With more states passing stronger gun control laws, rural sheriffs across the country are taking their role as defenders of the Constitution to a new level by protesting such restrictions and, in some cases, refusing to enforce the laws. Sheriff Mike Lewis considers himself the last man standing for the people of Wicomico County, Maryland. “State police and highway patrol get their orders from the governor,” the sheriff said. “I get my orders from the citizens in this county.”
Lewis and other like-minded sheriffs have been joined by groups like Oath Keepers and the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, both of which encourage law enforcement officers to take a stand against gun control laws.
The role of a sheriff
While the position of sheriff is not found in the U.S. Constitution, it is listed in state constitutions. Nearly all of America’s 3,080 sheriffs are elected to their positions, whereas state and city police officials are appointed.
Lewis and other sheriffs, and their supporters, say that puts them in the best position to stand up to gun laws they consider unconstitutional under the Second Amendment, which guarantees the right to bear arms.
“The role of a sheriff is to be the interposer between the law and the citizen,” said Maryland Delegate Don Dwyer, an Anne Arundel County Republican. “He should stand between the government and citizen in every issue pertaining to the law.”
When Lewis was president of the Maryland Sheriffs’ Association, he testified with other sheriffs against the state’s Firearms Safety Act (FSA) before it was enacted in 2013. One of the strictest gun laws in the nation, the act requires gun applicants to supply fingerprints and complete training to obtain a handgun license online. It bans 45 types of firearms, limits magazines to 10 rounds and outlaws gun ownership for people who have been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility.
After Lewis opposed the bill, he said he was inundated with emails, handwritten letters, phone calls and visits from people thanking him for standing up for gun rights.
SYDNEY STAVINOHA / NEWS21
“Why are we being penalized? Why are we being crucified because we’re standing up for our Second Amendment right? Why does everybody look at us like we’re right-wing nuts because we’re standing up for our constitutional rights?” —Sheriff Mike Lewis, Wicomico County, Maryland.
“I knew this was a local issue, but I also knew it had serious ramifications on the U.S. Constitution, specifically for our Second Amendment right,” said Lewis, one of 24 sheriffs in the state. “It ignited fire among sheriffs throughout the state. Those in the rural areas all felt the way I did.”
In New York, the state sheriff’s association has publicly decried portions of the SAFE Act, state legislation that broadened the definition of a banned assault weapon, outlawed magazines holding more than 10 rounds and created harsher punishments for anyone who kills a first-responder in the line of duty.
A handful of the state’s 62 sheriffs have vowed not to enforce the high-capacity magazine and assault-weapon bans. One of the most vocal is Sheriff Tony Desmond of Schoharie County, population 32,000. He believes his refusal to enforce the SAFE Act won him re-election in 2013.
“If you have an (assault) weapon, which under the SAFE Act is considered illegal, I don’t look at it as being illegal just because someone said it was,” he said.
Colorado made national headlines when 55 of its 62 sheriffs attempted to sign on as plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of several 2013 gun control bills in the state. The most-controversial measures banned magazines of more than 15 rounds and established background checks for private gun sales.
“It’s not (the judge’s) job to tell me what I can and can’t enforce.”
A federal judge said the sheriffs couldn’t sue as elected officials, so Weld County Sheriff John Cooke and eight other sheriffs sued as private citizens. Cooke was the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, which a federal district judge threw out in June. He and other plaintiffs are preparing an appeal.
“It’s not (the judge’s) job to tell me what I can and can’t enforce,” Cooke said. “I’m still the one that has to say where do I put my priorities and resources? And it’s not going to be there.”
Lewis, who is running for re-election in Maryland this year, said sheriffs have a responsibility to push against what he sees as the federal government’s continual encroachment on citizens’ lives and rights.
“I made a vow and a commitment that as long as I’m the sheriff of this county I will not allow the federal government to come in here and strip my law-abiding citizens of the right to bear arms,” he said. “If they attempt to do that it will be an all-out civil war. Because I will stand toe-to-toe with my people.”
“It’s not up to a sheriff to decide what’s constitutional and what isn’t. That’s what our courts are for.”
But Maryland Sen. Brian Frosh, a sponsor of the Firearms Safety Act and a gun-control advocate from suburban Montgomery County, said Lewis’ understanding of a sheriff’s role is flawed.
“If you are a sheriff in Maryland you must take an oath to uphold the law and the Constitution,” said Frosh, now the Democratic nominee for Maryland attorney general. “… It’s not up to a sheriff to decide what’s constitutional and what isn’t. That’s what our courts are for.”
Frosh also noted that sheriffs are generally not lawyers or judges, which means they often are following their convictions instead of the Constitution.
EMILIE EATON / NEWS21
Edward Amelio, a deputy sheriff in rural Lewis County, New York, has to complete a lot of paperwork after responding to a call. Normally he only deals with guns when issuing an order of protection in which a judge orders someone’s firearm confiscated.
“We had lots of people come in (to testify against the bill) and without any basis say, ‘This violates the Second Amendment,’” Frosh said. “They can cite the Second Amendment, but they couldn’t explain why this violates it. And the simple fact is it does not. There is a provision of our Constitution that gives people rights with respect to firearms, but it’s not as expansive as many of these people think.”
Sheriffs do have the power to nullify, or ignore, a law if it is unconstitutional, Maryland Delegate Dwyer said. He said James Madison referred to nullification as the rightful remedy for the Constitution.
“The sheriffs coming to testify on the bill understood the issue enough and were brave enough to come to Annapolis and make the bold stand that on their watch, in their county, they would not enforce these laws even if they passed,” said Dwyer. “That is the true role and responsibility of what the sheriff is.”
Oath Keepers and CSPOA
If former Arizona Sheriff Richard Mack had it his way, there wouldn’t be a single gun control law in the U.S.
“I studied what the Founding Fathers meant about the Second Amendment, the right to keep and bear arms, and the conclusion is inescapable,” said Mack, the founder of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA). “There’s no way around it. Gun control in America is against the law.”
Mack’s conviction is central to the ideology of CSPOA, which he founded in 2011 to “unite all public servants and sheriffs, to keep their word to uphold, defend, protect, preserve and obey” the Constitution, according to the association’s website.
CSPOA grabbed media attention in February with a growing list of sheriffs — 484 as of late July — professing opposition to federal gun control.
JARED RAMSDELL / JOURNAL INQUIRER VIA AP, FILE
Stewart Rhodes, founder and president of the pro gun rights organization Oath Keepers speaks during a gun rights rally at the Connecticut State Capitol in Hartford on April 20, 2013.
Mack and CSPOA also have ties to Oath Keepers, an organization founded in 2009 with a similar goal to unite veterans, law enforcement officers and first-responders who pledge to “defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
The website of the Oath Keepers, which has active chapters in 48 states and the District of Columbia, and an estimated membership of 40,000, features a declaration of “orders we will not obey,” including those to disarm Americans, impose martial law on a state and blockade cities.
“I want to have the image that I protect gun owners, but I’m not fanatical about it.”
Some sheriffs perceive Oath Keepers and CSPOA as too radical to associate with. Desmond, of Schoharie County, New York, is known around his state for openly not enforcing provisions of the SAFE Act that he considers unconstitutional. Still, he’s not a member of either organization.
“I don’t want to get involved with somebody that may be a bit more proactive when it comes to the SAFE Act,” Desmond said. “I want to have the image that I protect gun owners, but I’m not fanatical about it.”
Mack is familiar with that sentiment. He suspects it’s hindered the growth of CSPOA.
