The Second Amendment Foundation kicked off the annual Gun Rights Policy Conference on Saturday in Chicago, marking the 33rd gathering for gun rights groups to discuss policy agendas.
Joe Tartaro, President of the Second Amendment Foundation, opened the event by sharing this year’s theme, “The Fight for Freedom.”
“The fight for freedom is an ideological war and political war — a war for the hearts and minds of men, women and children,” Tartaro told the crowd.
Tartaro detailed how each decade has fought its own battle against “anti-freedom” politicians and feelings. Pointedly calling out politicians like Dianne Feinstein and Bill Clinton, Tartaro condemned anti-gun politicians for actively seeking to remove rights from American citizens.
“The anti-gun crowd is always coming up with deceitful strategies,” he said. “They’ve locked out the elderly … most recently they have tried to change the age to own a gun for law abiding citizens who can legally vote.”
Moving into the retailers sphere, Tartaro attacked Dick’s Sporting Goods and other retailers who have sought to place restrictions on who can purchase firearms, ammunition and gear as well as what gear can be purchased.
“They’re imposing their own rules as to who can buy what guns and ammunition and at what age,” he argued, emphatically.
Closing his speech, Tartaro encouraged gun owners to fight for what is rightfully theirs. “A free people fight back by any means at their disposal. As long as we fight freedom we will have it.” Let’s close ranks now and fight for freedom,” he said.
Alan Gottlieb took the stage after Tartaro to discuss the threats the gun world faces. “Things have changed in the gun rights battle since the Florida shooting. We’re facing a whole new way of fighting for gun rights,” Gottlieb said.
Gottlieb immediately went after the Bloomberg group citing how the organization has planned to destroy gun rights by throwing money behind anti-gun legislation, candidates and organizations. Supporting Democratic state attorney generals, Gottlieb said politicians are using their platform to attack individual gun rights.
“They attack the NRA and insurance companies as well as financial institutions. They’ve filed lawsuits against Defense Distributed and the Second Amendment Foundation by denying the First and Second Amendments,” he said.
Calling out Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, Gottlieb said Emmanuel’s city is evidence that stricter gun laws don’t work as they infringe law abiding gun owners rights. “Nearly 50 years after politicians enacted laws, parts of Chicago remain a shooting belt. They blame law abiding gun owners for gang related shootings,” Gottliebb said.
The SAF powerhouse didn’t just go after Democrats, however, Gottlieb also gave equal time and blame to Republican politicians who he blamed for “cold feet” and inaction resulting in a back slide in gun rights.
“The Republican party itself is partly to blame,” he said. “After Trump’s election gun owners expected quick and decisive action but it didn’t happen because Republicans got cold feet and decided to put policies on the back burner.”
Gottlieb also used attacks on federal agencies to showcase how politicians are seeking to cripple gun owners. Using the Environmental Protection Agency as an example, Gottlieb explained gun owners suffer punishments like hiked taxes and limitations on ammunition as well as bans on lead, limiting gun ranges and shooting activities.
In addition to attacks on the political front, Gottlieb gun owners also face attacks internally. Citing lazy and complacent gun owners, Gottlieb also called out internet commandos who deter new gun owners from entering the Second Amendment Fight. “Internet keyboard commandos chase off people who we need in our battle,” Gottlieb said. “We’re attacking ourselves.”
Closing out his speech, Gottlieb urged gun owners to stop complacency and join the fight to preserve gun rights. “Complacency is a threat to gun owners. Complacent gun owners think the fight is over. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Executive director of Gun Owners of America, Erich Pratt, delivered remarks for the Federal Affairs Briefing in which he described 2018’s activities on gun rights as “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,” a reference to the famous Clint Eastward western.
For the good, he praised gun rights activists for preventing gun control legislation following multiple mass shootings. “Stopping these bans is a very very very good thing,” he said.
He also praised Republicans passing a national reciprocity bill, which would allow concealed carry permit holders to carry across state lines, in the House of Representatives. Out of that, he said his organization identified a “hero,” Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan for leading 25 other Republicans to advance the bill. He said GOA will support him as speaker to replace current House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan, who will retire at the end of this year’s session.
For the bad, Pratt also slammed “spineless” Republicans in the Senate for failing to pass the national reciprocity bill and for federal lawmakers advancing red flag laws, which are designed to keep potentially dangerous individuals from obtaining firearms. He said such laws could be easily abused.
For the ugly, he warned of bump stock bans and the passing of Fix NICS legislation. Last year, President Trump directed federal regulators to re-write interpretations to effectively ban bump stocks, a device that allows a rifle to mimic full auto fire. The device became a subject of debate after a it was used to murder 58 people and injure some 850 others by a single gunman in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, 2017.
