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More NRA Convention Notes

Sorry for the Tax Day silence yesterday. We figured you could all use a break to either a) file at the last minute, or b) drink away your sorrows at just how much you owe. Of course, when you realize how much you pay in alcohol taxes, it may be enough to make you start brewing your own beer.

I’m doing a little research on a historical gun I photographed at the meeting, but I did want to share these random photos from the Nashville NRA Annual Meeting that I thought were mildly interesting, but not quite enough to support an entire post.

The first item is the visual right across from the Mom Demand Action from Illegal Mayors in Everytown. Sebastian & I had to do a double take when we saw the faded painted brick on this building that was part of the backdrop for their press conference. See if you catch what we noticed.

Lipscomb Guns & Iron

Somehow this just seemed so terrible fitting to have at the Nashville convention. I almost wanted one as a souvenir.

Guitar Gun Case

Finally, I love the North-South Skirmish Association‘s booth each year. This year’s highlight was this set up from the only all-women’s mortar team in last year’s competition. According to the gentleman we spoke with, the women on the team compete in full women’s costumes and they placed 8th out of 63 teams.


I really need to get Sebastian down to their annual event in Virginia. I mean how can you miss this?

Member units compete in live-fire matches with original or authentic reproduction Civil War period muskets, carbines, breech loading rifles, revolvers, mortars and cannons.

They compete with cannons and mortars! Seriously, it’s a pretty fun event to just watch. The competitors really look like they have a good time.

NRA Youth Day at Annual Meeting

Because my entire family in the area came out on Sunday of the NRA annual meeting, I managed to check out a few things I normally wouldn’t check out and see things through a fresh perspective. Like any event of this size, there was good and bad with it. Even with the bad, I think there’s great potential, but it’s just a matter of finding the right people who can pull it off.

NRA specifically hosts an NRA Youth Day on the last day of the convention. I’ll be honest, with as many kids as I saw on Saturday, I think they should consider doing at least something kid-focused on both weekend days in the future. The number of families keep growing at every convention, and they have such a great opportunity to offer something special that stands out for the kids.

Even if they never grow up to be gun owners, my niece and nephew will grow up remembering that they attended an NRA meeting and that everything seemed nice, normal, and fun. Even if they don’t grow up to be activists, there’s a good chance they won’t ever be voters for the other side of the issue since they realize that good, normal folks own firearms without incident because of their trip to the annual meeting.

When we arrived about half an hour after the Youth Day area opened, the room was still a little sparse. A few activities weren’t really going, the prize table was just a big empty spot, and there weren’t a ton of kids. However, this did make it easier to talk to some of adults doing demo stuff. For example, I talked to Bob who was dressed up as a frontiersman and manning a display of various antique arms. While my 6-year-old niece may not have been thrilled, I was certainly enthralled when he mentioned a colonial-era gunsmith family I’d never heard of before – a name that just happened to be a line in Sebastian’s family tree and, according to this guy, from a few counties over… More research is now needed. (Related bleg: Who knows about the Honaker family of gunsmiths, reportedly connected to Pennsylvania at some point?)

One of the best features, in my opinion, was the exhibit floor scavenger hunt. They printed a sheet of sponsors and told the kids to go get signatures from each of the sponsors with booths. When all were marked, the sheets would be returned to the Youth Day area and exchanged for raffle tickets. I loved the idea since it gives parents an excuse to see the floor while their kids get something fun in return.

Some of the people signing the programs were really sweet to my niece, and she got a kick out of the trucker hat Winchester gave out to the kids. I would actually love to see this expanded a bit. Inviting groups with consistently interesting booths to participate might be a fun idea. For example, even though they aren’t sponsors, why not reach out to a collector group with a cool display to see if they would be willing to offer some kind of little hand out to kids? It gets families across more of the exhibit hall and checking out more sections to cover every interest. As it was, the area covered by the sponsors on the list spread across less than half of the hall.


