The Second Amendment Foundation kicked off the 32nd Gun Rights Policy Conference in Dallas on Saturday morning to discuss public policy agendas to shape gun rights in the U.S.
With a little over 12 months before the 2018 midterm elections, the Second Amendment Foundation warns now isn’t the time for complacency.
“Action is the translation of activism into policy,” said Joe Tartaro, SAF president and editor of TheGunMag.com, in his opening remarks Saturday. “Our agenda is ripe for passing.”
SAF Founder Alan Gottlieb echoed similar sentiments, congratulating fellow gun owners for tipping the electoral college in President Donald Trump’s favor in November and securing the ultimate victory: control of the Supreme Court.
“The court is really, really important,” he said. “That’s probably the biggest gain we carried out of the election.”
Gun rights advocates discussed how to pass legislation at the federal level by putting in place bills that are likely to pass, lawmakers who have the political will to pass such legislation, and the organizations needed to apply pressure and keep focus on such efforts.
Jeff Knox, director of the Firearms Coalition, said the current plan by Congressional lawmakers for the SHARE Act, which now includes a measure to deregulate silencers, is to get the bill to a Senate committee where it will eventually die.
“That’s the plan right now. That’s absolutely the plan for that piece of legislation, right now in the United States Senate, is for it to get into the Senate, get assigned to committee, and never see the light of day again,” Knox said. “And the only way that is going to change is if you ride them relentlessly.”
He characterized three types of legislation proposed at the federal level: serious legislation, legislation for show, and crowd pleaser. He said efforts should be focused on passing measures that realistically have a chance of passing.
“If they don’t make serious attempts in the Senate to keep the promises they made to get elected, they are probably not going to enjoy gun voters’ support in 2018 and that could be catastrophic,” he said.
Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, said there’s an effort to put the right Republicans in office and remove the “feckless” ones. “My hope is about to endure and maybe be swept away, we don’t know yet,” he said.
He described the Republican primary win in Alabama by candidate Roy Moore, who GOA supported but the NRA did not, as part of the “winds of change.”
“Roy Moore is as serious as a heart attack. This is a guy who has given up elected position twice in the face of un-elected bureaucrats who wanted to get him out of office and he wouldn’t let them. This guy is for real and he’s coming to say hi to Sen. Mitch McConnell,” Pratt said, adding, “How I would like to arrange that meeting.”
“If could identify and get behind good candidates the system in Washington can be somewhat, at least, redirected,” he said.
Joe Waldron, legislative director of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, said to keep the pressure on, gun lobbyist organizations need to expand their membership.
“We’re carrying the load of the other 90 percent.” Waldron said, adding the total number of members for gun rights organizations are 8 million and representing millions more.
With 2017 shaping up to be the gun industry’s second best in history, the National Shooting Sports Foundation told conference attendees Saturday media reports of a Trump slump “are drastically overplayed.”
“We just had the third best August in history,” said Patrick Rothwell, director of NSSF’s government relations and federal affairs. “It looks like it’s all coming down, but it’s not.”
Estimated gun sales recovered in August after two months of double digit decreases. The slow summer selling season — a return to the industry’s historical norm — hit gun makers and retailers hard as excess inventory left behind after the election continues dragging prices down.
Still, Rothwell said, the weakened demand doesn’t concern him.
“The industry would not rather have those sales with Hillary in the White House,” he said.
Jim Wallace, executive director of Massachusetts’ Gun Owners Action League, before describing the state of gun rights in The Bay State, he brought attention to female gun rights advocates.
“I’m going call out a special group of people in the audience that I gotta tell you I am so proud that they have decided to join this fight in great numbers,” he said before asking the women in the room to stand up.
He said the fastest growing demographic for gun owners in Massachusetts are women, adding his organization launched efforts, such as hiring a public relations firm, to attract more women.
“(The firm) told us we knew nothing about what women wanted. I could’ve saved them a lot of money. I’ve been married 30 years,” he said.
Paul Valone, founder of GrassRoots North Carolina, characterized the “Trump slump,” which has come to refer to the slowing of gun sales under President Trump, to mean gun rights supporters taking a break after electing Trump.
“You won a huge victory last fall and you worked hard to do it. Now, your supporters are tending to do what they have always done. They went back to watching football games, maybe not given recent events,” he said and then suggested to organizations to keep supporters and fans in the loop and active.
He explained the reason for doing so is to prepare for a “pretext” for gun control efforts, like what happened in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012. “A future president or future Congress won’t be nearly as friendly as they are right now,” he said.
He said after Sandy Hook, he led a group of more than a 1,000 supporters to chant “we will not compromise” outside the North Carolina statehouse. He explained his message to the media through that effort was “we have spent 20 years preparing for just this moment. Remember that lesson. Prepare for the next ‘just this moment.’”
Philip Van Cleave, president of Virginia Citizens Defense League, characterized his group’s tireless efforts to protect gun rights no matter the situation.
“One thing about Virginia and VCDL is if you cross that little line with gun control, we’re on top of you,” Cleave said, highlighting the power of his organization’s newsletter.
He discussed recent protests planned in Richmond, alluding to the white nationalists who protested the removal of Confederate monuments, in which police planned to ban guns in the area of the protest. “Guess what, that’s not legal,” he said, adding he organized a challenge of the decision.
