Second Amendment Foundation holds gun rights policy conference

SAF Alan Gottlieb

Second Amendment Foundation Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb addresses attendees at the group’s annual conference in Tampa, Florida, the weekend of Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016. (Photo: Jared Morgan)

Gun rights advocates and others gathered in Tampa, Florida, on Saturday during the Second Amendment Foundation’s annual conference. We’re live-blogging the event, so refresh the page periodically for updates.

State of the gun rights battle

Alan M. Gottlieb, chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms and founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, kicked off the Gun Rights Policy conference with a rousing speech aimed at Democrats and their efforts to erode Second Amendment rights

Gottlieb blasted Hillary Clinton and her “gun safety” platform that, he said, was simply lip service with the intent to restrict rights and ban guns.

“Clinton openly declared war in 2015, using guns as a cornerstone of her campaign,” Gottlieb told the crowd. “Labeled ‘gun rights’ or ‘gun reform,’ this deceptive advertising promotes gun violence as different than any other violence involving knives, fists and feet.”

Gottlieb pointed to FBI data and research provided by John Lott’s Crime Prevention Research Center showing that crime is on the decline, even as gun ownership and carry is on the rise with an estimated 14 million Americans licensed to carry.

Gottlieb then urged attendees to make a difference on policy, capping off his speech with three words meant to challenge gun activists to action.

“Ready, arm, vote,” he said.

The Presidency, the Senate and grassroots advocacy

Linda Walker, speaking on behalf of the NRA Institute of Legislative Action, railed against Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her claim that “Heller was a terrible decision … and the NRA was an enemy she was most proud of making.”

“The choice of president could not be clearer,” she said, referencing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. “But the fight is not just at the presidential level.”

She attacked New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who is known for introducing gun control initiatives. Keeping legislators like him in power “should chill us all,” Walker said.

“But it doesn’t end in the U.S. Senate,” Walker said. “We’re staring down ballot initiatives in Nevada, Maine, California and Washington.”

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been pouring millions into states on gun rights initiatives and he’s “confident he can spread us thin,” Walker said.

Walker said her organization has hired the best data people because it’s about “implementing strategies in the most efficient ways possible.”

Jeff Knox, Director of the Firearms Coalition, took the stage pushing for more education and activism from gun supporters.

Knox said there’s a tendency to separate electoral politics from legislative policy; however, the two go hand-in-hand. Likening the current status of the House and Senate to a child’s soccer game, Knox said gun advocates need to choose politicians that play well on the same team.

In his speech, Knox rallied behind the removal of suppressors from the National Firearms Act likening silencers to “mufflers on lawnmowers.” In addition, he urged politicians to replace the phrase “sporting purposes” with “lawful purposes” in the 1968 Gun Control Act.

Legislative director of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, Joe Waldron, mirrored Knox’s speech pushing for voters to get to the polls and force legislators to fight for gun rights.

“All of us are in the gun lobby,” Waldron said, pounding the podium with enthusiasm, “We are the weight behind it. We are the shaft of that spear. We are the force that pushes the point in.”

Waldron asked attendees to communicate with their representatives through phone calls, emails and faxes.

“All of us are working together to prevail,” he said. “Let’s get out the vote. Hey, it’s time to do something.”

Taking the fight to the state level Paloma Capanna, a New York state attorney and policy advocate, emphasized the dangers that residents of restrictive states, such as New York, face.

“We are at battle, this is ground zero, with legislation passed in the dark of night with no notice,” said Capanna.

Detailing her efforts to stop New York’s SAFE Act, Capanna said activists like her alongside the NRA and Second Amendment Foundation have worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week to stop restrictive gun laws. So far, Capanna said, lobby groups have only been able to change a single sentence out of a 39 page document.

She pushed activists to get out on the front lines and help her and other gun groups make change.

“You are the leader of civil rights for the free world. You can sit at home and go out sporting with your rife while the rest of the world is brought down or you can stand up and fight.”

Larry Pratt, executive director emeritus for Gun Owners of America said that if Clinton wants to disarm citizens, then the Secret Service shouldn’t be armed themselves. “Lead by example, good lady,” Pratt said.