NRA Attendance Figures for Nashville 2015


As is our tradition, we try to be the blog to turn to in order to get the very important NRA Annual Meeting attendance figures. But because Nashville is so close to the fly/drive line, and we chose to drive, we had to skip the NRA Board meeting this year where they announced the figures. Fortunately we managed to get someone who would be attending the meeting to send us the figures.

We place Nashville up there with Houston as a convention city, and the attendance numbers reflect that. There were 78,865 attendees at this year’s meeting! How’s that compare to previous years? The record is still Houston, Texas in 2013, with a total attendance of 86,228. That was the meeting right after Sandy Hook, when the blame and shame machine was running full tilt against the American gun owner. Last year’s figure in Indianapolis was 75,267. Nashville this year was the second highest attendance figure in NRA’s history.

You can see from Bitter’s graphic last year, the meeting continues to climb along roughly the same slope, with post-Sandy-Hook Houston being a statistical outlier. I find this funny because that’s kind of how things have worked with traffic for this blog, with 2013 being an usually high year for traffic, and then returning to historical norms.

One thing I want to mention, because we ran into some friendly bloggers and media on the issue: be sure if you attend with media credentials to also register as an attendee. Media creds don’t count for attendance figures, and there was one meeting (I think Pittsburgh in 2011) where we came within a few hundred persons from the previous record.

Moms Demand (Not Much) Action

With Shannon Watts speaking about drawing 400 protestors out to Riverfront Park, we decided to take a walk down there to see whether she was living up to expectations. More importantly, given that last year at Indianapolis, Watts hired armed security, we were wondering whether she’d be dumb enough to bring armed security into parks while simultaneously lobbying against bringing guns into parks in Tennessee. She did have armed security, but they were police officers. Probably hired police officers, since I doubt you’d get that many without paying them. Must be nice to have Bloomberg’s money. I’d estimate about 150 people, which we know were bussed in.

DSC_0414 DSC_0419 DSC_0420

We walked around almost as if we were tourists, and the women shouted out offers of free t-shirts to us just for walking around. The police officers, on the other hand, were trying to make sure they stayed away from the camera while keeping an eye out for the group. We overheard one officer telling the other he didn’t want to be in any camera shots since he didn’t want to really been seen with their cause. Instead, they started talking about gun shows on tv.

NRA Street Festival 2015: Can Shannon Watts Protest This Much Fun?

It hasn’t been unusual for NRA Country to bring country artists into arenas to do shows for NRA members. That’s been the case many times in the past, but they’ve always been confined to arenas or events that have been going on “in there.” But this year is really the first time NRA has put on its own street festival. Is it successful?


It’s hard to see because it’s pretty dark out, but that crowd stretches packed tight all the way up to the stage. Don’t ever let them tell you we’re not mainstream, or that we’re all just a bunch of crazy extremists. NRA is now very much part of the mainstream.

Meanwhile, Shannon Watts and her fellow dour puritans at Moms Demand Action, are expecting to draw 400 people for a protest against this much fun! Personally, I think 400 is a bit optimistic.

NRA Firearms Law Seminar – Panel V

Sitting next to me at the Annual Firearms Law Seminar this year are Todd Vandermyde, who is the Illinois State Liason for NRA. Todd works miracles. Also, John Richardson of “No Lawyers, Only Guns and Money

3:30PM CDT – Derek DeBrosse

This presentation is “Gun Rights Restoration – The Nuts & Bolts and Present-Day Military Issues.” He covers the various cases that concern rights restoration for people who, for one reason or another, have become prohibited from buying and possession firearms. An interesting thing I didn’t know is that you could send a fingerprint card to the FBI, and they will determine whether or not you’re eligable to own a firearm. You can argue you were misclassified, and get a UPIN number that you use on subsequent purchases. If you think you might be prohibited, and you go to try to buy a gun, and you end up denied, technically you just committed a crime if it turns out you are indeed prohibited.

