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“Oh Say Can You 501(c)”

Massad Ayoob was the last presenter before the lunch break, and he’s a difficult guy to summarize. He’s a very good presenter, and I was more interested in listening than writing about it. So sorry about that. I can see why he’s sought after by defense attorneys.

The first post-lunch topic is relevant to running shooting clubs, and since I’m an officer at mine, it’s relevant. My club is a 501(c)(7), but she covers all the tax exempt options. I didn’t really know that gun clubs could be organized under 501(c)(3) using an educational mission. I’m not sure I’d want to organize under that, because it changes how you’d have to run a club. I think it would be difficult for most clubs to manage without getting themselves in trouble. 501(c)(4) seems a more realistic subsection to organize under, but even that has the issue that the purpose of the organization has to be a public one. That means the club would have to be very open to members of the public. Neither 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4) allow an organization to have a private benefit.

If you’re a gun club, I think 501(c)(7) is the best non-profit structure around which to organize. I’m learning a whole lot about how to manage (c)(7)s.

Responsibility for Criminal Firearms Violence

The second panel is by James B. Vogts. He is the attorney defending Remington in the case in Connecticut where the plaintiffs argued that selling AR-15s to civilians amounted to negligent entrustment. His talk is almost exclusively on the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA).

I was not aware that PLCAA history goes back to Kelly v. R.G Industries, Inc. in Maryland in 1985. In this case R.G. industries made a cheap revolver, a so-called “Saturday Night Special.” R.G. industries was found strictly liable for a criminal’s use of the firearm. I didn’t become aware of this issue until cases in the 1990s, when Hamilton v. Beretta USA Corp before Judge Weinstein. Weinstein was the one federal judge willing to assign liability to manufacturers for criminal misuse of their product.

There’s some background on Soto v. Bushmaster, which was the beginning of the case after Sandy Hook arguing several things under the PLCAA exceptions, including that selling AR-15s to civilians is negligent entrustment, which is excepted from PLCAA. So far PLCAA has held, but the plaintiffs are appealing their loss to the Connecticut Supreme Court.

Overall, PLCAA has generally worked effectively. There have been some disagreement between courts about whether PLCAA preempts ordinary negligence claims. These problematic courts have allowed all claims against a manufacturer to proceed if only one of the claims was not a “qualified civil liability action” that is preempted.

20th Annual Firearms Seminar

Here we are in Atlanta for the 20th Annual Firearms Seminar. As usual, we’ll be live blogging a summary of the panels. It’s taking me a bit to get used to the humidity. The last time my family was here, we burned the place to the ground.

Jim Porter is kicking things off this year. The first panel is Steve Halbrook and Nelson Lund. I’m always happy when they put Steve early. He’s one of the leading experts on this topic, but he has a very mellow, southern gentlemanly voice that is good when the coffee is working at its peak.

Second Amendment Litigation: Ongoing Challenges
Steven P. Halbrook

Steve Halbrook recounts how Heller came about. It’s been so long I had almost forgotten what it was like. Everyone believed the case would be 5-4, but no one was sure which way it would go. It was unknown which side Kennedy would come down on until he questioned the D.C. attorneys “Weren’t the founders pioneers, who needed guns to protect themselves from criminals, Indians and grizzly bears?,” which effectively took everyone off the edge of their seats. It looked like we had Kennedy. Heller was delivered the last day of the Court’s session. Everyone was on the edge of their seats again when it was announced Justice Stevens would read the summary of the Opinion of the Court. That would have meant a loss, but it turned out to be a different case. When it was announced Justice Scalia would be read the summary for the very last case, we all knew it was a win.

Interesting trivia about DC gun registration: DC argued in Court that their registration system was important because it allowed police officers to check to see if a gun was present on the scene if they were responding to a call. In fact, DC police never checked the registration system before calls. Why didn’t they? They were actually forbidden from accessing DC’s registry. The Court ended up upholding registration anyway, because of course they did. Though, they did throw out the need to re-register.

Halbrook reviews several other absurdities from the lower courts, such as “arguing that civilianized semi-automatic firearms that are used by no military in the world may be banned because they are weapons of war only suited to military use.”

