Grassroots gun rights groups gain momentum

by Alan Gottlieb

Considering that there are an estimated 80 million gun owners in the United States, it should be no surprise that local organizations devoted to protecting and promoting gun rights - especially in the wake of the 2008 Heller ruling and the 2010 McDonald decision by the U.S. Supreme Court - have been springing up, growing in numbers and gaining political clout.

As founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, which brought the landmark case of McDonald v. City of Chicago to the high court with the cooperation of the Illinois State Rifle Association, I have witnessed this surge in gun rights interests with delight. Today, SAF is proudly involved in legal actions with several grassroots organizations, challenging onerous state and local gun laws.

For example, SAF is cooperating with Grass Roots North Carolina, a pro-gun-rights organization, in a challenge of North Carolina's emergency powers statute that allows the governor or local officials to suspend Second Amendment rights outside of the home during a declared emergency.

In California, SAF has partnered with the CalGuns Foundation on several lawsuits to protect the rights of gun owners.

Our lawsuit against a discretionary - and essentially discriminatory - gun permit law in Maryland has gotten financial support from Maryland Shall Issue. Likewise, a SAF lawsuit against a similar law in New York's Westchester County is being supported by Long Island Firearms and the Shooters Committee On Political Education (SCOPE).

Our newest legal challenges to anti-gun rights laws against the state of New Jersey and New York City were filed with local plaintiffs, the New Jersey Association of Rifle and Pistol Clubs and the New York Rifle and Pistol Association.

This emergence of pro-gun grassroots organizations evidently surprises the mainstream press, which has long believed that the National Rifle Association, and only the NRA, speaks for gun owners and lobbies on their behalf. While it is certainly true that the NRA effectively lobbies for gun owners on Capitol Hill and in state legislatures, it is also true that alternate gun rights groups including state-level concealed and open carry organizations, and groups fashioning themselves after the Virginia Citizens' Defense League, Gun Owners' Action League of Massachusetts, Ohioans for Concealed Carry and Buckeye Firearms Association, Arizona Citizens Defense League, the Montana Sport Shooting Association and Oregon Firearms Federation, have risen to handle their own affairs rather than depend entirely on a national association to do their bidding.

This presents no small dilemma for the media, and for gun prohibitionist groups that have long tried to demonize the so-called "gun lobby" as a monolithic organization with the initials "NRA." Instead of a lobby, the emergence of various strong local gun groups is a movement with a broad and diverse membership representing all walks of life, all races, professions and genders. It is very difficult to demonize a movement that represents a cross-section of Americana, which may be exemplified by the NRA, but not necessarily as the only group on the map.

Alas, the NRA may have fallen into that trap, itself, by recent actions that have included a publicly embarrassing attempt to secure for itself - and no other gun rights groups - an exemption from the DISCLOSE Act. While that was bad enough, the association went one step farther by suggesting in its own magazines that the McDonald case was the NRA's, when it was not.

As an NRA member, I have been proud when SAF and our sister organization, the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, have fought side-by-side with the NRA on such major issues as the lawsuit against New Orleans to stop gun confiscations after Hurricane Katrina. We invariably shared credit for that effort, and our joint lawsuits against attempted gun bans in the cities of San Francisco and Seattle. We look forward to more such actions, because we have yet to lose one of these cooperative cases in court.

We are equally pleased to work with local grassroots organizations, though. We operate, and cooperate, under no illusions. Fighting to protect existing gun rights and regain those we have lost is a job that will require grassroots activism as well as a strong unified national voice.

Today's gun rights movement perhaps best typifies the "big tent" inside of which there may sometimes be discord and lively debate, but ultimately we all want the same thing: The free exercise of our constitutionally-protected fundamental civil right to keep and bear arms.

The mainstream media and gun-hating editorialists can no longer take the lazy approach by simply heaping scorn on the NRA as some sort of evil lock-step enterprise. These gun prohibitionists are now facing a much larger and formidable front, perhaps with NRA at its center, but with other strong and vocal national and local groups on the flanks. Gun owners realize we are all in this together, and that's the only way we will restore those rights that have been eroded: together.

Alan Gottlieb is founder and executive vice president of the Second Amendment Foundation, and chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.

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