The Year in Review
As we close out the year, the Network is proud to be serving 21,500+ members. Despite steady growth in numbers of members, the emergency phone line was fairly quiet at the Network during 2023. We paid an attorney to attend a hearing about possible reckless endangerment charges against a member, had another attorney oversee the legal aftermath of a fatality shooting after a man holding a gun threatened a member in a parking lot, and hired a law firm to defend a member who is facing aggravated assault charges after ejecting threatening visitors from her home. Then, in the final days of the year, we paid an attorney to meet with a member at the jail after he was shot at and returned fire, killing his assailant. Police told the member they did not expect he would be charged.
The low number of incidents is good news for members, first because it means only four members had to face violent attackers, then deal with the possibility of arrest, and concerns about prosecution. With less work needed to defend members against criminal charges or civil litigation, we focused on member education and preparation, as well as building our own organizational strength, infrastructure, and preparation so when an attack against a member does come, all systems are idling along smoothly, ready to quickly gear up for “go.”
A call for help starts a small series of questions to get the right help coming. We ask, “Do you have an attorney you prefer? Have you called him or her, or shall we? Do we need to connect you with an attorney?” In the parking lot shooting, the member’s adult daughter was on the scene, telephoned us for help, and responded that we needed to find an attorney for her father. With four local affiliated attorneys available, Network President Marty Hayes started dialing. One lawyer had trusted us with his private cell phone number, and that attorney answered immediately and jumped into action without delay. He telephoned the member’s daughter at the scene, spoke with our member, and talked with law enforcement officers who were there, too. Eventually, our member and his family were sent home, and a few days later law enforcement told him they did not expect that he would be charged. Now, over a month later, that has proven true.
We were impressed with our affiliated attorney’s availability and how fast he went to work to protect our member, and we extend kudos to the member’s daughter, too, for her very effective interface on behalf of her father. Members, if you have not discussed acting as your liaison after an emergency with your spouse, other adult family members or close associates, please review preparatory steps recommended at https://armedcitizensnetwork.org/september-2018-editorial and implement as many steps as you are able.
Our member legal needs in 2023 followed the trend that has defined “normal” since we opened the Network in 2008. Early representation by good attorneys safely initiates communication with law enforcement, resulting in either no charges or if filed, charges dropped when the necessity of the self defense use of force becomes so glaringly apparent. To date, no member has endured trial for defending him- or herself or their family. Several members have voluntarily accepted favorable plea offers, too, but that was entirely of their own free will and based on the explanations of the likelihood of trial and what to expect from that city or state’s criminal justice system. The adjacent chart categorizes our 33 member-involved cases by type of incident and the map below gives a general geographic distribution.
In about half of our member-involved cases, Network President Marty Hayes has been called upon to connect the member with an attorney to represent them; in the other half, members have already selected an attorney. Either way, we paid the attorney we suggested or the attorney the member selected to represent the member. As supportive of our affiliated attorneys as we are, we offer members the option to select attorneys who are unaffiliated and, in fact, after successful conclusion of several member-involved cases, we invited the attorneys to affiliate, they accepted, and we were proud to add their strength to ours.
We are proud to be affiliated with over 525 affiliated attorneys, lawyers who share our concerns as armed citizens, working in each of the 50 states and one in Puerto Rico, where we also serve members. We run yearly outreach campaigns to attorneys our members recommend, or whom our advisory board and other influencers in the gun community suggest, as well as lawyers whose names come up in our own study and research into criminal defense work on behalf of people who have used force in self defense. We contact attorneys, introduce the Network, explain its mission to these legal professionals and invite their participation. We keep our outreach professional, low-pressure, and we point out that while the Network and its members have an unusually low frequency of legal needs, we also urge members to take their more mundane legal needs like wills, traffic tickets and real estate issues to affiliated attorneys. We like to do business with “family” when we can.
In addition to our push for early representation after self defense, the historically low numbers of member-involved cases and favorable resolutions of the cases in which charges were filed result from the conservative, careful member demographic we strive to attract, combined with our vigorous member education initiative. See https://armedcitizensnetwork.org/learn/member-education-commitment . There is great truth in the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s adage “the more you learn, the better it gets.” Our member use-of-force education shapes member attitudes and behavior with detailed instruction on justification for use of force, whether armed, or using improvised weapons, or by non-gun means, what to expect in the immediate aftermath of self defense, avoidance through recognizing pre-attack indicators, mental and physical reactions to critical incidents, and much more. The material is delivered by video lesson and Massad Ayoob’s excellent 332-page book, Deadly Force: Understanding Your Right to Self Defense.
With 2024 arrives a new milestone for the Network. This year, the Network’s Legal Defense Fund, the resource from which we draw the fees we pay attorneys to represent members after self defense, exceeded $4,000,000, the point at which it is fully funded and capable of carrying on the Network mission to make sure no member faces the criminal justice system alone after self defense. When the Network started in 2008, it was little more than a good idea bankrolled by the individual investments of its three owners. As a result, Legal Defense Fund growth took center stage as a primary concern in our formative years.
