Although talk about the political clout of the gun lobby often centers around the National Rifle Association, two other pro-gun organizations based in the Northwest may be nearly as influential.

The Second Amendment Foundation does research on gun issues and helps in the legal defense of court cases around the nation which might limit gun owners' rights. Headquartered in Bellevue, the foundation claims a paying membership of around 250,000 (approximately 1.1 million people have filled out petitions or worked with the group) and an annual budget of more than $2.5 million. The organization puts out the weekly newspaper Gun Week and the monthly magazine Women and Guns from its buffalo, NY publishing headquarters. The foundation provided legal aid for a lawsuit which overturned the city of San Francisco's ban on the possession of handguns, and this year it helped to shoot down Denver's ban on assault weapons.
The Citizen's Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms is a direct grassroots and lobbying organization also headquartered in Bellevue, next-door to the Second Amendment Foundation. Begun in 1971, the Committee also has offices in Washington, D.C. and Sacramento, with paid lobbyists in both cities. It has approximately 600,000 members who either pay dues or make contributions.
At the heart of both of these organizations is Alan Gottlieb, who helped to build them both largely through direct-mail solicitation. Gottlieb is the president of the Second Amendment Foundation, which he helped found in 1974, and is chairman of the citizens Committee. In 1984, Gottlieb pleaded guilty to evading federal income taxes for 1977 and went to prison for about one year. As a convicted felon, Gottlieb was no longer legally able to own firearms. But he regained those rights through a federal government program which allowed felons to apply for "relief" from the "disability" of being unable to own weapons.
In addition, Gottlieb is president of the Center for the Defense of Private Enterprise, also located in Bellevue's Liberty Park office complex with the Foundation and the Citizens Committee. The Center's vice-president, Ron Arnold, has said of that group: "Our goal is to destroy, to eradicate the environmental movement."
Gottlieb recently spoke with Mike Blain of The Free Press.

photograph by Ayumi Horie

How will passage of the Brady Bill affect the Second Amendment Foundation's strategies and efforts?

You have to realize that the Brady Bill passed in both the House and the Senate last year and it was really by a quirk that it didn't get signed last year. However, the Brady Bill version last year was weaker than previous years and the version that passed this year was even weaker than last year's. And it actually got a little less support in Congress this year than it did last year, so we made some gains that way. Realistically, the whole Brady Bill was a battle on both sides of symbolism over substance. On one hand it doesn't really do a whole lot to gun owners' rights because most states already have waiting periods or other laws that are stricter than the Brady Bill to start with. On the other hand, criminals don't wait anyway - they don't get them through licensed gun stores, they're getting them on the street...

Even if the Brady Bill is mostly symbolic, doesn't it seem like the gun lobby is backpedaling now? Do you feel like the wagons are circling?

Not because of the Brady Bill. The wagons are circling because of a lot of other reasons. There are a lot of other proposals that are being bandied around that are a lot worse than the Brady Bill - ones that flat out ban guns or deny people access to guns for self-protection. Those bother me a whole lot more. The Brady Bill as whole was, I guess you could call it a holding point. As long as the other side had to argue the Brady Bill they couldn't go to the next step on their agenda. And while a lot of the Brady Bill sponsors argued, "There is no next step on our agenda, we just want a waiting period. It's real moderate," of course the day it passes they're all screaming for the next step on their agenda, which we knew was there and we told everybody it was there to begin with. The other side is not very intellectually honest, quite honestly.

The wagons are circling for a few other reasons. Particularly the fact that the White House is very anti-gun and has made it known that they would like to ban all private possession of handguns in the US within five years...

Are you personally concerned about the rapid increase in gun violence around Puget Sound in the last year or two?
The rapid increase isn't really rapid. We've had a very minor increase in homicides and a decrease in gun violence outside the homicide area. So it's mixed. If I just read press headlines, I would surely think there was an epidemic going on, but you ought to look at real numbers if there really is an epidemic. If you take a look at national trends and statistics, we're way below areas with strong gun control over the same time period. So, no, I'm not alarmed by it. But quite frankly, one crime committed with a gun is one too many. Anything you can do to get the gun out of the hands of the criminal is fine. My problem is that most of the proposals don't get guns out of the hands of criminals. They disarm the victims, which the criminals like.