Pratt also mentioned Schumer, saying “I guarantee you he goes wherever he goes with armed security. … We should challenge these people wherever they go.”

On the issue of constitutional carry, Pratt said the initiative is “really getting some feet” in states across the country.

Pratt said a president Trump should work to dismantle executive orders put into place by President Obama and others. Pratt said Trump should also work to abolish gun free zones. He mentioned a bill that would establish one in “of all places: military bases, “really?” he said.

Pratt also mentioned the Cornyn bill on concealed carry reciprocity and called for dismantling the ATF, which he said was created by presidential executive action. This should begin, Pratt said, be defunding the agency

“Put a financial hurt on them, a real bad hurt,” Pratt said. And said to “Go after funding legislation.”

Pratt said that Trump “wasn’t my first choice, but when I look at Hillary Clinton I don’t have to be sold too hard.”

“Them’s the cards that we have been dealt,” Pratt said of Trump. “We’re going to have a lot of work to do with this guy.”

Detailing the challenging fight lobby groups face in blue states like Illinois and New Jersey, Richard Pearson, executive vice president of the Illinois State Rifle Association, and Alexander Roubian, president of the New Jersey Second Amendment Society, pointed at groups like Bloomberg, the Brady Campaign and Moms Demand Action as organizations that work to erode rights of U.S. citizens.

Pearson told the growing numbers of attendees that even after concealed carry was passed in Illinois, anti-gun groups continued to fight to take those rights away.

“Bloomberg money is flooding into Illinois and will be flooding into your state too,” Pearson said. “That money, in my state, seeks to attempt to unravel the Illinois Concealed Carry Act, instead turning it into a patchwork where each county decides what’s legal.”

He capped off his speech pushing for SAF and NRA members to join as many gun rights groups as possible and unify under one mission — to support the Second Amendment.

“If you allow yourself to be divided, you will be defeated.”

Roubian followed Pearson at the podium, representing New Jersey’s fight against restrictive gun laws. Calling it a “witch hunt,” Roubian said organizations like Moms Demand Action are attempting to bring a “war to the streets” with belligerent, angry, violent confrontations with pro-gunners.

He encouraged gun owners to aggressively fight the anti-gun lobby, offering an alternative to speakers before him who promoted peacefully writing and calling state representatives.

“Fight for the Second Amendment,” proclaimed Roubian. “I can assure you, if that amendment dies mankind dies with it.”

“The death of gun rights in California have been sorely exaggerated,” said Craig deLuz, director of public affairs for the CalGuns Foundation. “The problem is that common sense has passed California a long time ago.”

One of the biggest issues intersecting gun rights is civil rights, deLuz said. In recent years, CalGuns partnered with the newly-formed Firearms Policy Coalition and others who may seem like strange bedfellows: The American Civil Liberties Union, the American Psychological Association and the California Defense Attorneys.

Gun violence restraining orders and gun seizures plague California, deLuz said.

“We’ve been able to stop these measure … but they will be coming back,” he said.

The battle won’t stop in California, deLuz said. Gun control legislators “want to create a west coast wall of gun control.”

The CalGuns representative said gun owners’s civil rights are under attack. He spoke about how it’s impossible to advertise anything gun related on billboards in his state and similarly gun retailers can’t post signs outside of their stores.

“The Bill of Rights is not a list of suggestion,” deLuz said. “If we do not use them, we will lose them.”

Sean Caranna, founder and co-executive director of Florida Carry, spoke about his state’s battle. Florida is an overwhelmingly gun friendly status, however Caranna said his organization partners with SAF and the NRA to continue to preserve those rights.

Flashing the firearm on his hip to the crowd, he announced Florida Carry will continue to fight for the right to open carry in the sate, which is currently illegal. The organization will also push for greater security in Florida’s self defense laws for gun owners who opt to protect their lives and the lives of others with a firearm.

“It’s supposed to be innocent until proven guilty,” Caranna said. “In Florida, it’s guilty until proven innocent when there’s a gun involved.”

Caranna vowed to bring the fight to state legislators, specifically those who have opposed him and the organization and blocked their measures before.

“Damn right this is payback,” he shouted. “It’s also a warning. We need to let them know they will be held accountable. We need to make it painful for legislators.”

