I just got back from the panels of the 25th annual Gun Rights Policy Conference, and let me tell you, I sure am jazzed. I arrived early in the morning and was greeted by a handsome M1 Garand being raffled off by the Golden State Second Amendment Council (who I really need to join):
Needless to say, I entered the drawing!
The conference started off with Alan Gottlieb and his wife Julianne discussing the importance of unity among pro-rights groups and of not sitting on our laurels just because we have two major SCOTUS victories. I heartily agree.
One pleasant surprise was that each attendee was given a ton of books, all for free! Among them are Paxton Quigley’s Armed and Female, John Lott’s Straight Shooting, and Alan Gottlieb’s America Fights Back. These are not works of fluff published by nobodies.
John Lott himself (right) was present in fact, and he was there trumpeting his groundbreaking work in criminology to statistically disprove anti-rights myths over and over again. His speech was a bit dry, but he’s an economist so I can’t blame him too much, and besides, it was very informative!
Among the more bombastic speakers was Jim Wallace, a lobbyist with the unenviable task of promoting firearms and freedom to the Massachusetts state legislature. He told a hilarious story of how he cowed the legislature by asking them to indicate how many of them thought that only the government should have firearms (most did) and then asking them what they thought of the at-the-time-in-power Bush administration (it was not polite). This delighted me because I’ve used this trick on liberal friends and family before and heads always explode!
In fact, back before I was a guns and freedom activist, my extremely liberal father once confided in me that he was considering getting a gun out of fear of government thugs enforcing the PATRIOT act against him and his extremely liberal publications. At the time I was shocked and appalled but in retrospect I’m terribly proud of his momentary breaking out of the anti-gun state-is-god box and I wish I had been in a position to help him along rather than disapprove.
I regrettably forgot to snap a photo of Mr. Wallace. Maybe that tells you a little bit about how enthralled I was by his speech!
Alan Gura was of course awesome:
Sorry for the shakycam effect. After I shot these videos I realized that a more stable platform was needed so I cut some stickers up into strips and used them to secure my iPhone to a pile of books. It worked like a charm!
Eugene Volokh (left) spoke as well and I was really excited to see him, being a big fan of his blog The Volokh Conspiracy. Mr. Volokh ended up being a voice of reason but was therefore hardly telling us what we wanted to hear! His primary argument was that the second amendment will be treated like other amendments — that is to say, it will be found to be a good deal less absolute and off-limits than we would prefer. He pointed out the wide variety of permissible restrictions on such rights as the right to protest and speak, and suggested that even a licensing scheme could be constitutional given its legal acceptance in protests.
Volokh sort of ended up playing the part of the wet blanket. Much to the palpable disappointment of the audience, he included assault weapons bans in the list of likely constitutional gun laws, his reasoning being that banning them would not be found to substantially burden the core right of self-defense provided that other suitable weapons were still available.
Calguns’ Gene Hoffman, however, strenuously disagreed a few hours later, bringing up the excellent example of self-defense against mountain lions, pointing out that California police departments use AR-15s to dispatch such animals when they show up in cities, and that ranchers and other rural folks often encounter four-legged predators against which handguns would be poor choices. These seemed like very strong arguments to me, and I also think that Scalia’s “in common use” language would come into effect as well; in California at least there are over 500,000 bullet button-equipped ARs and AKs. I’m proud to have increased that number by one.
There’s just something about Gene Hoffman that makes you want to follow him. He has a natural leader’s personality and he’s unbelievably eloquent. Here, have a listen:
Don Kilmer also spoke a bit about some of his cases, like the now-famous Nordyke case in which Mr Kilmer was technically the first lawyer ever to have the second amendment incorporated against the states!
Finally, Alan Gura spoke again.
Then there was a free-form discussion. Kilmer, Hoffman, and Gura talked a lot about spurious arrests for possession of bullet button-equipped ARs in California (hint: if it happens to you shut up and call Calguns at 800-556-2109) and other immediate and near-future issues. I couldn’t help but feel optimistic.
I was super-excited to see Massad Ayoob. Back when I was just dipping my toes into the pro-gun waters, his books and articles guided me along. I fondly remember reading In The Gravest Extreme on a bus ride in New England three years ago and feeling the cogs turning in my head as he methodically explained things that made too much sense to deny.
Also, he has an awesome voice.
One slightly unsettling undercurrent I noticed was the pervasive sniping at the NRA. Everyone was mad that they folded on the DISCLOSE act. Gura was pissed that they’ve been trying to take credit for his victories and was actually quite passive-aggressive about it. Smaller organizations like GOA were generally miffed that the NRA wasn’t absolutist enough. And one guy was steamed that they didn’t endorse Libertarians, leading to by far the most awkward moment of the day when he presented this to Bob Barr—who is an NRA board member—and got a good 15 seconds of tense silence as a result.
Given that Alan Gottlieb and his wife Julianne introduced the conference with a plea for unity and cooperation among pro-rights groups, it was somewhat disappointing. I would really have liked to see more solidarity, especially considering that the NRA has done 100 times more than most of the complainants (I’m looking at you, GOA!). We should rally around our power players, not snap at their heels for being more important and influential than we are.
There were a ton more people who were all great in their own ways. Hearing Michael Boldin the tenth amendment guy ask us if we had as much courage as the pot smokers in California who are actively disobeying federal law en masse was something I don’t think I’ll ever forget, and Nikki Stallard’s impassioned defense of gays’ right to defense was really something to behold.
It was a wonderful set of panels. After 10 hours, I felt rejuvenated! It’s great to be surrounded by fellow freedom-lovers, and I really think we have dream teams working all throughout the country to attack statist nonsense on too many fronts to count.