The first draw from the Fund for member legal defense came in 2010 when a member displayed a firearm in defense against multiple attackers at his apartment building in a large southern city. We ended that year with over $100,000 in the Legal Defense Fund, despite that expense and boasted 2,800 members. Defense of that member, and each that has followed, has been proof of concept, and we were happy to be there to help. Except for 2012 and 2022 when there were zero member-involved cases, member legal needs have ranged from one to four member cases yearly. Over 15 years, all 33 cases have pulled almost $300,000 out of the Fund with costs ranging from a low of $300 to a high of $75,000. Against expectations, legal fees in the $50,000-$75,000 range have not been for defense of the five fatality shootings involving members; these higher expenses have been for defense of pepper spray and hand-to-hand defensive tactics employed by members.
Throughout the various member involved cases, the Legal Defense Fund has only continued to grow, and we were always able to fund member legal needs while reserving a healthy balance for additional cases that might arise in quick succession. That is no longer the concern it once was, so with the current balance of the Legal Defense Fund exceeding $4,000,000, in 2024 consolidation, resource management, and member education can now move even more fully to the forefront with much less attention spared for chatter about how much is available in the Fund, or fending off competitor suggestions that may be used up if several members need help simultaneously. This is a healthy, positive step in our organization’s maturation.
When we introduced the concept of the Network in 2008, armed citizens wanting a means to survive the legal aftermath had only traditional insurance available. The insurance option was set up to reimburse armed citizens who needed legal representation after their trial was over and a not-guilty verdict rendered. After use of force in self defense, those policyholders had to be able to pay their own way to obtain a not-guilty verdict in court before they could tap into their policies for reimbursement. As working stiffs ourselves with our assets tied up at the time in our range and shooting school, we were all too familiar with not having cash on hand to pay attorneys, experts, investigators, bail bondsmen, and law firm support staff if we used force in self defense and needed legal defense when our actions were scrutinized by authorities.
We knew that insurance was not the answer. Nonetheless, in the years that followed the Network’s introduction, a myriad of competitors would try various renditions of insurance-backed post-incident support systems to mimic what the Network was doing independently, using our own resources. Like the famous fast food drive through, millions were sold, but their results have been spotty. For ourselves, we will continue to serve members out of our own resources because that is what assures our unrestricted ability to help our members. Do you really want an insurance executive holding the purse strings when you need lawyers, experts, and investigators to explain why you used force in self defense or to defend your family?
Another reaction to the Network’s launch in 2008 was a proliferation of prepaid legal contract offerings. In these programs, their client pays a monthly fee making him or her eligible for representation by an attorney the program manager assigns. Reader, when you started your chosen career, were you as capable as you are today? Of course not. Experience, continuing training and updates, confidence and skill all increase with the years. Acknowledging that reality, we strongly believe in controlling our attorney selection and we made that option a hallmark of the Network’s offer to members. We would offer nothing less to members, who also have every reason to want to be able to access representation from an attorney who is at the top of his or her game.
What else is different? Fine print! Competitors have pages and pages of fine print, and sometimes that frustrates comparison shoppers who ask to see the Network’s fine print. As a supportive membership organization, the Network doesn’t really have the fine print common to many others, most of which have an insurance component that necessitates it. At the Network, instead of contrived limits, exclusions, and deductibles (all the restrictions that must be explained in fine print) and reasons armed citizens are left without adequate assistance, the Network simply shoulders the expenses of defending against unmeritorious prosecution or lawsuit following a member’s self defense incident. The needs vary a lot from one situation to the next, but generally include attorneys’ fees, the cost of private investigators to independently gather evidence and witness statements, expenses for expert witnesses, consultants, defense against civil lawsuit, expense of filing an appeal and defending our member during a retrial, to outline likely costs. Even through our formative years, we were proud to fully fund the legal defense of all 33 member-involved cases that have come up since opening the Network in 2008. There’s a good review of our work on behalf of members at https://armedcitizensnetwork.org/13-years-and-growing that shows by example how we’ve provided for our members in the years gone by.
In summary, and based on questions most often asked, let me close with an outline of the support we extend to members:
- All new members receive an informative series of educational videos, comprising over a dozen hours of training, plus a comprehensive 332-page book written by Massad Ayoob. These materials ensure that members’ understanding of use of force in self defense is first class. This on-line journal carries forward that mission each month and as we periodically offer educational videos to the public through our Armed Citizens’ Educational Foundation, as well as distributing thousands upon thousands of our printed booklet What Every Gun Owner Needs to Know About Self-Defense Law.
After self defense:
- If a member is involved in a self-defense incident, we pay their chosen attorney to represent and defend them. We provide this funding as early as possible in the timeline because it is vital to get the legal defense immediately underway to assure representation during questioning and arranging for an independent investigation of the incident. If requested by the member or family, a Network official will respond to the location to assist the member in obtaining those services. You choose your own attorney or if you have not selected one, our Network President Marty Hayes helps you connect with a lawyer after self defense.
- Assistance paying for a bail bond.
- Network members receive additional financial assistance from our Legal Defense Fund to pay the expenses of a trial if they face unmeritorious prosecution for a crime or a lawsuit seeking damages after a self-defense incident occurring during their period of membership.
- Funding is provided from the Network’s $4,000,000+ Legal Defense Fund, and there is no insurance company involved to restrict how much funding is provided or limit when it is provided. The Network fully funds a member’s legal expenses after legitimate use of force in self defense – at the time the funding is needed and, in the amounts, needed to stop the criminal justice system from punishing someone who did nothing more than legitimately defend themselves.
Those principles have guided the Network’s assistance to members after self defense through 15 years of growth. As we start our 16th year, we look to the past and its many lessons with satisfaction and anticipate the year to come as an opportunity to provide more service to members.