Jerry Henry, executive director of GerogiaCarry.com, drove Caranna’s legislative point home.

“You need to know your legislators, even in the off period,” Henry said. “Don’t threaten them. Send quick emails and letters. Ask them to vote for bills and defend those that could hurt our threaten our case.”

He emphasized a three-prong approach — education, legislation and litigation. Henry said his organization, started 10 years ago, is not afraid to take the fight to the court if they are not heard on the state floor.

Henry ended his time vowing to push campus carry back into the Georgia Governor’s office with a promise to fight for a signature this time around.

Dave Kopp, president of the Arizona Citizens Defense League, talked on how state gun law trumping local ordinances.

“We got some teeth put in our preemption laws,” he said.

As gun friendly as Arizona is, gun rights advocates in the state have had trouble getting bills passed to get rid of gun free zones.

“Why? Kopp asked. “Bloomberg money.”

It’s not politically possible, Kopp said.

“We’ve got this wall of money … and this election looming over us,” Kopp said. … We’ve got a very stark choice.”    

“Don’t do what you can,” Kopp said. “Do everything that you can.”

Jim Wallace, executive director of Gun Owners Action League in Massachusetts  said that gun rights needs to change the narrative.

“You have to use a narrative the public understands,” he said, referring to civil rights.

Wallace said the state loses two people every year to gun accidents and “they’re usually criminals.” Additionally, there are 350 auto accident deaths a year, 80 people killed in homicides and 150 suicides during the same timeframe.

There are three categories of gun deaths, he said — safety, crime and homicide and mental health and suicides — and “one of those issues we are responsible for. … We are exceptional at teaching gun safety to the general public.”

Wallace discussed the state’s assault weapons ban, which he said the attorney general on July 20 without notice. Maura Healy held a press conference and changed rules over night, Wallace said.

The state had already had a ban on the books, but Healy said she was going start enforcing it.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation this week sued Healy, calling the crackdown “unconstitutional.”

“We’re now called felons in waiting,” Wallace said. “If you have a state that is debating mandatory background checks, you tell them what the attorney general is doing because this is a historic event.”

Jake McGuigan, director of government relations and state affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, said more state issues and local gun rights initiatives are springing up across the country.

One example he gave was Seattle’s 5-cent tax per round sold in the city. It’s causing manufacturers to move out, McGuigan said, but “it’s what they want. And why is the happening? Bloomberg money.”

There was a gun control bear hunting initiative on the ballot in Maine that was defeated. Another initiative would have required universal background checks. All of bear hunt initiative public relations people “are now working on the background check initiative,” McGuigan said.

“We need to realize that’s what we’re up against,” McGuigan said.

The issue of smart guns is a controversial one among gun rights advocates, especially after a New Jersey law mandates the technology. McGuigan said the NSSF is not opposed to smart guns, but said the market should determine the outcome. The group does oppose mandates, something the NSSF has told Guns.com in the past.

In California, lead ammunition was banned because of its effects on endangered species. But it won’t stop at hunting. Ranges are outdoors and lead will be banned on outdoor ranges because of its potential effects on the environment, McGuigan said.

Genie Jennings, Maine guns rights activist and Women & Guns Magazine columnist, brought up two bills: One affects federally financed housing, saying a person can defend themselves with gun in their home. The other protects shooting ranges. if you move into hearing distance of range, too bad, she said.

In other bad news, Jennings said, “Bloomberg, Bloomberg, Bloomberg. He is all over Maine.”

An initiative coming to Maine in November bills itself as common sense gun legislation on background checks, she said. If this law goes through, transfers have to go through FFLs, even if between friends hunting.

Sen. Sam Slom (R-HI), SAF trustee, opened his remarks with a slam on Obama alleging the President only knows how to play golf and take drugs. The overwhelmingly Republican audience responded with thunderous applause.

Slom then leapt into how Hawaii is fairing in the battle for guns. Expressing his disappointment in the “bad bills” passed this year in his state, Slom targeted the database as the most dangerous.

“This bill, the rap back, creates a new database that says if you are arrested, not convicted, in any state for a misdemeanor or felony that goes straight to the FBI database to be shared with other states,” he said.