Although the Fix NICS bill largely directed more funding to the federal background check system and had the support of mainstream gun rights organizations, Pratt said the legislation will allow the system to have “a lot more innocence being denied gun rights.”
Kicking off the first session of the State Legislative Affairs Briefing, speakers went after specific legislation that aims to prevent gun owners from exercising their “legal rights.” Starting in New York and expanding out to California, attendees were informed of specific legislation hampering gun owners in restrictive states.
John Cushman, president of the Sportsmen’s Association for Firearms Education, said 243 bills on firearms issues are currently up for debate with most expected to pass in his state of New York.
Cushman said though New York politics may not seem like an issue for gun owners in other states, what passes on the local level has a chance of moving to the Senate level and influencing other states’ laws as well as federal legislation. In his speech, Cushman applauded the work of the NRA and their Eddie Eagle program which has helped push back acts like the Safe Storage Act
“Call the NRA. (The Eddie Eagle Program) is free. It’s good,” Cushman said. “Get it in the hands of teachers. They need to know there are alternative methods.”
Ending his speech, Cushman encouraged the crowd to, “Think positive. Get out there. We will and we can win.”
While Cushman covered New York legislation, Craig DeLuz, of CalGuns Foundation, offered details on the plight of Californians. Behind what he termed “enemy lines,” DeLuz called California anti-gun politicians tyrannical for attacking civilians civil rights in order to rid the state of guns.
“They’re going after other civil rights, if it’s affiliated with the Second Amendment,” DeLuz said. “Free speech — the government shuts down truthful, legal, non-violent speech because they don’t like it.”
Ending his speech on a high note, DeLuz pushed gun owners to stand up against perceived oppression.
“The people will get tired. The people will say we can no longer allow you to violate our rights. We don’t have just a right we have a responsibility to stand up to our government when it becomes tyrannical.”
SAAMI executive director Rick Patterson argued that “we have the facts on our side” in reference to the debate about guns and gun rights.
Patterson’s organization, the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute, uses “science” and “facts” to prepare standards for the gun industry, he said. In contrast, he argued the anti-gun side uses “feelings.”
He used recent bans of lead ammunition as an example of facts. The material has been banned in places like California under claims that the lead has poisoned condors, but he argued that lead levels remain unchanged since the ban.
“We can’t let issues get ahead of us. Facts take time to sink in. Anti-gun groups use raw emotion,” Patterson said, suggesting anti-gun advocates were able to convince the public that lead ammo had poisoned the native birds without knowing for sure.
“We have to stick to the facts. We have the facts on our side. We have to educate ourselves and take our message forward. We have a great story to tell,” he said.
Parkland was a theme in the second legislative affairs briefing mid-morning. Stepping up to bat first was Sean Caranna, founder and co-executive director of FloridaCarry, who said his home state of Florida become the new battleground for state’s rights after Parkland.
Addressing the crowd, Caranna emphasized how the political climate has changed since the school shooting in February, pushing his organization to fight harder for Floridian’s gun rights.
“I never thought we’d need this organization,” he said. “But horrible bills have passed since Parkland. Everything was looking up until a madman opened fire, now we all have to pay.”
Caranna laid out the provisions that are actively working against Florida gun owners. Legislation such as red flag laws and mental health reform that limits gun ownership or removes it from segments of the population have been pushed through the state by surprising gun control advocates. Anti-gun Republicans have recently been crossing traditional party lines to form an alliance with groups like Everytown to limit gun rights.
“Can’t just look at red or blue to decide who to vote for. We have to readjust to a new paradigm where we have pro gun Democrats and anti-gun Republicans,” Caranna explained.
Caranna was quick to point out that, in the case of Parkland, the failure was not on gun owners but on law enforcement officials who did not adequately investigate reports against the shooter; therefore, gun owners should not pay the penalty.
Though Florida gun advocates agree that mental health reform is needed to prevent senseless shootings, Caranna said the key is to educate mental health providers in addition to providing due process for legal owners as well as those who have sought help and reformed.
Caranna said the battle in Florida is just now beginning and he expects it to continue with Everytown and Moms Demand pushing for change.
Jim Wallace, executive director of Gun Owners Action League of Massachusetts, took the mic to push the issue of Parkland and its failures on the mental health and law enforcement levels. Pointing the finger at the Parkland anti-gun protestors, Wallace said the teens leading the march against guns should be focusing efforts on mental health reform at the Congressional level as opposed to innocent gun owners.
“That kid should not have been walking the street, let alone have access to a gun,” he explained. “We don’t want crazy people with guns. We want to protect kids from crazy people with guns.”
Whizzing into the conference from North Carolina, Paul Valone, of GrassRoots North Carolina, focused his speech around gun laws that aim to restrict ownership and carry during states of emergency.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, Valone said that at least five cities have sought to remove citizens’ rights to carry and protect their families and property. These ordnances come after a lawsuit between GrassRoots NC and the state over previous State of Emergency Bans.