“This is such a new idea for so many sheriffs that it’s hard for them to swallow it,” Mack said. “They’ve fallen into the brainwashing and the mainstream ideas that you just have to go after the drug dealers and the DUIs and serve court papers — and that the federal government is the supreme law of the land.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights nonprofit that classifies and combats hate and extremist groups, included both CSPOA and Oath Keepers on its list of 1,096 anti-government “patriot” groups active in 2013. Both groups have faced criticism for their alleged connections to accused criminals, including individuals charged with possessing a live napalm bomb and a suspect in theshooting and killing of two Las Vegas police officers and a bystander in June.
Representatives from the law center did not return phone calls and emails requesting comment.
Franklin Shook, an Oath Keepers board member who goes by the pseudonym “Elias Alias,” said the organization doesn’t promote violence, but rather a message of peaceful noncompliance.
“What Oath Keepers is saying is … when you get an order to go to somebody’s house and collect one of these guns, just stand down,” Shook said. “Say peacefully, ‘I refuse to carry out an unlawful order,’ and we, the organization, will do everything in our power to keep public pressure on your side to keep you from getting in trouble for standing down. That makes Oath Keepers extremely dangerous to the system.”
Self-proclaimed constitutional sheriffs hope that courts will overturn gun control measures in their states — but they recognize that may not happen. Lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of gun control legislation in Maryland, New York and Colorado have been, for the most part, unsuccessful.
“My hope is that the governor will look at it now that it’s been a year plus and say, ‘We’ve had some provisions that have failed. Let’s sit down and look at this and have a meaningful conversation,’” said Otsego County, New York, Sheriff Richard Devlin, who enforces the SAFE Act but doesn’t make it a priority. “I personally don’t see that happening, but I’d like to see that happen.”
Emilie Eaton is a News21 Hearst Fellow. Jacy Marmaduke is a News21 Peter Kiewet Fellow. Sydney Stavinoha is an Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation News21 Fellow.
This report is part of a project on gun rights and regulations in America produced by the Carnegie-Knight News21 program.
One morning during the winter weeks after the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, the gun lobbyist Larry Pratt made the short drive from his offices in Springfield, Virginia, to the Arlington headquarters of the Leadership Institute, a training center for young conservatives. Pratt and the Institute’s founder, Morton Blackwell, share a history in conservative activism going back four decades, and Pratt had spoken there many times, providing legislative updates on the politics of guns. Today, there seemed to be a jauntiness to the oddly boyish-faced 71-year old, who’d found himself at the center of a national media story just beginning to fade. He opened with a joke.
"Piers Morgan sends his regrets he won’t be able to attend," Pratt deadpanned.
The audience chuckled at the reference. On December 18th, 2012, four days after Adam Lanza’s killing spree, the CNN host had invited Pratt to debate gun control, as most major networks have over the years. When Pratt stated that gun-free school zones — and, by extension, gun control advocates like Piers Morgan — were to blame for the tragedy in Newton, Morgan stuttered and seethed. “You’re an unbelievably stupid man, aren’t you?” said the host.
Pratt’s critics have called him many things over the years: extreme, radical, pernicious, creepy, dogged, effective. But no one who’s studied his multi-faceted career could describe him as stupid. On CNN, Pratt was smart enough not to tell Piers Morgan what he really thinks about the Second Amendment. Because what he really thinks resonates deeply with the theocratic tenets of Christian Reconstructionism, which holds that American government should be ordered according to events and dictates found in the Old and New Testaments. Nor is Pratt so stupid as to use his regular access to mainstream media to promote the “active measures” he believes American gun owners will one day be forced to unleash on a secular federal government. As he explained in his 1999 essay, “What does the Bible Say About Gun Control?” Pratt writes, “If Christ is not our King, we shall have a dictator to rule over us, just as Samuel warned.”
Pratt doesn’t talk like this when being interviewed by The New York Times or answering questions on C-SPAN. Instead, he uses the more familiar language of ensuring public safety and respecting constitutional rights. He has employed this two-track communications operation with admirable efficacy and consistency since launching Gun Owners of America as the Beltway’s first “no-compromise” gun-rights lobbying group in 1976. Over 40 years, Pratt has blazed the path and built the model for a gun-rights movement that has transformed the landscape of American gun politics.
Today, Pratt, who declined to be interviewed for this piece, holds the power to derail and delay gun legislation enjoying broad public support, and quickly inject falsehoods and amplify paranoia among a growing network of gun activists. With the rise of the Tea Party scene, Pratt has discovered new constituencies and new platforms for spreading his message of a Biblically mandated rollback of all gun regulation. He has also found new champions in the forms of his favorite senators: Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. He believes this November offers a chance to further grow the “Second Amendment Absolutist” bloc in Congress.
Larry Pratt addresses about 500 demonstrators during a rally in support of the Second Amendment in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
"Look forward to 2014 as a time when we get involved as never before," Pratt told an audience at the Leadership Institute. "Look for those candidates that deserve our support. The Rand Pauls. The Ted Cruzes. The Steve Stockmans of the House and try to multiply their number … The RINOS [Republicans in Name Only] need to be humiliated. They need to be driven out of public life."
By Pratt’s design, today’s gun movement has little room for RINOS, but accommodates extremists and sometimes adopts their language. As the director of an organization claiming 300,000 members, Pratt understands the gun movement’s role as that of a heavily armed guard, holding a cautionary gun to the head of America’s would-be dictators.
"The Second Amendment is not for hunting, it’s not even for self-defense," Pratt explained in his Leadership Institute talk. Rather, it is "for restraining tyrannical tendencies in government…Especially those in the liberal, tyrannical end of the spectrum. There is some restraint, and even if the voters of Brooklyn don’t hold them back, it may be there are other ways that their impulses are somewhat restrained. That’s the whole idea of the Second Amendment." He reiterated the point this March during an interview with conservative talk show host Bill Cunningham. Speaking of a New York Congresswoman who had expressed fear that one of Pratt’s members wanted to shoot her, Pratt said, "You know, I’m kind of glad that’s in the back of their minds. Hopefully they’ll behave."
And if they don’t? When speaking before smaller, conservative audiences, Pratt explains that it is necessary to both generate an undercurrent of fear and muster the organization and will to defeat the dictator prophesized in the Book of Samuel. When asked during a 2010 Q&A session, “Do we have the will to stand up to the government when they trample our rights?” Pratt replied, “That is an exceptionally important point to raise. We can have all the guns in the world, and if we don’t have the will to use them [against the government], then they are useless.”
This is the language found etched along the gun-movement’s aqueduct into the dark crosscurrents of the militia movement and the radical right. It is written in Pratt’s voice, because he has personally overseen engineering and construction of this aqueduct while building the larger gun-rights movement. This movement, considered as a whole, is not as conservative as Pratt. It is increasingly flavored with Libertarian ideas and language, building on outreach efforts designed to deflect attention from socially conservative politics that command ever fewer Americans. But it is no less zealous than Pratt on the question of gun reform. The gun-rights movement is distinct from, and often at odds with, the official gun “lobby” that is dominated by the National Rifle Association and its industry allies. The NRA remains the 500-pound gorilla of gun politics, with a budget and membership that dwarfs all other gun groups combined. But it is now surrounded, most heavily on its right, by a growing cluster of so-called “Second Amendment Absolutist” groups, from influential state-level activist networks like the Arizona Citizens Defense League, to ascendant fundraising dynamos like Dudley Brown’s National Association for Gun Rights.
Among the most pedigreed of these purist outfits is Pratt’s Gun Owners of America.