Halbrook believes that cert will be sought in the case of Kolbe v. Hogan, where the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Maryland’s assault weapons ban via some absolutely atrocious reasoning. I know there have been more than a few people who have asked about that.

The Right to Bear Arms and the Philosophy of Freedom
Nelson Lund

I am a fan of Professor Lund, because he wrote a law review article about having to look at police use when making determinations about protected arms. His talk today is more broad. He is speaking critically of Scalia’s Heller opinion. I guess we can do this now that he’s dead :) His essential criticism is that while parts of Scalia’s opinion is generally regarded as a great work of originalism, on the core issues relevant to today’s debates it is a weak opinion.

The 5-4 decisions in Heller and McDonald could prove to be little more than abortive attempts to begin developing a robust Second Amendment jurisprudence. The Supreme Court has disinterred the Second Amendment, but it has yet to give it meaningful life.

Lund speaks about this being an issue of elites v. the common citizenry. This is a topic I planned to write more about soon:

When it comes to gun control, it is hard to see much personal benefit for our elites beyond the sheer joy of exercising the will to power over people they regard as intellectually and morally backward.

I wish I could say his outlook on the Second Amendment is optimistic, but it isn’t. I wish I could come up with reasons to disagree with this outlook.

There’s some spare time for Q&A on the first panel. As many of you know if you’ve been around this issue for a while, Q&A means “my chance to be heard before a captive audience.”

2017 Gun Law Seminar

Have you planned out your days for the NRA annual meeting yet? I’m just sitting down to do it now, and it’s worth reminding people about one of the best hidden gems of the massive convention. The NRA Foundation’s law seminar is an experience that shouldn’t be missed if you have any interest in gun laws at all. Even if you’re not an attorney, you’ll get something out of it – besides a good time with good and interesting company.

This year’s line-up is, as always, an interesting cross section of areas of gun law that will likely give me something new to chew on. You don’t have to be an attorney to get something out of the seminar. Massad Ayoob will present on avoiding unjust verdicts in self-defense shootings. If you’re a member of a gun club at all, there will be a topic on 501(c) issues related to your activities. Looking at legal issues impacting the industry, one topic will be on defending manufacturers and retailers when they are sued for caused by the criminal misuse of firearms by others. You’ve got broader Second Amendment updates from Stephen Halbrook and Nelson Lund to look forward to as well.

Last year’s topic by Chris Zealand (a Senior Research Attorney at NRA) on the Social Security gun grab was incredibly useful for me as a political activist. The details he gave for the process and what types of issues Social Security lists as mental disability codes were eye-opening and gave great fodder for me to make an informed argument to those who were just reading newspaper headlines about the topic. If, like me (and Sebastian), you’re not an attorney, but want to be informed and serious activists, you should consider attending the legal seminar.

If you are an attorney, then there’s no question you should absolutely attend. If you’re a law student, there’s a discount.

You get breakfast, lunch, and a cocktail reception along with your day of legal education. Not to mention, it’s usually very interesting to talk with others at lunch and during breaks about the issues they are facing at home or the type of work they are seeing come up.

Though neither one of us has ever visited Atlanta, Sebastian’s family has been there before years ago. I’ve made Sebastian promise not to behave like the last time they visited the lovely city. However, if any readers have any suggestions for places we must eat or visit while we’re there, please do share. Local eats are a huge factor in having a solid convention experience.

NRA Member Engagement – Voting

One of the best reminders that NRA really does represent a real grassroots movement is that members directly elect the board of directors. There’s a clearly defined way to become a voter and the results are published openly.

I’ve added this year’s numbers to my collection of NRA voting data. There are a few interesting differences this year over previous years.

The number of voting members who were sent ballots has increased 36.5% since I started keeping track in 2006. Most of that growth has happened since 2011 when there appears to have been a cleaning of the rolls.

BallotsCast&Mailed

The yellow bar is how many were mailed back vs. how many were mailed in red.
2016S represents the special recall election of 2016.

The number of voters actually participating in the elections is, unfortunately, not very high and not growing substantially. But given that we have a growing problem of too many celebrities and are losing activist leaders with diverse skills, this may not be a great number. It would probably be better to see more informed voters rather than increasing numbers of people voting for any name they vaguely recognize from popular culture.

