by Gila Hayes
Building up financial resources for the legal defense of Network members has been only one of our tasks since January 2008 when we launched Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network. Education, fellowship and networking have been just as important to the growth of a supportive membership. The key to succeeding at all those aspects of our organization’s growth has been staying focused on our mission.
We are resolved that no Network member will face the legal system alone after legitimate use of force in self defense. We are driven to prevent unmeritorious prosecution of a member. Still, when potential members ask questions before deciding to join, the amount of money set aside for member legal defense consistently arises. Even though my mom and probably yours, too, often said that it’s rude to talk about money, today let’s talk about the Legal Defense Fund. Sorry, Mom...
Where did it come from?
The Legal Defense Fund is primarily made up of a portion of membership dues set aside each month when dues income is tallied up. At the beginning, we reserved 20% of each dollar paid in membership dues to start building the Legal Defense Fund. As soon as possible, we increased the set aside to 25%. When we could, we made additional deposits to the Fund, which has also been gifted thousands of voluntary donations from members, received bequests from deceased members, and auctioned donated guns, ammunition and accessories with 100% of the proceeds going into the Fund.
From the beginning we were pressured by financial advisors who wanted to add the Network to their client list and invest the Legal Defense Fund in stocks and bonds. Their hearts were in the right places, but we politely rebuffed their offers, knowing from our own experience that the market adjusts up and down, and there is no guarantee that the stock your broker put your money in last year will be worth as much today. We could not expose the Legal Defense Fund to the risk of loss.
As the Fund grew beyond what would be needed to pay legal expenses on behalf of members, we began to put it into certificates of deposit to earn interest. As the CDs matured, the search for highest yield, 12 to 18 month CDs would start all over again. As the Fund grew from half a million, to a million, to two million dollars, we hustled between FDIC-insured banks and NCUA-insured credit unions pursuing available interest.
We shuttled from bank to credit union, phoning bankers, checking interest rates against how long the money would be tied up, and opening CDs to keep the Legal Defense Fund earning the best interest. One day, at a bank where we had an appointment to open a quarter-million dollar CD, we stopped cold at the front door. There, in blazing red, was the circle with a slash over the silhouette of a Beretta handgun. I am afraid a bad word or two was uttered. Sorry, Mom...
This wasn’t the first time we closed or declined to open accounts with banks that literally did not want us to come inside. Disgusted by wasting time dragging our corporate officers around to open accounts at banks and credit unions to stay within the limits on depositor insurance, we knew it was time to engage a professional to choose CDs for the Legal Defense Fund. Years earlier, at classes with our mentor Massad Ayoob, we met a financial planner whom we grew to admire and over the years stayed connected through classes with Massad. Our exploratory consultation with our acquaintance and his partner who is his son was probably one of the stranger new client meetings those two good gentlemen have conducted.
Our stated requirements? Stick to CDs and FDIC-backed money market deposit accounts so we don’t risk the Legal Defense Fund to a stock market drop. Keep the CDs fairly short term, under 18 months. Avoid financial institutions known to promote anti-gun agendas. That meeting happened four years ago. Their accomplishment of those requirements, coupled with exceptional communication and accessibility, maximizes the Fund’s access to safe interest earnings that further strengthen the Fund and keep the Network able to fulfill its mission. We are blessed by how well they have shouldered this duty.
Personification of the Network
Picture in your mind someone you know or have known who is balanced, hard-working, resourceful and able to provide for their own needs. They probably aren’t conspicuously wealthy, and don’t flaunt what they’ve got by living in a mansion, but you know they have enough squirreled away to get through a major illness, job loss, or other misfortune. If, instead of 20,500 individuals, the Network was a single person, its personification would be a lot like that. The Network is not in debt, is paying fairly for the services and goods it uses, and is backed by a nest egg set aside to address worst-case scenarios. Our nest egg, of course, is earmarked to bear the legal expense for members who use force to defend themselves.
The spring of 2011 brought our first member-involved use of force, a defensive display of a firearm to stop multiple aggressors, resolved by a last-minute plea offer that our member found favorable and accepted. Since then, 28 other members have been involved in self-defense situations, and we wrote checks to their attorneys from the Legal Defense Fund to make sure justice prevailed.
From its start as little more than a good idea in January of 2008, the Network’s Legal Defense Fund has grown to over $3,750,000, having paid over a quarter of a million dollars for the defense of members. Think about this: while it is important to have enough socked away to meet member legal needs, it is just as important to draw out of the Fund for the good of our members. Ultimately, the Network’s value is in the good it does.