"The NRA describes itself as a religion, and Larry Pratt is the snake handler," says Tom Diaz, a former analyst at the Violence Policy Center, a Washington-based gun control group, and author of two books on the gun lobby. "The NRA debates using arguable premises of the American system: What is the meaning of the Second Amendment, of self-defense? Pratt unconnects from all that, and appeals to the least informed, most paranoid people." In parallel with his frequent national media appearances, Pratt aggressively pursues smaller radio audiences to peddle conspiracy theories and recycled John Birch Society propaganda from the 1960s. In recent years he has argued that the Aurora, Colorado, mass shooting was an inside job and that the Justice Department was pursuing charges against George Zimmerman to stir up racial animosity, trigger social chaos, and “build their own communist society.”
As the gun-rights movement grows into and with the new century, Pratt is seen as a dinosaur, yet one who still commands respect. “Larry’s a hardcore throwback and a bit of a weirdo — a black helicopter and Trilateral Commission kind of guy — but he has a certain brand and a namehe’s been around forever,” says a staffer in the office of a veteran GOP senator. Indeed, few figures have had a greater impact in the development of the pro-gun movement. Purist groups created on his “no compromise” model now lead the charges in the courts and the states to block new gun-control legislation and chip away at those that exist. Most make the NRA look moderate by comparison.
"The NRA is concerned about its right flank on purity from people like Larry," says Richard Feldman, a former gun industry lobbyist and president of the Independent Firearms Owners Association. "He has said things I thought were crazy at the time, but turned out to be right…Activists respect him for getting things done."Adds Josh Sugarmann of the Violence Policy Center: "When NRA members stamp their feet over some rumored compromise, Pratt’s who they go to. When he says make the calls, the calls are made, and it has influence on the Hill."
Larry Pratt speaks at a pro-gun rally organised by the ‘Restore the Constitution’ movement in Virginia park near Washington D.C.
Sipa via AP Images
This influence has only recently caught the attention of media that have generally focused on the NRA and ignored the growth of group’s like Pratt’s. When Gun Owners of America helped lead the gun-rights charge against an expansion of background checks, the New York Times discovered this “influential force” capable of both “freezing” and “empowering” senators. This influence may help to explain the reluctance of elected officials and their staffs to discuss Pratt’s lobbying operation. When contacted, several current and former members of Congress and congressional staffers from both parties declined to comment on the experience of being on the receiving end of GOA’s lobbying fire. The list of those who shied away from talking included nine senators and congressman, such as Republican Senators Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, as well as Democratic Senators Jon Tester and Mark Begich.
Pratt enters his fifth decade of gun activism with ambitious plans for this influence. At an age when many lobbyists considering retiring, Pratt is working through GOA’s PAC, his membership, his allies, and a small team of fellow lobbyists to do what he’s been trying to do since the 1970s: defeat any Republican who does not share his absolutist understanding of Second Amendment freedom. And it is nothing if not absolute: GOA agitates against background checks, waiting periods, and fines for straw purchases (guns purchased legally for resale on the black market).
In his crusade to rollback every gun law on the books, Pratt likes his allies unalloyed with records and habits of compromise. Many of Pratt’s current targets in the primaries enjoy high or perfect ratings from the NRA. Some of them, like Mitch McConnell, have long enjoyed “B” or higher grades from the GOA. But only perfect grades like Rand Paul’s “A+” are truly acceptable in Pratt’s purist world. Unlike the NRA’s system, GOA counts votes on any bill that tangentially touches on gun rights as a “gun vote.” Sometimes no vote is required at all to arouse Pratt’s displeasure, merely inaction. In explaining GOA’s support for Mitch McConnell’s challenger, Matt Bevin, the group cites the senator’s failure to vigorously oppose The Affordable Care Act.
"Obamacare is allowing the medical profession to use information that people give their doctor against them, to take their guns," says Tim Macy, vice chairman of GOA. "McConnell hasn’t stopped it so far, and he’s been in a position to help stop it."
For much of today’s gun movement, the NRA’s more myopic rating system has never had much credibility. To understand why, it’s necessary to go back in time to the era of GOA’s founding, and imagine that the NRA has announced plans to sell it’s D.C.-area offices, abandon politics, move to New Mexico, and re-open as a crunchy nonprofit devoted to conservation and hiking.
What sounds like a piece of alternate-history science fiction is the starting point for understanding the rise of Larry Pratt and the current configuration of forces in the gun debate.
Among the many social convulsions of the 1960s was a public opinion turn in favor of gun control. The legislative expression of this turn, the 1968 Gun Control Act, established today’s regulatory framework for firearms, including a federal licensing system for dealers. It was the first major gun law since Prohibition-era violence and the advent of the “getaway car” transformed crime and led to the 1934 National Firearms Act, which brought machine guns, short-barreled rifles, and silencers under strict government regulation. Another federal law soon followed: the National Firearms Act of 1938, which required the licensing of interstate gun dealers.
In both the thirties and 1968, the NRA either accepted or collaborated in the writing and passing of the law. For the group’s hardline members, this was one compromise too many. Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the Gun Control Act deepened a longstanding fissure inside the organization that widened into a full breach five years later. In 1973, the NRA board put its finger in the air and determined that its future depended on pivoting away from guns and toward conservation and outdoor sports. Plans were put in motion to sell its D.C. headquarters, relocate to Colorado Springs, and build a “National Outdoor Center” in New Mexico, where backpacking, hiking and wilderness survival classes would be taught alongside shooting sports. To help figure out how to finance the overhaul, the NRA commissioned the liberal New York consultant Harold Oram, whose clients included Greenpeace, McGovern for President, and the New York Civil Liberties Union. Oram’s report, issued in the summer of 1976, concluded that raising the $30 million needed for the NRA’s Outdoor Center would require de-emphasizing its past opposition to gun control and avoiding all mention of gun politics in NRA publications. If it renounced its past and promised to stay out of politics, Oram advised, foundations like Rockefeller, then and now a major source of non-profit grants, could be counted on for financing.
During the years of the NRA’s slow careen left in search of Rockefeller money, Larry Pratt was making a name for himself in a movement where the Rockefeller name was synonymous with liberal Republicanism — and nearly synonymous with the Devil himself. In 1970, the 28-year-old Pratt became executive director of the American Conservative Union, founded six years prior by William F. Buckley to carry forward the flame of Barry Goldwater’s failed presidential campaign. It was in this capacity that Pratt attended the 1972 GOP Republican Convention in Miami Beach, where he joined fellow conservatives in battles over Nixon’s reelection platform. In Miami, Pratt forged a friendship with another young religious conservative on the make, Paul Weyrich. The two men were so similar, politically and physically, that they looked like a mirror image when they were talking to each other. At the time, Weyrich was raising funds for what would soon become the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation. One of the men in Weyrich’s growing network was H.L. Richardson, a frustrated NRA board member, California State Senator, and member of the far-right John Birch Society. Weyrich introduced Pratt and Richardson, who became fast friends.
In 1975, Richardson founded Gun Owners of America on the model of his first group, Gun Owners of California, established earlier that year to (successfully) oppose a state handgun ban and (less successfully) the extension of ownership waiting periods from five to 15 days. That year also saw the establishment of one of the country’s first national gun control groups, the National Council to Control Handguns. Richardson wanted a full-time lobbyist near Washington and tapped Pratt to lead the group’s Northern Virginia office. In the fight against gun control, GOA would pick up the slack created by NRA drift.
"In 1975, we were the first folks on the street looking at races and the lobbying side," says Tim Macy, GOA’s vice chairman. "There was a lot of talk about gun legislation, in California and nationally. When we started, the NRA did not have a political arm."
Pratt had grown up in suburban Indiana and was relatively new to guns when he took GOA’s helm. He’d purchased his first firearm during the 1968 riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King. “There were some racial difficulties,” Pratt later recalled. “I heard on the radio that the police weren’t sure they could control the rioters coming north on 16th Street, so I went out and bought a shotgun.”