“Again, we have no dog in the fight for the protest itself, but we would not under any conditions our state laws be violated especially by government,” Cleave said. But his speech followed a similar thread of expanding and advancing a pro-gun agenda now that the pro-gun lawmakers are empowered.
“We are trying to make hay. This is something I want to emphasize on our membership even more is that … we’ve got some opportunities. Now is the time to double your membership, not decrease it. Now we can move the ball forward, I’m tired of standing still,” he said.
Sean Caranna, founder of Florida Carry, suggested to the crowd at the Gun Rights Policy Conference to be wary of lawmakers making promises unless they follow through with those promises.
“We have to have lawmakers in office willing to carry water. To do the hard work. Otherwise they don’t get to say ‘I’m a strong defender of the Second Amendment’ because you’re not,” Caranna said.
But Caranna also suggested ensuring legislation is succinct. “Quite often, the best laws are the shortest. When you give the courts too many words to play with, they start parsing them out,” he said, explaining longwinded legislation gives opportunity for misinterpreting the measure.
Suicide comprises two-thirds of gun deaths nationwide.
In public health researcher Jennifer Stuber’s home state of Washington, the rate exceeds 80 percent — a fact never far from her mind as she reflects on her own husband’s death in 2010.
“My husband, Matt Adler, walked into a gun store, passed a background check and bought a gun,” she said Saturday. “He killed himself in a motel room two hours later.”
The tragedy underscores Stuber’s efforts over the last seven years, as founder of ForeFront, to prevent similar deaths by dispelling common myths and encouraging retailers, medical professionals and gun owners themselves to take action.
“Suicide is preventable,” she said. “It’s no different than CPR or putting on a seat belt.”
For those at risk of suicide, Stuber encouraged voluntarily restricting access to firearms. The simple action, she said, can prevent gun-related suicide attempts — which are typically fatal — and provide a second chance at life.
“Most people who are suicidal don’t want to die,” she said. “They just want to end their pain.”
Maj. Gen. Allen Youngmen, executive director Defense Small Arms Advisory Committee, said the U.S. should remain on the Arms Trade Treaty rather than un-signing it.
Youngman, whose group represents U.S. based manufacturers of military products, explained that decision while symbolic would leave the U.S. out of the conversation entirely. “I would suggest that that’s probably not in our best interest. even though we are not a party, we are participating in the process,” he said.
The treaty, which aims to control the global arms market, has been ratified by 91 countries, but few of them have a major arms manufacturing industry. Although the U.S. signed it, Congress has not ratified it and probably won’t.
For Sidney Powell, the publication of her 2014 book, “Licensed to Lie: Exposing Corruption in the Department of Justice,” wasn’t a celebratory achievement.
In her words, it meant the “system had broken down.”
Powell worked in the department as legal counsel for more than a decade. She said she’s seen firsthand the corruption responsible for destroying the lives of political rivals.
“It’s book I didn’t want to write,” she said during Saturday’s conference. “But it’s a story that had be told. It proves the deep state at the Department of Justice is real … and we need clean out that place with Clorox and fire hoses.”
After the Sandy Hook school shooting left the nation reeling, gun rights advocates in Ohio saw an unorthodox solution: train and arm the teachers –not the cops — to protect students.
Five years later, Jim Irvine, president of the Buckeye Firearms Association, said the FASTER program has trained more than 1,000 staff across 225 districts in 12 states.
“It has shifted from being a fringe gun thing to the mainstream,” he said.
FASTER stands for Faculty and Administrator Safety Training and Emergency Response. The program has drawn nationwide media coverage and is free of cost to interested school districts.
Maj Toure, founder of Black Guns Matter, upended conference decorum with a question and answer session, telling the room of mostly-white attendees their good intentions fall on deaf ears.
“You don’t have to explain diversity, you just have to be diverse,” he said, noting all of the black speakers were confined to one panel. “You continue to create PR nightmares for yourselves because of those optics.”
Black Guns Matter is in the midst of a 50 state tour to bring firearms safety and training to underserved communities, or as Toure puts it so bluntly “we go where the murders are at.”
He said it’s hard for the gun rights community to reach minorities because the fear of political correctness hamstrings honest dialogue.
“You’re nervous about the (cultural) difference, without focusing on the commonality,” he said.
For gun rights activists Marcus Allen Weldon and Shaneen Allen, their commonality with the gun rights community inspired both to arm themselves for defense purposes.
When two attackers forced Weldon to defensively use his weapon while helping a coworker change a tire in downtown Detroit four days before Christmas in 2014, he said the fallout was legally and emotionally draining.
“I was facing seven felonies and 30 years in prison,” he said. “I spent more than $40,000 on legal fees over the last three years.”
He chronicled his story in a book called “The Santa Claus Shooter” — a nickname given to him by the New York Times, he said.
Allen likewise faced an 11-year prison sentence after a New Jersey police officer arrested the single mother of two when she revealed to him she was armed and a licensed concealed carry permit holder in Pennsylvania during a traffic stop.
New Jersey, however, doesn’t have a reciprocity agreement with Pennsylvania.
“No criminal would go through what I went through to get a permit she said,” detailing the extensive licensing process in Philadelphia where she lives.
Allen spent six weeks in prison, lost her job as a phlebotomist and spent nearly two years trying to clear her name — despite a pardon from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Staff writers Christen Smith and Daniel Terrill contributed to this report. Check back for updates on speeches and demonstrations during the show.
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