He’s focusing more on the economics of rights restoration from a lawyer’s point of view than other speakers. That’s a polite way of saying he’s talking about the fact that a lawyer can make good money in this category. I don’t have a problem with that. Running a law practice is a business just like any other.

“I’m going to have to speed this up, because I’ve got 55 slides here.” Yeah, I’d agree. It’s you and one more speaker standing between me and beer. It’s not a good idea to get in between me and a beer.

There’s quite a lot of detail when it comes to rights restoration. It has to be done correctly. There are a lot of pitfalls. Too much detail for me to successfuly summarize for you all. Much of it is new to me. For instance, I did not know that felons get a Certificate of Final Release when they are released from prison, that often says “restoration of civil rights.” There is case law that suggests that gun rights are restored. He notes that recently, authorities have wised up and put “except for firearms” on Certificates of Final Release.

I also didn’t know it was still possible to raise due process issues in Misdemanor Crimes of Domestic Violence. Years ago, I can’t remember the case, Lautenberg Amendment was challenged on ex post facto grounds and lost. I thought that was the end of that. But apparently not completely, when seeking grounds to get a conviction set aside by the courts.

He speaks to the NICS Improvement Amendment Acts of 2007, passed in the wake of Virginia Tech. It’s very helpful with mental health restoration of rights in states that have implemented its provisions, but not all states have.

Going into military and veterans cases in regards to gun prohibitions, as DeBrosse goes through all the cases: I have to say is how the government and VA treats our veterans in regards to their gun rights is appalling. I believe this is by design.

It’s very surprising how much a domestic lawyer who doesn’t know gun laws could screw up an ordinary, uncomplicated divorce case and earn their clients a permanent prohibition on their gun rights, and possibly land them in jail for quite some time if they aren’t properly informed. It’s quite apparet we have a legal system, not a justice system. You can thank the late Senator Lautenberg for this state of affairs.

Interesting gun law trivia: It’s easier to restore the rights of a felon, apparently, then someone who was convicted of a MCDV (Lautenberg). I’m not sure I quite understand the reason that is, but something to do with because it was a misdemeanor, you never really lost your rights, so they can’t be restored.

4:35 PM CDT – William J. Ryan

William Ryan works in the Office of Cheif Counsel, BATFE, Firearms, Explosives and Arson Division (FEA). His talk is on NFA trusts. “Hopefully I can take a little of the mystery out of the NFA Branch.” His first few slides are background information, noting that both attorneys and ATF often get terminology confused. I’d note that ATF’s own slide says:

Note that even ATF admits that a trust is a person under the NFA, but it is missing from the Gun Control Act. This is important, because 18 U.S.C. 922(o), popularly known as The Hughes Amendment, is part of the Gun Control Act, and not the National Firearms Act. So how does a the post-86 machine gun ban, part of the Gun Control Act, apply to trusts? Why can’t a trust possess a post-86 machine gun when by ATF’s own admissions under GCA a trust is not a person.

There’s some discussion of NFA transfers to heirs. Heirs fill out Form 5 and do not have to pay tax. They are considered involuntary transfers. But apparently if the decedant had a trust, and it is transferred to an individual, even under a bequest tax must be paid.

ATF notes that NFA forms processed are increasing exponentially sine 2002. Wow! He encourages lawyers to do more work with trusts, because trusts handled by lawyers cause fewer problems than ones put together by individuals.

He speaks to 41P rule change, regarding trusts, to require the same checks and CLEO signoff as an individual. He notes that the APA requires them to respond to any serious public comment, and they receieved a ton of them.  THIS IS WHY IT’S IMPORTANT TO COMMENT!! Mr. Ryan notes that ATF is still persuing rulemaking on 41P.

A question is asked about what happens if an executor is a prohibited person. ATF notes that as long as there’s a probate ruling from a judge putting the collection in the hands of an FFL, ATF is fine with that for as long as probate is proceeding.