Do you sincerely believe - as many gun owners argue - that something like a 5-day waiting period is part of a concerted effort on the part of anti-gun people to eventually take all firearms out of the hands of private citizens?

Well, just quote the sponsors of the Brady Bill. Congressman [Charles] Schumer [D-NY]: "Well, we got our first step, now we'll move onto the next step." ... They just know politically that the reality is not there where they can have the votes to do it all at one time. A direct, head-on assault on Second Amendment rights loses. But when you pick up peripheral things like plastic guns, which don't exist and never did exist to start with, and Congress passes a law a few years ago to ban plastic guns that don't even exist, I mean it's kind of hard to fight a bill banning something that doesn't even exist. There's no constituency upset about it because no one even owns one. That's what you're dealing with.

Like with these so-called "cop killer" bullets. They ban a class of bullets that are Teflon coated where the Teflon burns off the bullet before it leaves the barrel of the gun and it's only on it to stop scoring your gun barrel. It has nothing to do with penetrating power whatsoever, it's what the bullet's made out of. And no police officer has ever been killed in America by a Teflon-coated bullet. Ever. And if you ban cop-killer bullets, sure, who's for copkiller bullets. But the fact that it wasn't a cop killer bullet doesn't matter. So that's the game that's played.

Don't you think, though, that this domino theory of gun control is losing some credibility?

No, if anything the domino theory has gained credibility significantly in the last year. For years we have been screaming that this is just the first step, (and gun control people say) "oh, no it's not, no it's not." It's proof now. Read Bill Clinton's interview in Rolling Stone magazine. Read Congressman Schumer's comments in the Congressional Record about the passage of the Brady Bill - about now that we've passed this we've gotta go do this next and this next and this next. To pass something they're always going to say this is all we want, until it's passed and they're right back there the next day. And now they've proved it...

Although the gun control debate has often been cast as a liberal/conservative or left/right battle, it seems that the issue really defies party lines. What do you think about this?

I always find it really interesting. I have had a lot of very wild left friends who are very pro-gun rights. Usually when you get toward the wilder side of left you get more people that are pro-gun. When you get people who are very into civil libertarian issues, right or left, we tend to pick op a lot of support...

People on the left are more concerned than people on the right about the so-called police state. Police power, search and seizure, other areas where the government gets authority over the individual, especially in police power. One of the ultimate forms of police power is when the police have all the guns and the citizens don't. Forgetting the argument about self-protection against criminals and usually it's people on the left that realize they go up against the government more than people on the right, who tend to be supportive of law enforcement.

Does this affect your strategy at all as far as organizing drives and targeting people?

Yeah, it does. One of the problems we see is a shift in support on the issue. It's not so much on the civil libertarian part of right and left, because those two we can solidly get no matter what. But we've found we've lost some support from conservative Republican types in suburban areas that want to keep guns out of the hands of blacks, because they feel they're committing all the crimes.

That's versus liberals who live in the inner cities who hated guns but now all of the sudden want them for self-protection because they live in the areas with the high crime and they just decided "Hey, I want a gun to protect myself." So we're picking up support from an area we didn't have and we're losing support in another area, which is some ways is probably moving us more to the left and away from the right.

What is the foundation going to be doing on the next few weeks or months?

We've just launched a Brady Bill victims watch program. It compiles data - which of course the government doesn't compile - of people that try to buy a handgun for self-defense and, while they're waiting for the five days, they become a victim. How many people now are victimized and how many are unfortunately a death statistic or a criminal statistic because while they were waiting for their gun the criminal didn't? And so we are going to be pounding that home every time an incident like that happens in the country. We're going to make sure it doesn't go unnoticed.

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Contents on this page were published in the December/Jan, 1994 edition of the Washington Free Press.
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Mike Blain