the Second Amendment. The court refused.

“In 1974, the father of two young boys decided to engage in ‘civil disobedience’ to call attention to his cause. He built his own ‘cheap’ submachinegun and refused to pay the $200 registration tax.

“After no one would arrest him, an inpatient Warin hauled the homemade machinegun to the ATF’s courthouse office. He expected ATF agents to handcuff him immediately.” They didn’t.

“Finally, two months later, he complained about his plight in a story in The Blade, and Warin was soon indicted. He was fingerprinted, photographed, and sent home to await trial.

“His case would be a legal backfire.

“Aided by his then-attorney, Norman Zemmelman, Warin tried to prove his Second Amendment rights overshadowed the tax law. But he lost at both the district and appellate court. . . .

“After the Supreme Court refused to hear Warin’s appeal, he ended up with a felony conviction on his record. But US District Court Judge Don Young took pity on him. . . . The judge even waived the normal probation restriction on possessing weapons so Warin could keep his job. . . .

The Interview
Mahr then reports from his interview with Warin.

“A Lucas County corrections officer slowly wheels Warin into a visitors’ room at the county jail. Partially slumped over in his wheelchair, Warin offers a weak smile and later admits he feels a ‘little bit woozy.’

“He’s been refusing food for nearly all of his time in jail. He’s down to about 113 pounds, from 160 pounds in May before he went to jail. . . .

“The only son of a French business executive and homemaker, Warin spent most of his childhood in the French colony of Morocco, dreaming of designing weapons. But in France, only military officers were allowed to design weapons, and Warin couldn’t be in the military because of his disabled legs.

“He became a welder in France and emigrated to America in 1961. By 1970, he landed a job at the upstart company ARES. Former co-worker Herb Roder, now president of ARES, recalled Warin as a very talented gun designer. And the 1974 court case made it clear to co-workers that Warin had strong convictions. His career didn’t suffer from it.”

But Warin grew impatient and tried once again.

Mahr describes how Warin sent a package to the US Attorney’s office in Toledo. Inside was a small, homemade gun capable of firing .22-caliber bullets. Attached was a cardboard silencer. A one-page letter was enclosed asking for “prosecution and return of property.” It was signed “sincerely, Warin.”

“Two days later, on May 21, agents arrested Warin on weapons charges and confiscated more than 46,000 rounds of ammunition, six hand grenades, six firearms, four handguns, and diagrams of firearms and silencers, according to court records.”

“They put him in jail and fought to keep him there.”

Mahr concluded his column: “Before being wheeled back to his cell, Warin said he has no regrets. His explanation comes with a simple shrug.

“ ‘I had to do what I had to do,’ he said.”

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