In his adult arrival to the world of guns, Pratt resembled another rising star emerging from the 1960s conservative firmament, one who would go on to rival Pratt’s influence in national gun politics. In 1971, Alan Gottlieb, a 24-year-old organizer for Young Americans for Freedom (another Buckley-founded group) founded the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. Gottlieb nurtured the group on two key resources: mailing lists, and seed money from William Loeb, the conservative publisher of the Manchester Union Leader. Like GOA’s founder Richardson, Loeb sat on the NRA board. Sidelined by the liberal majority, he’d spent recent years fuming over the group’s direction and was eager to help nurture a new player.
Loeb and Richardson weren’t the only conservatives on the board, but it took a dramatic member insurgency for them to wrest power from the liberals. At the group’s 1977 annual meeting in Cincinnati, hundreds of rank-and-file from around the country staged what has become known in gun culture lore as “The Cincinnati Revolt.” During a long night of speeches and politicking, the membership voted in a new board drawn from the NRA’s fledgling lobbying division, the Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA), and changed the by-laws in favor of strong political engagement and tighter member control. By morning, the NRA was controlled by a group of rough-edged conservatives committed to fierce political engagement. The NRA returned to Washington to find it was no longer the only gun game in town. There were now two young upstarts on the scene, Alan Gottlieb and Larry Pratt. Since Gottlieb was based in Seattle, and focused his work on direct mail, education and the courts, this left Pratt and the Gun Owners of America as the leading alternative to the NRA.
In the many legislative battle to come — handgun bans, armor-piercing bullets, background checks — the NRA would have to contend with GOA and its leader, who was neither temperamentally nor politically inclined to yield to an establishment power that had collaborated with the 1934 and 1968 gun control bills. The NRA may have undergone a radical course correction, but it was still a large institution with a deep sense of entitlement and turf.
"They’ve always wanted to be the only kid on the block," says Alan Gottlieb. "The NRA didn’t appreciate the growth of a gun rights movement, because a movement is much harder to control. What started in the mid-1970s with my group and GOA has flowered. Now there is all this pressure from the local and state grassroots level that the NRA has to deal with."
When the NRA re-launched its lobbying machine in 1977, it attempted to accommodate Pratt’s presence in D.C. by developing a good-cop, bad-cop routine.
"Where the NRA played an ‘inside game’, the GOA was about confrontational politics, more stick, less carrot," says Jeff Knox, director of the Firearms Coalition and a prominent gun journalist whose father, Neal Knox, headed the NRA’s lobbying arm between 1978 and 1982. "When dad was at ILA, he saw the GOA as an extension of his tool box. They were useful to him when he could point to a GOA mailing and tell [politicians], ‘See, we’re being reasonable, and if you don’t want us to go there, then you need to deal with us, or you’re going to have to deal with them.’ The relationship between the NRA and GOA has been a weird one over the years, at different times flourishing and failing. Now [they’re] dramatically butting heads." (The NRA did not respond to requests for comment.)
The most recent clash between GOA and the NRA occurred last winter, over the latter’s initial, qualified support for a bipartisan Senate bill that would have shored up the country’s background check system, while also relaxing restrictions on interstate gun sales. The gun community was split on the measure sponsored by Senators Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), with even some purist leaders like Gottlieb calling the bill “more gains than anything.” But Pratt has never seen victory in anything that required giving an inch — especially an inch involving handing information to the federal government. The GOA sent out mailers claiming, “If your private gun transaction is covered by Toomey-Schumer-Manchin (and virtually all will be) … you can assume you will be part of a national gun registry.”
This was a lie. The text of the bill not only reiterated existing laws against the compiling of a national gun database, it went so far as to threaten a jail sentence of “up to 15 years” for breaking them. But the lie worked. There is a consensus that a grassroots backlash against the bill, sparked and sustained by GOA and other purist groups, forced the NRA to drop its support for the bill, helping doom it at the last hour.
Jeff Knox says the GOA played an important role, but that it was part of a swarm of limited power. “Something like 34 groups came together prior to the April vote on Manchin-Toomey. We did have an impact on NRA’s decision. But the bottom line is that all of us could swarm Congress, but if [NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris] Cox walked in and gave a wink and a nod, they’d go against us. NRA is the big dog. They are the ones with the direct, immediate clout, they have the politicians’ ears. That’s why we have to be members [of NRA] and keep them on the straight and narrow.”
According to Knox, Pratt’s biggest strength is being “right on top of what’s going on. The GOA is just faster. The NRA is hidebound and not on top of the news cycle at all. It takes them a week to respond to new information. After Newtown they waited too long, then delivered a tepid response. GOA sees the threats that others often miss.”
GOA has used similarly aggressive and dishonest tactics at the state level to defeat bills it does not like. In New Hampshire this winter, a group called Pro-Gun New Hampshire is backing a state bill that would create pathways for restoring gun rights to people disqualified by federal laws related to mental health problems. From his perch in Springfield, Pratt saw the bill as too weak, and attacked. Soon thousands of New Hampshire voters received anti-bill mailers with the words, “See a shrink, lose your guns” printed in red ink on the envelope. The letter attacked local groups supporting the bill as “anti-gun” — a funeral-serious charge in gun circles usually reserved for likes of Chuck Schumer.
Pro-Gun New Hampshire did not appreciate the epitaph, or Pratt’s meddling, which it described as either ignorant or mendacious.
"Pratt sent out this B.S. propaganda that falsely claimed the bill will disqualify gun buyers if they see a shrink," says the group’s vice president, Sam Cohen. "GOA and groups like it want to promote themselves as the premiere guardian of your rights. They feel in a competitive position with each other to be the ‘no compromise’ group and get members. It’s particularly egregious in this case because if you carefully read the law, you know they’re wrong."
In the months leading up to the 1977 “Revolt in Cincinnati,” Pratt, then 34, announced an insurgent candidacy to represent the suburbs of southern Fairfax County in the Virginia House of Delegates. Pratt was part of a slate of conservatives seeking to knock off the moderate Republicans that dominated the local party. Typical of this old guard was five-term Republican Warren E. Barry, who supported a proposed national ban on the cheap revolvers known as “Saturday Night Specials.” In announcing his candidacy, The Washington Post described Pratt as “a Washington representative for Gun Owners of America and an Amway distributor.”
Pratt lost the local race, but could comfort himself with a growing national reputation. Early the following year, the Post featured Pratt in a piece on “The New Right Network” that gathered weekly at the Capitol Hill Club to debate strategy and hatch initiatives. Among more than a dozen names listed in the paper’s group profile, Pratt is one of the last still active in public life. Sometimes these initiatives impacted gun rights; other times, Pratt found a gun angle to justify using GOA resources. In 1979, he devised a plan, in cooperation with the American Legislative Exchange Council, which he helped found, to throw up constitutional roadblocks to D.C. statehood. “The amendment would bring in two senators who would probably be minority, and would definitely be liberal on gun control,” Pratt said.
Pratt again contested a seat in the House of Delegates in 1979. Boosted by financing from his friend Jerry Falwell, the Lynchburg evangelist, and ties to what the Post called “Joseph Coors’ Heritage Foundation,” Pratt outspent other candidates nearly two to one. He won in a local GOP tide. But his colleagues in Richmond had never seen his breed of Republican before. “Larry was part of a small group of far-right ideologues who thought it was apostasy to vote for an MLK holiday,” remembers Wiley Mitchell, Republican floor leader in the Virginia Senate from 1976 to 1988. “He was strongly opposed to women’s rights. He was against everything.”