Back to the issues of pro se trusts, Mr. Ryan relays a story of a trust that was copied extensively on the Internet, where people would change the name, but not change the name of the beneficiary. “So some woman in Kansas is going to inherit thousands of machine guns!”

NRA Firearms Law Seminar – Panel IV


I continue with liveblogging the seminar. Really pseudo liveblogging, since I’m not using timestamps for every update. But I am trying to keep things updated as the seminar unfolds.

2:50PM CDT – Cord Byrd

Cord Byrd’s presentation is “‘Bad Apple’ Gun Dealers: The Brady Center’s Latest Assault on the Second Amendment. Most readers are familiar with the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), and state analogues, which offer limited immunity from some lawsuits based on questionable grounds. For some time now, the Brady Center has focused on blowing holes through the protection, using the exceptions that are found in the PLCAA. Those exceptions are, roughly:

  • An action brought against a transferor convicted under section 924(h) of title 18, or a comparable or identical State felony law, by a party directly hardmed by the conduct of which the transferee is so convicted.
  • An action brought against a seller for negligent entrustment or negligence per se.
  • An action in which a manufacturer or seller of a qualified product knowingly violated a State or Federal statute applicable to the sale or makreting of the product, and the violation was a proxmiate cause of the harm for which relief is sought.

It is the second item under which Brady is focusing much of its litigation. It’s very interesting that he notes that the firms that are providing legal services, presumably pro-bono, don’t know the federal and state firearms laws very well, and aren’t very good at litigating on them.

NRA Firearms Law Seminar – Panel III

 1:00PM CDT – Dwight Van Horn

Van Horn’s presentation is on “Firearms Forensics in the Courtroom.” His presentation covers quite a lot of detail. First he speaks about the history of firearm and toolmark identification. It’s actually a fascinating talk, that I wish I could sum up for you, but there’s just too much detail in his talk to successfully summarize. Not all of it is complicated. For instance, a defendent claims “I dropped it, and the gun just went off!” Well, how do you test that? Or perhaps a defendant claims, “It was a hair trigger!” Well, if you do a trigger test, and it’s a 6lb pull, surely that’s not a “hair trigger.”

He speaks to evaluating ballistic fingerprinting, where they asked for five consecutive barrels manufactured from a batch of 100 in .45 ACP produced by a manufacturer. The challenge was whether firearms examiners could distibguish, by bullets fired from each barrel, between the fact that there were five barrels. Time after time they were able to.

Question from the audience: “Has microstamping gotten to the point where it’s useful in forensic firearms identification?”

Mr. Van Horn: “Nope!” He points to several studies that show it’s not particularly useful, and even speaking about California Attorney General Bill Lockyer’s forensic experts which concluded the technology was useless, which he later overruled.

So don’t ever let them tell you microstamping is about public safety.

He goes on to give a visual presentation, showing various techniques. Things I didn’t know: on examining cartridges cases, he notes that they tend to look more to breech face impressions rather than firing pin impressions. Did you know a unique impression is left on a cartridge case when it’s stripped from the magazine? “It’s called a magazine signature,” notes Mr. Van Horn.

1:50PM CDT – Massad Ayoob

I don’t think Massad Ayoob needs an introduction for very many readers, but he’s a well known firearms instructor and expert witness for the courts since 1979. If you don’t have a copy “In the Gravest Extreme” in your library, you really ought to.

Mas Ayoob’s lecutre is “Debunking the Myths of Armed Self-Defense.” You’ve all heard them. The “Drag the corpse inside and plant a knife in his hand” myth. The “Shoot and Scoot” myth. “I can shoot anyone in my house” myth. Mas debunks them all. (paraphrased) “The single most common thing I get called on by attorneys around the country are mistakes that have been made after the last piece of brass hits the ground.”