Like speakers before him, Slom emphasized that the only way to kill measures like this are through conscious efforts on the part of voters to overturn bills aimed at gun control.

“Know the issues and vote for those that can and will stand up for you,” Slom said.

Phillip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, said it’s been a busy year for Virginians as residents pushed back against a reciprocity bill that ended agreements with 25 states. Citizens created such an uproar at the capitol that the state eventually reversed its decision to limit reciprocity.

Van Cleave pointed to this as an illustration of what can be done when the collective “wakes up.”

He added that though his organization has had some successes on the House and Senate floor, they still need voters to push and advocate for gun rights.

“The battle is on and we’re fighting it,” he said.

Continuing in the legislative arena, Joseph Greenlee, Esq. and Dave Kopel, Esq., Research Director Independence Institute, ran down individual lawsuits fought this year. In a lengthy presentation, both attorneys covered a multitude of litigation challenging Heller and threatening gun owners.

The most prevalently discussed centered on concealed carry and where citizens can legally bear arms under the District of Columbia v. Heller decision.

“A total ban is unconstitutional under Heller. Nearly every court has stood behind the case as a right,” Kopel said. “It’s not just a right to keep and own, that also includes the right to bear, or carry, arms.”

Further several decisions handed down illustrate that the government cannot make a sweeping ban on guns or gun owners.

“A ruling determined the post office can ban guns inside its facility due to its classification as a ‘sensitive space;’ however, the ban does not include the parking lot.”

Kopel said the categorical ban in so-called sensitive spaces does not extend out into neighboring parking lots and the gun community continues to fight against anti-gunners who aim to restrict guns in parked cars.

Moving from state and federal law to international law, James Baranowski, Manager External for International Affairs and the NRA, iterated the impact international law has on the U.S.

In a brief talk, Baranowski said gun activists should pay special attention to non-governmental organizations who push international gun laws and issues.

“These NGOs sit in a room and influence discussions,” he explained. “The anti-gun NGOs make this a career for themselves. They leach off per diem and travel expenses and they aim to enact gun control.”

Baranowski warned that though international topics may seem far-off, they hit a lot closer to home.

“These anti-gun NGOs and statutes chip away at the firearm industry. They start with military sales and when they can’t affect those, they go down to civilian firearms. When that shows no movement, they go after ammunition sales.”

The trickle down effect, he said, is dangerous because consumers are on the losing end of that battle.

Rick Patterson, Vice President of Small Arms & Ammunition Manufacturers Institute, expounded on the International Small Arms Control Standards. The ISACS were enacted to “provide clear, practical and comprehensive guidance to practitioners and policymakers on fundamental aspects of small arms and light weapons control.”

Though the standards were created to eliminate personal bias and emotions, Patterson says that’s not the case. When Patterson alongside Beretta and the NSSF authored 33 modules, 803 pages in total, each one covering some aspect of gun control they quickly realized emotions and bias run rampant.

“When we got the re-writes for them (the 33 modules), we realized what was happening,” said Patterson. “They (members of ISACS) said they weren’t going to do what was suggested.”

When Patterson pressed for a reason behind the denial, he was told it came down to one person.

“Someone, a lady named Judy, did not like our ideas,” he said. “Facts, studies, and numbers didn’t matter. Someone didn’t like it, so it was out. These are not standards. These are opinion paper posing as legitimate papers.”

Patterson urged attendees to stay on top of international issues, rallying against ISACS and the misrepresentation purported as facts.

While serving as a state senator in Kansas, Republican Phillip Journey often reached across the aisle on gun issues. Journey is also a former NRA director and past president of Kansas State Rifle Association.

Likewise, there’s sometimes a division between the different sub groups within the gun rights crowd. Target shooters may not care about issues affecting hunters, for example, Journey said.

The United Nations is often a topic of discussion at the Gun Rights Policy Conference and this year was no different. Ted Bromund, senior research fellow for the Heritage Foundation, said the Arms Trade Treaty is about gun transfers from the U.S. to foreign countries. Because the term “transfer” is not defined, some would like it to cover private individuals because a gun may at some point cross country lines to become an international transfer.

These groups, Bromund said, want the issue of guns to be seen as human rights.     

 Article updated at 10:30 am CST on Sept. 27, 2016