Pratt proved a divisive and an ineffectual politician. Seven of eight bills Pratt introduced his first year were defeated, including a ban on nude images on motor vehicles. (If passed, the law would have required modifying the Virginia state seal, anticipating by decades the order by Pratt’s friend John Ashcroft to cover the breast of a statue in the Department of Justice.) His one victory concerned a housekeeping procedural change. The national media noticed him just once, when he declared a war on bongs and fought to ban the sale of drug paraphernalia in Virginia.
The bong battle failed to win him many friends. On the eve of losing his reelection bid, a Norfolk Virginian-Pilot poll ranked Pratt “the least effective member of the House of Delegates.”
Elsewhere in the country, more conservative districts than Fairfax were electing social and religious conservatives like Pratt. What’s more, GOA, which Pratt claimed at the time was approaching 100,000 members, was in a position to help them. The year Ronald Reagan moved into the White House, Pratt told reporters his PAC was spending almost $1 million annually in support of pro-gun candidates. Closer to home, Pratt’s friends were taking over the reigns of government. The August 1981 issue of Life magazine included Pratt among the ten most influential “Young Turks of the Radical Right.” The spread featured a photo of Pratt cradling his first gun, the 12 gauge purchased during the 1968 riots, like a baby.
The defining gun battle of Reagan’s first term didn’t involve gunshot, but a new breed of armor-piercing bullet. It was a fight that would pit the GOA against the NRA, and in the process illuminate the radical anti-statism at the heart of Pratt’s worldview.
Turns out, people don’t find it particularly relaxing to be surrounded by strangers carrying guns.
The Lake Ozark, Missouri Board of Alderman voted last week to ban gun owners from openly carrying firearms, even if they have a concealed carry permit, because they were afraid that armed individuals would chase away tourists. “We’ve had a tough time over the years promoting Lake Ozark as a family area,” Alderman Larry Buschjost explained. “We want you on the Strip with families, everywhere in Lake Ozark with families. We want you to bring your kids down here and let them loose. For the life of me, I don’t understand why I would have to carry any type of gun, concealed or otherwise.”
The ban was initiated by the local police chief, in part due to concerns raised by business owners.
Lake Ozark’s efforts to keep people with guns from scaring tourists and other patrons away from local businesses, however, may be short-lived. The Missouri state legislature recently passed a bill that will allow concealed carry permit holders to openly display their guns, regardless of local ordinances. The bill is currently awaiting Gov. Jay Nixon’s (D) signature or veto.
A young man who Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown called “severely mentally disturbed” drove by various student hangouts to commit an act of “premeditated mass murder” apparently—according to videos posted to YouTube and threats made to women on campus—due to his anger at being “rejected” by women on campus.
The NRA wants less information and more Santa Barbaras.
Of course, this is all too familiar: a young aggrieved male, mentally disturbed, threatening others—especially women—but still able to get his hands on a high-capacity magazine of the variety used in so many other mass murders. This doesn’t happen in any other high income country with the regularity it does here; in fact, it almost never happens in any of them.
But here, in the good ole US of A, we’ve allowed a group of rich, entitled thugs who run an operation fronting for arms dealers—guys who represent a minority position on pretty much every issue having to do with reasonable regulation of firearms even among gun owners—to dictate our policies to cowardly, careerist politicians.
I already hear the outrage from the right: how can you blame the NRA? We need good guys to have guns, we have to stop the “haters” and “knockout gamers” and … I can’t even bear to repeat the infantile and inane talking points coming from cynical and callous people like the NRA’s Executive Vice President and foaming mouthpiece Wayne LaPierre.
We know how to stop these incidents, or at least greatly reduce them. We’ve seen other countries do it, such as Australia, which was averaging one of these massacres a year until their infamous Port Arthur Massacre in 1996. After which they completely overhauled their gun laws. Since then, a country with the same frontier history as the United States has not experienced one mass shooting. Not one. Their homicides and suicides have also precipitously dropped.
We, of course, could learn even more about how to stop these mass killings, as well as the everyday homicides, suicides and accidental killings that rob this nation of our youth, and everything they could have ever been. But this past week we’ve had numerous examples of how the NRA does their best to block this from happening, because they will gladly accept mass murder in Santa Barbara and Newtown, as well as an accidental bystander shooting in a neighborhood near you, if it keeps the dollars floating into their pockets from the ultimate blood-drenched 1%ers who own various staples of the gun industry
After attending the NRA’s Convention in Indianapolis, I wrote recently in these pages about all the NRA does to encourage paranoia and hatred while selling the weaponry not of self protection or hunting, but war, to anyone with a stack of bills and a glint in their eye.
But this past week we’ve seen the other side of the coin. How the NRA works to suppress information that would lead to treating a public health catastrophe that claims over 30,000 lives per year and injures over 100,000 as that very thing, while fighting to ensure we have as little access to information as possible that might help save lives.
The simple fact is, much like with their friends on the right from the tobacco industry to the oil industry to the megachurch, science and information are the enemies of the NRA. They have proven they will do whatever it takes to make sure we have less of it, and more Santa Barbaras.
Because anyone who does statistically significant research on a public health problem from the angle of helping people and not profiting from misery, and again and again finds obvious truths such as owning guns makes you more likely to get shot, is not someone the NRA and its allies will countenance without smearing. I debated one of these types from the Second Amendment Foundation on NPR recently regarding the CDC. It is amazing how tongue-tied they get when you present them with irrefutable information.
As for the “unethical” attack, mind you, this comes from an organization that promotes the “work” of well-traveled right-wing welfare recipient John Lott, a clown and a fraud who has created studies lacking any statistical validity, has “lost” his research when asked to produce it, and actually got busted for creating a fake online persona—Mary Rosh—to show up in comments sections where he wrote articles to say how swell and dreamy he was as a professor. Unethical (and embarrassing), indeed.
As Rep. Maloney rightly put it, “In America, gun violence kills twice as many children as cancer, and yet political grandstanding has halted funding for public health research to understand this crisis.”
The NRA’s fight to suppress information couldn’t be more apparent than it is in a rather pathetically titled column in Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller this past Friday. (Side note: As the NRA usually shuts up for at least 72 hours after a shooting, lest they remind people of their position as an accessory, having their views aired mere hours before this latest tragedy is enlightening).
The reason for this, as he points out in his piece, is that he and his fellow street-war profiteers are fighting to block President Obama’s U.S. Surgeon General Nominee Dr. Vivek Hallegere Murthy, from being appointed. What was his crime? He has been honest about guns being a public health problem, and has made the common sense recommendation that civilians not be allowed to own military weaponry.
The NRA is worried that, like with smoking in the past, if we have a Surgeon General who tells the truth, they will see their profits plummet. In fact, they’re not even trying to hide this fact (or doing a really, really bad job), as reported by Politico:
[Murthy’s] strongly backed by several health constituencies, such as public health advocates, research organizations and physician groups. Yet the NRA, as well as some Republicans, say past Murthy statements in support of gun control indicate that he could use the surgeon general job to promote anti-gun policies. Murthy has stated that he would not focus on gun violence in the position.
Cox attacks Moms Demand Action in this piece too, because Shannon Watts and her group have also used available information in the age of social media—in this case photos of lunatics open-carrying long guns in family establishments and intimidating customers—to get Chipotle to tell the gun fondlers they don’t want them bringing their weapons in their stores. And now Chili’s and other eateries are considering taking similar action.
Also this past week, the House’s answer to untreated rabies, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), attempted to force more guns on military institutions that don’t want them. Once again, we were forced to look at the NRA’s enemy: actual information—some of it bravely provided by top military brass both active and retired,standing up to the lies of the NRA and its allies.