PercentofNRABallotsCast

Perhaps one of the most interesting statistics is the fact that “last winner” was on a fewer percentage of ballots than ever before. The same was almost true for the top vote getter as well. (Technically, last year’s top vote winner, Ronnie Barrett, was on a lower percentage of the ballots, but not by much.) Those two numbers indicate to me that more voters are more likely bullet voting – voting only for a handful of candidates instead of all 25 slots. That’s actually a much smarter way to vote if you’re interested in getting key candidates on the board. Increasing the votes of those who you care about less could end up hurting your favorites on the ballot.

Another good number from this election is that the percentage of invalid ballots is still low – 2.79%. That’s compared to a high of 8.71% from the years I’ve been tracking. The most common mistake is marking too many candidates. But the next highest mistake is an easy one to fix – remembering to sign the envelope before you seal it and mail it. A whooping 723 voters didn’t have their ballots counted because of this authentication error.

Perhaps the most important thing to consider is what a difference only a few votes makes. The difference between the candidate who did make the 25th seat and the one who did not was only 841 votes. That’s a number smaller than some 100% NRA clubs. Votes do matter, and I loved that NRA started giving out buttons to members who took the time to vote in the 76th director race. If they keep doing that, you know I’m going to start a collection and wear them on my pass each year. :)

NRA Attendance – The Bigger Picture

While I was driving all the way from Louisville to Philadelphia-area yesterday, Sebastian handled the reporting of what so many always want to know – how many freedom lovers came out to hang out with fellow NRA members.

Beyond the fact that it’s the 2nd largest convention, how does it really compare? Fortunately for you all, I like data that no one else seems to keep.

I’ve been keeping track of the attendance ever since my first meeting in 2004, or as I call it, Pittsburgh #1. Since that first meeting I attended out of college, this year’s meeting was about 1/3 bigger (31.2%). Over last year, the growth was nearly 2,000 people, but only about 2%.

NRAConventionAttendance04-16

In that time, we’ve had 4 repeat cities – Louisville, Houston, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh. Aside from Houston which is kind of an anomaly, Louisville actually saw the greatest same city increase in attendance (21.5% compared to Pittsburgh at 16% and St. Louis at 14.3%).

Most of the dips you see in the early columns are simply location issues. That has become less of an issue since I started attending, as more people are willing to make this an annual or nearly annual tradition regardless of how far it is. In this article on Indianapolis securing two more years, they note that Houston’s last convention saw 43% of attendees coming from 200 miles away or more. You can see this reflected around the floor and in the member meeting where this year’s family of the youngest life member was from Chicago and the oldest life member traveled from Ft. Smith, Arkansas.

And while I don’t have firm numbers since the other side is against such measures, I can tell you that you can largely flip this chart around and chop off many zeros on the numbers to represent the anti-gun side presence at each event. There were actually a good number of protesters at Pittsburgh #1. They were pretty good spirited folks, too. There was a chanting contest and someone who shipped a Million Moms banner up from their Atlanta chapter. The biggest downers at the event were the ACLU volunteers who were trying to convince NRA members that they had no right to photograph protestors on the street, presumably in an effort to keep us from highlighting how few there were compared to the 61,319 NRA members. There was an uptick for Pittsburgh again in 2011, but otherwise, the protests just keep getting smaller.

It will be interesting to see the future. The event is getting large enough now that many cities simply cannot handle it. Even though Louisville has some of the largest event space in the country, the logistics just don’t work well. The Expo Center didn’t open enough gates for getting people into the parking lot, and there parking attendants weren’t on top of making sure spaces were filled in an orderly manner on their busiest days. They also apparently did nothing to try and direct traffic on the main roads to under-utilized gates. The gate we used (6) had very little wait on Friday based on the Google traffic report and very little on Saturday, too. That’s on the city hosts, and not on NRA. However, since NRA has to look at the bottom line of member experience, Louisville could lose future business by their unwillingness to manage traffic in a reasonable manner for an event they knew to be huge. Interestingly, it looks like Louisville is losing other conventions of similar sizes like the FFA which is close to 60,000 people. That article actually notes that new hotel space is only going up downtown, away from the Expo Center. That only compounds the traffic concerns.

