22nd Annual Gun Rights Policy Conference
by Dave Workman
From the opening remarks to the closing gavel of the 2007 Gun Rights Policy Conference (GRPC), from the first speaker to the last, the message was clear: Gun rights are under renewed attack in this country, and the immediate future does not look too bright.
“Our rights are under attack.”
Perhaps as evidence, just seven days after the conference convened, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed two pieces of anti-gun legislation, one banning lead from ammunition and the other requiring microstamping on all semi-auto pistols sold in the state starting in 2010. Police are exempt from the latter requirement; a situation that has gun rights activists outraged.
Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) and chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms (CCRKBA), essentially set the tone of this year’s record-setting conference, when he told the audience during his opening remarks, “Our rights are under attack.”
SAF President Joseph Tartaro provided his traditional look at the history of the gun rights movement in this country, echoing the theme that firearms civil rights are once again in the crosshairs of anti-gunners who are buoyed by a return to power of liberal Democrats on Capitol Hill.
The conference hosted gun rights leaders from all over the country, and from many different organizations. Among the speakers were Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America; Jeff Knox, operations manager for the Firearms Coalition; Charles Cunningham, director of federal affairs for the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA); Ralph Walker, treasurer, National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association (NMLRA); Jake McGuigan, director of government relations, National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF); Genie Jennings, national spokeswoman for the Second Amendment Sisters; Jim Irvine, chairman of the Buckeye Firearms Association; along with various authors and legal experts.
For the first time in years, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre was unable to attend, felled by a serious flu bug. LaPierre later called Gun Week to express his personal regret at not having been able to get out of his sick bed. Filling in for LaPierre to deliver one of the conference’s keynote presentations was author and researcher John Lott, who also told the audience that anti-gunners misuse or ignore data to justify their arguments.
And it was an appearance by Texas Congressman Ron Paul, running for the Republican presidential nomination with a grassroots, populist campaign to rival that of Ross Perot in 1992, which attracted hundreds of people to the conference. He was the only presidential hopeful to appear at the conference, though others were invited and sent messages of regret that they could not be there.
Gottlieb told the packed audience that the annual GRPCnow in its 22nd yearis largely responsible for bringing together the old, traditional gun clubs and national gun rights groups, and the “upstart” grassroots organizations that sprang up in the wake of passage of the Brady Law and semi-auto ban. He recalled that divisiveness that once permeated the gun rights community has given way to more cooperation on many levels.
“I’ve always believed that for the gun rights movement to be successful, it has to be modeled a lot after the civil rights movement of the 1960s,” he said. “These gun rights policy conferences over the years have achieved this goal including making us, the gun rights movement recognized the world over for its strength, numbers and diversity.”
He said the reason activists attend the annual GRPC is because “our rights are really under attack,” and that by gathering at this event, they have the opportunity to interact with other leaders in the firearms community and develop winning strategies.
“Without networking,” he said, “we have no communications, we have no movement, we have no gun rights victories.”
Tartaro told the audience about lessons the movement has learned in the past. He recalled the first GRPC in 1986, and how that occurred at a time when “there was a lot of dissention within the national and state groups.”
Lamenting that most gun rights groups will splinter, Tartaro recalled that “everybody had a different thing and we were all pretty much inclined to ignore any kind of attack on any kind of guns we didn’t own or shoot.”
That has changed now, he said, before giving as an example the way gunowners in New York state joined forces to block adoption of legislation proposed by the late Republican Gov. Nelson Rockefeller that would have required gunowners to keep their firearms stored in armories.
“It wasn’t a matter of what kind of gunowner you were,” he recalled, “you were a gunowner. They descended on the legislature.”
Gunowners from Long Island to Buffalo came together to crush that legislation, one of the few times Rockefeller ever lost a legislative fight.
“The main lesson,” Tartaro said, “is that regardless of party, we have to keep our eye on the main ball, and the fundamental concept of the right to keep and bear arms isn’t about a specific sport, and it certainly isn’t about duck hunting.”
Gottlieb then reminded the conference that the next “curve in the road” is keeping the Clinton gun ban “dead and buried.” He also said the Supreme Court will decide soon whether to grant a hearing on Parker v District of Columbi, a true Second Amendment case.
“If we make a wrong turn, the road ahead has a cliff,” he warned.
If gunowners can prevent Congress from reviving the semi-auto ban, and from putting gun shows out of business, “then we have a chance to stop being a defensive driver, and have a chance to pass national concealed carry so we can have the same rights given to law enforcement.”
“Our gun rights are always one election away from extinction,” Gottlieb stated. “If the enemies of firearms freedom gain ground (in 2008), our rights will be under attack at an unprecedented level.”
He told the audience that “it is our job to make sure the Bill of Rights remains intact.”
“We must remember that our gun rights are always in danger,” he said. “We must continue to fight smart. If the public doesn’t consider us as part of the solution, they will consider us as part of the problem.”
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