Retired Brigadier General Stephen N. Xenakis, M.D., even took the step of authoring a strongly worded letter to Congress, which laid out his thinking as follows:
As someone who has had to make the tough decisions about how best to manage service members under my command, I urge you to oppose Mr. Gohmert’s Amendment. This amendment will only cause more stress, confusion, and danger on military bases.
Later that night, Gohmert went to the House floor, defeated, and pulled his amendment.
Sadly for the NRA, we are in the Information Age, and the truth is starting to regularly get past their efforts to thwart it. But sadly for the rest of us—and at this moment, most tragically, the victims at Santa Barbara—the NRA have been so successful at bullying, threatening and obfuscating for so long, that we likely have too many more UC Santa Barbaras to come.
AS JENNIFER LONGDON STEERED her wheelchair through the Indianapolis airport on April 25, she thought the roughest part of her trip was over. Earlier that day she’d participated in an emotional press conference with the new group Everytown for Gun Safety, against the backdrop of the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting. A mom, gun owner, and Second Amendment supporter, Longdon was paralyzed in 2004 after being shot in her car by unknown assailants, and has since been a vocal advocate for comprehensive background checks and other gun reforms.
As Longdon sat waiting for her flight, a screen in the concourse showed footage of the press conference. A tall, thin man standing nearby stared at Longdon, then back at the screen. Then he walked up to Longdon and spat in her face. No one else blinked.
Longdon was shocked and embarrassed, she told me, but she didn’t falter. “Wow, aren’t you a big man,” she said as he turned and walked away. Instead of calling for security, she wheeled herself to a restroom to clean herself off. She was tired—she lives with constant physical pain—and didn’t want to miss her flight.
"Should I have done something more? Quite honestly, in the scheme of things it was a little man and a little moment," she said. "He felt to me like a coward and a bully."
What happened to Longdon in Indianapolis is part of a disturbing pattern. Ever since the Sandy Hook massacre, a small but vocal faction of the gun rights movement has been targeting women who speak up on the issue—whether to propose tighter regulations, educate about the dangers to children, or simply to sell guns with innovative security features. The vicious and often sexually degrading attacks have evolved far beyond online trolling, culminating in severe bullying, harassment, invasion of privacy, and physical aggression. Though vitriol flows from both sides in the gun debate, these menacing tactics have begun to alarm even some entrenched pro-gun conservatives.
Jennifer Longdon Everytown for Gun Safety
"It Was Like a Mock Execution" Longdon is no stranger to such attacks. Last May in her hometown of Phoenix, she helped coordinate a gun buyback program with local police over three weekends. On the first Saturday, a group of men assembled across the street from the church parking lot where Longdon was set up. They shouted about constitutional rights and tyranny, and called people arriving to trade in their guns “sellouts.” (The program netted nearly 2,000 firearms with more than $200,000 in reimbursements.)
Some of them approached Longdon. “You know what was wrong with your shooting?” one said. “They didn’t aim better.” Another man came up, looked Longdon up and down and said, “I know who you are.” Then he recited her home address. The harassment continued, and the men showed up throughout the program, a Phoenix police official involved confirmed to me.
After a fundraiser one night during the program, Longdon returned home around 10 p.m., parked her ramp-equipped van and began unloading herself. As she wheeled up to her house, a man stepped out of the shadows. He was dressed in black and had a rifle, “like something out of a commando movie,” Longdon told me. He took aim at her and pulled the trigger. Longdon was hit with a stream of water. “Don’t you wish you had a gun now, bitch?” he scoffed before taking off.
"It was like a mock execution," Longdon says, recalling the intense surge of adrenaline and how the incident triggered her PTSD from the 2004 attack that nearly killed her and her fiancé. She called the police, but they were unable to track down the perpetrator. By the following Saturday, Longdon was back at her post helping run the buyback.
"I’ve been about as broken as I can be by gun violence," she says, "so I’m just not going to be afraid of it again."
The majority of gun owners in America are good people, she adds. “I wish that more responsible gun owners would step into this conversation and say ‘Look, those guys don’t speak for us.’”
A Schoolteacher in the Crosshairs A top target for gun extremists has been the women of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, the grassroots group that began after Sandy Hook and has since merged with Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns under the Everytown banner. The battle has grown particularly ugly in Texas, where gun groups such as Open Carry Texas have conducted demonstrations showcasing their right under state law to openly carry rifles in public. The sight of groups of (mostly) men carrying semi-automatic rifles along a busy road or inside the local Jack in the Box has prompted bystanders to call police. In response, Open Carry Texas has begun making open-records requests, identifying callers and threatening to publicize their personal information.
Callers told her she was a “stupid bitch” and “motherfucking whore.” One threatened to come after her with a gun.
On April 10, Brett Sanders, a member of Open Carry Texas in Plano, a midsize city in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, posted a video on YouTube highlighting the name and cellphone number of a woman who’d called the police after seeing heavily armed men on her way to a shopping mall. The post drew condemnation not only for outing the woman but also because it was misleading: It claimed that the woman had called 911, though she’d called the nonemergency line of the Plano PD. And the footage it used came from friendly-looking demonstrations elsewhere—not from the one that the woman encountered. (“Feel free to contact me when you work for a real news organization,” Sanders replied to my request for comment.)
The woman—a high school teacher who asked not to be identified—quickly got pummeled with text messages and voicemails, copies of which she provided to Mother Jones. Callers told her she was a “stupid bitch” and “motherfucking whore.”
"They fought for their right to carry guns," said another. "You’re a piece of shit." One caller threatened to come after her with a gun.
Over the next four days she received nearly two dozen such calls and text messages. Someone put her information into a phony profile on a large e-commerce site, and she got a barrage of calls about agricultural products and security systems.
"I really felt strongly about not changing my cellphone number—I’m not going to be intimidated," she told me. "But it just got to the point where it’s not worth it."
[Editor’s note: The teacher since changed her number; Mother Jones has redacted her name.]
A fifth-generation Texan from a small town, the teacher in Plano grew up hunting. She is not, as her antagonists claimed, a member of Moms Demand Action (though she now plans to join). But given the rapid rise of Moms, gun extremists tend to view any woman who lands in their crosshairs as part of what has become, as one state leader for Moms puts it, “kind of the new black helicopters for these guys.”
According to Plano police records, two other people called in with concerns about the demonstration that day—both men. No member of Open Carry Texas publicized their information.
The attack left the teacher worried for the safety of her family: “I felt that if I walked out someone was going to be standing there.” But in hindsight, she says, “I think they are very weak men. They use their guns because that’s all they have. If you know what I mean.”
Open Carry Texas has insisted that it plans to continue exposing people who call police about its armed demonstrations. “Gun control bullies are all up in arms over this video published by one of our members,” the group stated in a Facebook post on April 13, since deleted from its page. “If you don’t want your name publicized, simply don’t make a false 911 call against law abiding gun owners.”
Sanders “didn’t do anything wrong” by posting the video, nor is it relevant that he misidentified the type of call or used footage from a different demonstration, CJ Grisham, the founder of Open Carry Texas, told me. “Our point in doing that is to expose the kinds of people that are complaining about our rallies.”
"I would’ve personally done it differently," Grisham added, "even though the personal contact information is public information." He said that his organization has collected records from three dozen calls but is "judicious" about deciding which to release, and that going forward they "will protect the identity of the caller."
Just three days before Open Carry Texas outed the teacher, a state Senate committee held a hearing to consider further loosening gun carrying laws, and Grisham was invited to give official testimony alongside NRA lobbyists. “Open Carry Texas was given a seat at the table,” says Stephanie Lundy of the Texas chapter of Moms Demand Action. “It’s serious. You can’t write them off.”