Valone’s organization won that battle ultimately repealing the ability of the government to limit rights post-catastrophe. “We beat them soundly to repeal the ban,” Valone said. “We want to continue this string of successes.”
GrassRoots NC has since contacted the cities involved in the latest bought of restrictions forcing each municipality to drop the local ordnances against firearm carry post-Florence.
So far, Valone said looting has been minimal in the cities impacted by Florence pointing to residents ability to protect themselves and their homes as evidence to how guns positively impact communities.
A panel of speakers discussing how “culture drives gun politics” focused their suggestions on recognizing problems with polarizing the issue, which often repel other demographics from adopting pro-gun viewpoints.
“Let’s start influencing culture outside of this room. One way to do that is by influencing culture inside this room,” said Rob Pincus, a popular shooting instructor and business owner. He argued too often the debate is framed with an us versus them attitude.
Liberal Gun Club spokeswoman Lara Smith advised gun rights advocates to not speak disparagingly about democrats or liberals with the all encompassing “they” and instead frame the conversation as defending a “civil right.”
“Bringing people in on a positive note is how we grow our world,” Smith said and suggested the best way to do that was taking liberals to the range.
Gene Hoffman, co-founder and chairman of The Calguns Foundation, shared seldom talked about history regarding conservatives and pro-gun history.
“I want to challenge you a little bit about the way you think about guns. The most important civil rights activity with firearms in California was done by the Black Panthers and the grandfather everyone loves in the GOP is the man who banned carry in California and his name was Ronald Regan,” Hoffman said.
Making his point, he circled back to more recent issues that mirror that historic event. “Our world has lost some opportunities,” Hoffman said.
“We had an excellent opportunity with Black Lives Matter said no to Everytown and no to mommies. The BLM said very rightly to them that every gun control law you passed targeting a fat white guy in New Hampshire lands squarely on a young black man in Philadelphia,” he continued.
“We also lost an opportunity with Philando Castile,” he said. Castile was a black motorist who was gunned down by a Minneapolis-area police officer as he reached for his concealed carry permit.
“That was a perfectly legal concealed carrier who was harmed by a off-based police officer. We should have been there defending him,” Hoffman said.
Second Amendment Foundation attorney Don Kilmer closed his speech discussing recent and ongoing gun rights cases in the state of California by characterizing how civil rights take shape overtime.
“I want to say a quick word about where we are on the Second Amendment, at least, from my perspective in California behind enemy lines,” Kilmer said. “Dred Scott was a Supreme Court decision that can credibly be cited as one of the essential causes of the Civil War. It was a betrayal of the Declaration of Independence.”
“Then, after the Civil War, we attempted to correct that problem with the post-Civil War amendments — the 13, 14 and 15 — but barely 20 years later those amendments were abandoned and rendered impotent by the Supreme Court and the rest of our court system,” he continued.
“And then it took another 70 years for the culture to catch up to the aspirations of those amendments,” he said. “There is still work to do, of course, with the 13, 14 and 15 amendment issues, but what does all that have to do with the Second Amendment?”
Kilmer argued the Second Amendment was left “in slumber” for almost 200 years, but “woke up” with the famed Supreme Court decisions in Heller v DC and McDonald v Chicago.
“In other words, the re-affirmation of political principles that most of us thought were settled law has now triggered conflict,” he said. “It’s much the same that Dred Scott helped trigger the conflict that helped trigger the Civil War.”
But rather than taking 80 years, Kilmer argued advocates take advantage of the court’s system as a check on government. “We must always, always exercise oversight of our government to ensure our rights. It is our perpetual duty,” he said. “And I want to thank each of you for contributing to the effort for the work that we do.
The Better Half panel kicked off with five women representing various facets of the gun industry. What began as decidedly female centric courtesy of Cheryl Todd, the discussion quickly evolved into a generic panel centered firmly on activism. Sarah Cade, team leader for the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, stormed the stage after Todd. Looking to the panelists seated to her right and left, Cade brazenly stated, “I guess we have vaginas in common; but it’s time to move past that.”
Setting the tone straight out of the gate, Cade chose to move past traditional “women in the industry” speak and move into the importance of activism. Her message to attendees was to encourage activism through empowering anyone — male or female — who shows interest in guns and gun rights. Rachel Malone, operations director for Texas Firearms Freedom, followed Cade’s message with a similar one of her own, emphasizing how valuable activism is to the industry regardless of gender.
“Gun owners come in every stripe and every type,” she said. Criss-crossing Texas on the road to empowering gun owners and emboldening legislation in Texas, Malone stated how imperative for all gun owners to simply “show up” to fight for their rights.