As for the immediate future, the dates and locations are:

    2017 – Atlanta, Georgia
    2018 – Dallas, Texas
    2019 – Indianapolis, Indiana
    2020 – Nashville, Tennessee
    2021 – Houston, Texas

Back from NRAAM 2016 Louisville

Got back home sooner than expected, despite taking a more scenic route through West Virginia, avoiding Maryland. We discovered if you do a custom route on Google Maps, it’s fine unless it has to recalculate, in which case it defaults to the shortest route. Ordinarily, that would be fine except that the shortest route could get me thrown in a Maryland State Prison. Google has a multi-destination feature on the web version, but the mobile and tablet versions don’t. They allow you to avoid “Highways,” “Tolls,” and “Ferries,” but they don’t have an option for “Anti-Gun States.” Maybe I should make a feature request.

NRA Annual Meeting 2016 Attendance

My source from the NRA Board Meeting had reported in, and attendance this year was 80,452. This is the second highest attended Annual Meeting. Houston still holds the overall record of 86,228. Houston was when we were under the most significant attack we faced after the antis successfully exploited Sandy Hook to go after us. Also, on Friday, traffic gridlocked in Louisville. Saturday the venue was managing the parking situation pretty poorly. There’s a good chance this could have been a record breaker if not for the venue. In Nashville last year, attendance was 78,865, and before that in Indianapolis, 75,267. I’m afraid that for us Pennsylvnians, NRA has outgrown our venues. Pittsburgh gridlocked with under 70,000.

In a way, as the event grows it gets less fun for me. It’s harder to move around the floor and you don’t run into people as much. If I missed you this year, sorry about that. Even the law seminar has gotten so big, there were several readers there who I’ve met before that I’ve missed because the room really is that big.

The Palm Pistol Appears at NRAAM 2016

Matt Carmel’s Palm Pistol, which was made for shooters with disabilities, has finally made an appearance at NRA. He told me he’s still trying to get the FDA to list it as an approved medical device.

Palm Pistol NRAAM 2016

It’s definitely non-traditional, but the carbine actually worked pretty well from an ergonomic point of view. I really would like to be a fly on the wall when the Obama Administration is forced to approve a firearm as a medical device. He’s filing under both 21 CFR 890.5050 “Daily activity assist device”, and an 21 CFR 890.5370 “Nonmeasuring exercise equipment.”

Media Lying About NRA – Again

Usually when a reporter wants to spin against the NRA and its millions of grassroots members, it’s a lot more subtle than outright fabrication of things that did not happen where cameras and thousands of people are present. I mean, let’s face it, that’s just bold to think you won’t get caught in that kind of lie.

However, that’s what Louisville Business First‘s Baylee Pulliam tried to pull off in her Twitter coverage of the NRA Annual Meeting.

Pulliam tried to claim that NRA was dubbing dog noises over video of Hillary.

BayleePulliamNRADubbingLie

Except they didn’t. It’s a complete lie that NRA dubbed barking noises over Hillary. NRA simply played the video of Hillary herself barking like a dog.

Even though I was in the law seminar during the political event, I checked with multiple people there, and I watched the video which NRA News helpfully streams live and posts after the event.

But don’t let that stop the narrative that must be told that NRA and its members hate women. No, Pulliam needs to help push a narrative, so false accusations of dubbing must fly around social media.

Since at least one person has called her out, Pulliam tried to delete her tweet. But was there any kind of correction or apology posted? Nope.

Acknowledging such an accusation means it gets documented that the reporter doesn’t actually keep up with current events and somehow missed the news of Hillary barking, doesn’t do research before throwing out claims against innocent organizations, or she really is simply willing to unfairly accuse NRA of actions they did not take until someone publicly calls her out. With more than 20,000 videos on YouTube and nearly 500,000 Google links when searching “Hillary Clinton barking,” I find it doubtful that someone covering political events would miss that kind of news. It’s certainly possible that she just throws out accusations and doesn’t do research before doing so, but that seems a little reckless for a reporter at a business-focused media outlet. Sadly, that leaves the third option as a very real possibility.

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