The Female Mannequin Firing Squad Open Carry Texas takes pains to convey a clean, friendly image in the press. Last November, the group made national news after some 40 members armed with assault rifles showed up outside an Arlington, Texas, restaurant where four women from Moms Demand Action were having lunch. The group released a statement saying it was being misunderstood: “In reality, the peaceful gun owners were posing for a photo.” After a rally outside Austin City Hall this April, Grisham told the Texas Tribune, “We’re not out there to bait police officers or to scare the community. We wave, we smile, we hand out fliers. If we see someone who seems really nervous, we’ll talk to them.”
What the group hasn’t publicized are some of its members’ more degrading antics. In March, a group of them held a “mad minute” at a firing range, pulverizing a female mannequin with a hail of bullets. They positioned the figure with her hands raised in surrender, naked from the waist up. Afterward, they posed with the bullet-riddled mannequin, her arms blown off and her pants down at her ankles. “Mad minute” is a military expression referring to a burst of rapid fire, and Open Carry Texas members have often referred to Moms Demand Action as “mad moms.”
Four of the men who shot up the mannequin were present at the Arlington restaurant, including one listed by Open Carry Texas as a board member and the group’s Director of Operations.
Grisham said he was not part of the group at the gun range, but when the mannequin video was posted on Facebook, he commented: “Warms the cockles of my heart.” Recently he called women from Moms Demand Action “ignorant, retarded people,” and last fall he referred to them as “thugs with jugs.”
"My purpose with language like that was to draw attention to the hypocrisy," Grisham says, noting that opponents have used similar invective. "A lot of times when I make these statements, I’m making them in jest, based on language that’s being used against us. I’ve since decided that it’s petty, it’s childish, I’m not going to play those childish games anymore, so you wont catch me using ‘thugs with jugs’. I’ve moved on."
"Listen, I Don’t Want to Beat an Old Guy Up" Last October, hundreds of armed people gathered for a rally at the Alamo in San Antonio, where Open Carry Texas had invited Alex Jones, the fringe radio host known for whipping up fans with squalls of anti-government paranoia. At the podium, an assault rifle strapped across his back, Jones got into such a lather about Hitler and Mao and the Obama administration preparing to “enslave” Americans that he blew out his voice in less than five minutes. “These scumbags are all the same!” he shouted. He described a worldwide conspiracy to take away everyone’s guns, whose perpetrators included “the few dozen Democratic Party operatives they’re gonna have marching here in a little while, the so-called moms.”
At the end of his speech, Jones had one last thing to say to the cheering crowd: “Don’t be mean to the million mom march, all five of ‘em. These are pathetic zombies. Just realize they’re stupid victims that want us to live like they do, slaves.”
Jones soon headed to a Moms event for kids, to “confront the victim disarmament crew.”
Jones then hugged CJ Grisham before heading out to, as he would later put it on his show, “confront the victim disarmament crew.” He went to a local taco bar about a mile away, where Moms Demand Action was holding a midday kids’ event with crafts and family activities. Jones and his camera crew began cornering members of the group. The women told him they weren’t interested in talking on camera, but he kept at it.
An older couple walked over to intervene, the man telling Jones, “A gun grab is something that nobody in this country wants.” Jones got in the man’s face, hands gesticulating, chest puffed out. “Well sir, all I can say is you’re really gettin’ in my space!”
"Well, why don’t you back up?" the man said.
"No, I’m not gonna back up." Jones retorted, inching in closer. "You’re the one got in my space." He glanced over to his camera crew. "Look at this, look at this guy."
The woman tried to pull her husband away. “All right, go ahead,” Jones continued. “Listen, I don’t want to beat an old guy up,” he added, poking the man’s chest. “So don’t touch me.”
As Jones went on, Stephanie Lundy of Moms Demand Action approached his sidekick, Anthony Gucciardi, to tell him who the couple was: Lonnie and Sandy Philips, whose 24-year-old daughter Jessica was murdered in the 2012 gun massacre at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Gucciardi ignored her, according to Lundy.
Jones kept up the baiting. “Did you know assault rifles are used in 2 percent of crimes?”
Lonnie Phillips had enough. “I know an assault rifle was used to murder my daughter in Aurora,” he snapped back, his voice rising. “I know that.” Jones appeared taken off guard for a second. “Well, I’m sorry that…”
"Yeah, you’re sorry," Phillips said.
"I didn’t hurt your daughter," Jones said.
Jones posted a video about the altercation on his site, Infowars.com, closing the segment with him turning to the camera: “I mean that’s the big issue,” he says. “There’s five people here against the guns, and they’re claiming—it’s probably true, there’s a guy whose got a lot of sadness in his eyes—that it’s his loved one that was lost at Aurora, and that that’s basically our fault.”
Jones could have known easily enough that the Phillips would be there. Sandy Phillips, who works for the Brady Campaign, had posted on Facebook that they’d be attending the Moms event, and the director of operations for Open Carry Texas had called her out. “Sandy, nice banner pic of you eating at In ‘n’ Out burger,” he replied. “I open carry there all the time. Very gun friendly place.”
PROVOCATIVE TACTICS IN THE NAME OF the Second Amendment are by no means confined to Texas. Recently, public displays of guns have caused alarm in Wisconsin, and gun rights activists have menaced a businesswoman in California and a gun dealer in Maryland for trying to sell firearms equipped with high-tech safety features.
Last Thursday, a firearms instructor in Florida posted a video on the Facebook page of Moms Demand Action, in which he filmed himself at a gun range blasting a paper target bearing the Moms logo. “Happy Mother’s Day,” he says with a grin, displaying the cluster of bullet holes.
The group responded by sharing the video on the Facebook page of his local church, and with disapproving comments soon piling up—”I don’t get how that’s very Christian, or even sane for that matter”—by Friday the video disappeared from public view on YouTube. (The firearms instructor did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)
Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, has faced a continuous barrage. “For me, the question is always, ‘Why does this person want to kill or rape or silence me?’” she says. “I think the answer is that this issue touches a cultural nerve based on gender, geography, and other politics. There are pundits who make a good deal of money encouraging this type of anger.”
Some staunch advocates of expansive gun rights recognize that this kind of bullying is bad for the movement. In March, a talk radio host and self-described gun enthusiast in Wisconsin called the “in your face open-carry playbook” tactics “perfectly legal, and perfectly stupid." After the Arlington restaurant incident, the editor of BearingArms.com wrote that Open Carry Texas had achieved “a public relations disaster.”
The cumulative threats and harassment have at times felt exhausting for women working at the state and local level. “It’s one thing to think about it and see images of it online,” one of the Texas moms told me. “It’s another thing entirely to see this kind of thing out of your car window when you’re driving your kid to soccer practice.”
But they say they have no intention of backing down and are in it for the long haul. "Yes, the threats, slurs, and bullying are shameful and concerning," says Watts. "But they’re also emboldening. No fight for cultural change comes without this kind of resistance. The reality is that a majority of NRA members and gun owners support the reforms we’re fighting for."
Everytown for Gun Safety has released a report titled Not Your Grandparents’ NRA that highlights a simple fact: the NRA that was created after the Civil War to promote hunting, marksmanship, and safety training — and that supported common sense gun laws — no longer exists. Today’s NRA would be unrecognizable to the founding members of the organization.
Today’s radicalized NRA was born in 1977 when its newly elected leader Harlon Carter rejected calls for background checks, saying that allowing “convicted violent felons, mentally deranged people, violently addicted to narcotics people to have guns” was simply the “price we pay for freedom.”