He stresses the importance of always calling 911 when a gun is drawn. The first person to file a report is considered the victim. Echoing Andrew Branca, he doesn’t advise completely not speaking to police for people who have engaged in legitimate self-defense. “Point out the evidence. Point out witnesses. Tell the police you’ll sign a complaint. Establish yourself as the victim, and the guy on the ground as the perpetrator.”

Mas notes that a lot of people have bought the Gun Control movement’s assertion that anyone can use deadly force if they are merely frigtened. Has asks if anyone remembers the Brady billboard to that effect. He implores people who are instructors to be sure to debunk the myth among students.

Mas discusses the immunity laws many states have passed that prevent people being sued for acts of self-defense. But most of these cases are untested. You get immunity for self-defense, but who decides whether a case was self-defense? You may have to go through a hearing or perhaps even a full trial to assert your immunity.

It’s quite apparet why Mas Ayoob is in demand for expert testimony. He’s probably the best speaker of the day among a crowd of pretty good speakers already.

NRA Firearms Law Seminar – Lunch

Glenn ReynoldsOur Lunch speaker is Professor Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit fame. We eat while he speaks, so I’ll try to fill you in later. Glenn’s presentation is on the Second Amendment as an ordinary part of Constitutional Law.

1:02pm (Bitter’s summary) – Glenn’s speech was largely taken from the foreward to his article, The Second Amendment as Ordinary Constitutional Law. However, he took it a step beyond that article on the history of the Second Amendment being largely acknowledged by federal courts and included commentary on why current news events such as Shaneen Allen and Brian Aitken provide great opportunities for more legislative fixes, too. After all, he made the point that just because the Second Amendment might be taking the right somewhat more seriously doesn’t mean that they are going to get it right.

Many of the things he said weren’t completely new to regular readers of Instapundit, but his delivery is really always entertaining and fun. Making the speech even more enjoyable was seeing on my Twitter feed that anti-gun PA Attorney General Kathleen Kane is now facing a new legal investigation in violating a court order. All around, a good lunch break from the legal seminar. 

NRA Firearms Law Seminar – Panel II

I decided I needed to break this up into multiple posts.

10:22AM CST – Sarah Gervase

Sarah is NRA’s Assistance General Council. She is also largely responsible for putting together this seminar. Her topic is Civil Rights Lawsuits against the government under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, and how to handle those cases. Lawsuits under 1983 are the most common means of for asserting rights against states and localities. The Civil Rights Act that enabled these suits was known as the “Klu Klux Klan Act,” since it was intended to allow Blacks to bring suits in federal courts to assert their rights against state infringement.

The first case she discusses if the house-to-house confiscation of firearms in New Orleans. Most of us will remember this. She describes this as “Steve Halbrook’s finest hour.” She shows the video of three California Highway Patrol officers who tackled and beat and old woman because she was palming an unloaded revolver.You might remember NRA footage from this incident. She said the circumstances were also worse than was shown on the video. This case lead to a civil rights lawsuits on several grounds, including the Second Amendment. These cases prevailed, and resulted in both federal and state reforms to prevent anything like this from happening again.

Sarah goes into a discussion of “qualified immunity,” which makes police officers generally immune from suit, unless their actions violated a clearly established precdent. In order to sue an officer in his personal capacity, one has to overcome qualified immunity. She notes that only in very rare cases do police officers sued in their personal capacity have to pay the claims themselves personally.

There have been cases of police officers using NRA stickers on cars, or using gun ownership as a reason for executing no-knock raids. In one case, Estep v. Dallas County Texas, where an NRA sticker was argued to create sufficient probable cause for a search. A quote from the 5th Circuit Court stands out:

The presence of the NRA sticker in the vehicle should not have raised the inference that Estep was dangerous and that he might gain immediate control of a weapon. Regardless of weather there is some correlation between the display of an NRA sticker and gun possession, placing an NRA stick in one’s vehicle is certainly legal and constitutes expression which is protected by the First Amendment. A police officer’s inference that danger is afoot because a citizen displays an NRA sticker on a vehcicle presents a distubring First and Fourth Amendment implications…
If the presence of an NRA sticker and camaouflage gear in a vehicle could be used by an officer to conclude he was in danger, half the pickups in the State of Texas would be subject to a vehicle search.