In addition to Cade and Malone, Amanda Suffecool also took to the stage to share a more or less genderless message of the importance of education and ownership. Though Suffecool said there’s been a definite shift in women in the gun industry — most notably an increase in women’s participation and a shift in gun bunny culture — all gun owners should own their experiences and journey all the while speaking their truth.
Robyn Sandoval rounded out the panel focusing her speech on her duties as a mom. Offering of the more female centric messages on the panel, Sandoval overall stuck to the message of activism outlining the best means to bring potential gun owners into the fold. Hinging her method on the nurturing effect of women, Sandoval said it is gun owners’ duty to bring more and more people into the shooting community.
“We have a fighter mindset. It’s up to us to arm ourselves with the tools and knowledge,” Sandoval said.
Speaking on protecting schools, speakers aimed to dispel “myths” of the issue as well as ways to “win hearts and minds.”
Laura Carno, founder of Coloradans for Civil Liberties, discussed common misunderstandings about armed security in schools.
She said most people think they’re trying to arm teachers. “Nobody is arming anybody,” she said, but rather they train people wanting to be trained. These typically include janitors and other school staff.
The other myth is that responding officers to a shooting “won’t know who the bad guy is or who the good guy is.” She said they teach that, saying “we teach them that it is there job not to get shot by the cops.”
Lastly, she said those who oppose the endeavor argue that schools can barely afford to pay for supplies, so how could they buy guns? She claimed most people who want to carry guns in schools already own the guns.
Jim Irvine’s organization, the Buckeye Firearms Association, led the effort to train teachers, beginning in Ohio. He argued that his program can train teachers to act better than law enforcement for this one little act.
But the main problem preventing from spreading his message is “money,” so he asked the audience to lobby state and federal law makers to fund the program. “It’s gotta come from your own states,” he said and suggested using funds set aside for medical equipment.
Continuing the message of empowerment and outreach, the Outreach Initiative panel saw several guns activists take the stage to push a message of activism.
Legally Armed Detroit founder Rick Ector leveraged the importance of training and reaching out to citizens that may not have the same access to opportunities. Ector’s group offers free a free firearms class to Detroit women once a year drawing hundreds of women to the course.
Though Ector stated women are one of the fastest growing segments of the gun industry, he said its still a segment that often suffers from a lack of opportunities. “Be there to support and continue encouragement,” Ector said, urging the predominately male crowd.
Ector’s message was followed by Kevin Dixie of No Other Choice Firearms Training who emphatically proposed gun owners change their mindset and address other communities “truths.” Pointing to previous panelists, Dixie said that the 2A community is culturally changing and that it’s the duty of gun owners to open their minds and embrace this change.
“We have to change the perception and challenge the mindset of who we are as a Second Amendment community,” Dixie told attendees.
Dixie went on to discuss how to better address the issues of “gun violence” through programs that tackle violence head on. Aiming for the Truth, a program Dixie heads, looks to turn violence on its head through individual outreach. The program goes into communities and addresses mental illness, rebuilds families, educates and provides alternative programs to keep individual in communities out of trouble.
“We’re building equity back into life, then we secure that life with the Second Amendment,” he added. To Dixie, the basis of outreach starts individually and then builds into a greater purpose — gun rights. “Freedom is personal,” he finished. “Get involved. Get active.”
Rhonda Ezell, who is leading the fight for gun rights in Chicago, also contributed to the panel outlining the importance of individual citizens in changing the legal landscape. Using her current fight against the city of Chicago, Ezell called the GRPC crowd to “continue to put their foot on the necks” of politicians who aim to remove rights and restrict freedoms.
The panel stuck to what was an overall theme of the conference, urging all gun owners to step up in their fight for freedom.
Alan Gottlieb, head of the Second Amendment Foundation, closed the day’s events discussing the importance of the midterm election. Gottlieb warned the audience of the growing power of gun control with candidates becoming more open about supporting gun control and broad public support for such measures.
“They’re playing with semantics, but still playing about the same thing,” he said, arguing the ways in which anti-gun politicians talk about supporting gun control legislation. He said they use terms like “gun safety” and “standing up against the gun lobby” and “bipartisan support.” He added: “These are terms that mask their ultimate goal of gun prohibition.”
Using a graphic, he showed six toss up states that could give anti-gun candidates a majority in the Senate and they’re leaning Democrat. Then, there are 30 toss up states up for grabs in the House. And, for governor races, there are eight toss up states.
“Those are the races that will determine after November if in fact our fight for freedom wins or loses,” he said, adding that gun owners in four or five key states put then Republican candidate Donald Trump in the White House. “We can do it again.”
Guns.com staff writers Jacki Billings and Daniel Terrill contributed to this report