The report highlights some of the extreme positions the NRA has taken and some of the tactics it uses to subvert public safety and advance its agenda, including:
Fighting to allow felons and terrorists to buy and own firearms;
Campaigning to put guns in places like bars where they are at high risk of being misused, despite the documented dangers of mixing guns and alcohol;
Promoting gag orders to block pediatricians and military commanders from discussing gun safety with parents and at-risk service members;
Endangering law enforcement and hobbling their efforts to fight gun crime by sabotaging the introduction of proven, innovative gun-tracking technology;
Handcuffing communities beset by gun violence by thwarting their efforts to tailor gun laws to local conditions; and, finally,
Blacklisting individuals and private sector companies that buck NRA orthodoxy or offer any measures to reduce gun violence or mitigate its costs.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) has vetoed a bill that would have allowed individuals to bring guns into some public buildings.
House Bill 2339, one of four pro-gun bills passed by the state legislature earlier this month, would have allowed concealed carry permit holders to bring their firearms into buildings that do not have security guards or metal detectors at the entrance. The bill would not have applied to schools.
In vetoing the bill, Brewer said the legislation would “establish an unfunded mandate on our state and local governments” by requiring agencies that want to keep guns out of their buildings to spend funds on guards and security equipment.
"I am a strong proponent of the Second Amendment, and I have signed into law numerous pieces of legislation to advance and protect gun rights,” Brewer wrote in her veto message, according to the Arizona Daily Star. “However, I cannot support this measure in its proposed form.”
As The Republic notes, Brewer vetoed similar bills in 2011 and 2012.
The Republican governor also rejected HB 2517, which would have fined local government officials up to $5,000 for enacting gun restrictions exceeding state regulations. The offending officials would have also faced removal from office.
"A person or organization who perceives that an ordinance is illegal may already seek remedies through the legal system," Brewer wrote in her veto, calling the measure “unnecessary.”
Gun Owners of America executive director Larry Pratt is one of those people we wish we could ignore. Every interview he gives devolves into a mess of anti-government conspiracy theories, thinly veiled racism, and good-guy-with-a-gun revenge fantasies. This puts him at around the extremism level of 9/11 truther Alex Jones and unhinged Internet newscaster Stan Solomon…both of whom regularly host Pratt on their programs.
But we can’t ignore Larry Pratt because, as we are reminded every few weeks, he remains one of the country’s most influential gun lobbyists. Today’s reminder of this unsavory fact came from the New York Times’ report on Michael Bloomberg’s plan to spend $50 million promoting gun safety laws this year. The NRA declined to comment, so the Times called the second best option: Larry Pratt.
“He’s got the money to waste,” Mr. Pratt said of Bloomberg. “So I guess he’s free to do so. But frankly, I think he’s going to find out why his side keeps losing.”
It was also the New York Times that reported last year that Gun Owners of America was “emerging as an influential force” in the effort to defeat new gun laws. The Times quoted Sen. Ted Cruz praising GOA, noting that Cruz was the group’s “key ally in the Senate.” (Pratt, for his part, returnsthe praise every chance he gets).
In the past year, Pratt has appeared on CNN and MSNBC. And just a few months ago, when Fox News Sunday hosted Gabrielle Giffords’ husband Mark Kelly to speak on the anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting, they decided that Larry Pratt would be the perfect person to join him with an opposing view.
That Larry Pratt is an influential Republican lobbyist who is regularly quoted by mainstream news sources shows that it is basically impossible to be too extreme to be taken seriously in today’s right wing.
After all, back in 1996, Pratt was too extreme for even Pat Buchanan. Pratt stepped down from his role in Buchanan’s presidential campaign after his ties to white supremacists and promotion of the right-wing militia movement came to light. As Southern Poverty Law Center director Morris Dees said at the time, “He’s got one foot in that far-right fringe and another foot in mainstream Washington, which makes him really dangerous.”
That certainly hasn’t changed. In just the past couple of years, Pratt
The gun lobby and its allies in the Senate have launched an all-out assault on Murthy’s nomination, arguing that his position that gun violence prevention is a significant public health threat indicates a hostility towards Second Amendment rights that would ill-serve Americans.
“Dr. Murthy’s record of political activism in support of radical gun control measures raises significant concerns about his ability to objectively examine issues pertinent to America’s 100 million firearm owners and the likelihood that he would use the office of the Surgeon General to further his preexisting campaign against gun ownership,” wrote NRA Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) executive director Chris Cox in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell last month.
Specifically, the gun lobby has taken offense to Murthy’s position that gun violence is a public health problem, that doctors should discuss proper gun safety measures with their patients — especially if they have young children — and his support for standard gun violence prevention legislation such as universal background checks. However, those positions are actually supported by every single major doctors’ organization — including the American Medical Association (AMA), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Psychiatric Association (APA), and the American College of Emergency Physicians — and Surgeons General who served under Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. And it appears that the NRA’s strategy is working, as at least one Democratic senator has announced his intention to oppose Murthy’s nomination.
“While the Senate has not yet scheduled a vote on Dr. Murthy, I have already told the White House I will very likely vote no on his nomination if it comes to the floor,” said Alaska Sen. Mark Begich (D) in a letter to constituents, according to the Associated Press.
It’s a curious position considering that Alaska has the worst gun-related death rate of any state in the country by a wide margin — twice the national norm — and nearly two-and-a-half times the firearm suicide rate of the rest of the country. Alaskans actually support the same gun violence legislation, such as universal background checks, that are driving Begich’s opposition to Murthy by nearly a two-to-one margin. Begich is up for re-election this fall.
The White House has also taken heed of the growing opposition and is trying to reshuffle its approach to getting Murthy confirmed, an administration official told USA Today, in the wake of the high-profile failure of lawyer Dego Adegbile’s nomination to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Seven Senate Democrats joined a unified Republican caucus to vote against Adegbile because he once represented convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal while fighting a death penalty verdict.
“After the Debo vote, we are recalibrating the strategy around [Murthy’s] floor vote,” said the senior administration official.
Gun violence is expected to surpass car accidents as the number one killer of young people by next year, according to the Center for American Progress (CAP). Murthy told a Senate committee that battling childhood obesity, which he called America’s “defining public health challenge,” would be his number one priority if he is confirmed as Surgeon General.
The NRA is a hostage-taking organization harming our country, and their goal of denying Dr. Vivek Murthy’s appointment as next Surgeon General.
Chicago’s strictest-in-the-nation law banning gun sales within the city is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled Monday.
The judge said the law banning the weapons sale “goes too far,” but delayed the effect of the ruling to give the city time to respond, Bloomberg reported.
“Chicago’s ordinance goes too far in outright banning legal buyers and legal dealers from engaging in lawful acquisitions and lawful sales of firearms,” U.S. District Court Judge Edmond E. Chang wrote in a 35-page opinion.
The ordinance, which has banned gun shops in Chicago since it was passed by the city council in 2010, also prohibits gun owners from stepping outside their homes with a handgun — even into their garages or onto their porches.
Chicago previously banned handguns in the city for 28 years until 2010, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law.
The city, President Obama’s hometown, has struggled with gun violence and ended 2013 with 415 homicides, 88 fewer than in 2012 and 20 fewer than in 2011, according to an Associated Press tally. It was the fewest killings in the city since 1965.
In Defenseless, Loesch examines the motivations of the political left to grab the guns of law-abiding citizens, leaving vulnerable millions of Americans, especially women. She digs deep into the history of the Second Amendment, looking closely at the advantage a no-guns policy would give to murderers, rapists, and other criminals. She urges readers to fight back against what she sees as a hypocritical and unwarranted federal intrusion by policymakers who themselves rely on guns for their protection. The always provocative Loesch – who was once banned from CNN’s Piers Morgan for her support of self-defense — will present new reporting and offer surprising insights about gun control, while also offering a plan for reclaiming our rights and the security necessary for our peace of mind.
The book will publish in September 2014 and will be released simultaneously in hardcover and eBook formats.