Sarah notes that open carry cases have also been fertile grounds for 1983 lawsuits. That’s surprising to no one who has followed this blog. 

On to judgements. Most readers here will remember several big payouts to gun rights groups from Chicago. NRA recieved $633,294.10 from Chicago, and an additional $663,294.10 from Oak Part. Apparently Chicago also ended up reembursing Oak Park for most of their costs. There is a lot of legal voodoo that would seem to go into determining judgements. As a non-lawyer, I’m having more difficulty following. Sarah touches briefly on Bivens Actions, which are essentially 1983 actions against the federal government, the Federal Tort Claims Act, and on State RKBA provisions.

11:13AM CST – Robert E. Sanders

Bob Sanders is an attorney and Former Assistant Director of Criminal Enforcement for ATF.  His presentation is “ATF Licensing and Duties of the Licensee.”

Bob begins his presentation on the incredible growth in federal crimes. He esstimates there are some 40,000 crimes on the book, which certainly doesn’t include all of them. No one really knows for sure. Most of the cases he’s handled involve Federal Firearms Licencees. He notes that, by in large, the industry is made up of small business, who aren’t going to be hiring compliance officers as big players in a regulated industry would typically do, so compliance ends up on the business owner. Not all FFLs are as careful about regulation as they need to be. FFLs are a declining breed. We have lost 2/3rds of our FFL since the 1990s. One reason for this is the purpose of compliance and enforcement within ATF is to revoke licenses, and “That’s where you come in,” he says to the attorneys in the room.

Sanders goes into a brief history of federal firearms laws. Have you ever seen the list of the major gun control acts? I’ll try to summarize:

1927 – US Pistol Service: makes it illegal to use the mail to ship firearms that are concealable on the person.

1934 – National Firearms Act: reglated SBRs, SBSs, Machine Guns, Silencers, and “Any Other Weapons,” by applying a $200 transfer tax, which was quite a chunk of change for the time. It doubled the cost of a Thompson Submachine Gun at the time.

1938 – Federal Firearms Act: required a $1 license to deal in firearms. Required record keeping. Forbade shipping or delivering firearms to persons under indictment for, or were convicted of a “crime of violence.”

1968 – Gun Control Act: repealed the 1938 Federal Firearms Act, and replaced it most of the current regime we live under today. This is where 4473s came from, where all the interstate restrictions came from, and where the classes of prohibited persons was more broadly and closely defined.

1986 – Firearms Owners Protection Act: reformed the most egregious requirements of the Gun Control Act. Allowed mail order ammunition sales. Allow ammunition to be sold by non-FFLs. Limited ATF action. Allowed Safe Travels. Banned Machine Guns manufactured after May 19, 1986. Allowed gun shows.

1993  – Brady Act: required FFLs to conduct background checks on prospective buyers. Still active law, though part of the law that required local LEOs to conduct background checks was struck down by the Supreme Court. But that provision is no longer in force since NICS came on line.

1994 – Federal Assault Weapons Ban: banned scary looking guns by name and by a two feature test. Expired in 2004. No longer active law.

2005 – Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act: provides limited immunity to manufactures, distributors, and dealers from lawsuits designed to bankrupt the industry by holding them responsible for the criminal acts of others.

Sanders relays a number of stories about what to expect with inspections. ATF procedure does not follow the Administrative Procedures Act. The hearing will be at an ATF office, and be presided over by an ATF Employee, rather than an Administrative Law Judge. “It will be the most unfair hearing you will ever have.” He notes there is a statutory right to appeal to Federal District Court, but success in these cases is rare, as most federal judges are loathe to reverse administrative. Appeals beyond District Court are likewise rarely successful.

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