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by Gila Hayes

I enjoyed several emails with a long-time member last month that had the potential to go off wrong-footed. Instead, it turned into a friendly exchange of information – thanks in large part to that good man’s kindness and genuine wish to understand. Now and then, questions are posed with intent to prove an opinion of which the person asking the questions is already firmly convinced and deeply invested. The emails with this member were open minded and honest, which I thoroughly appreciated.

At the heart of our member’s first request was the mistaken belief that Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network, Inc. is structured as a nonprofit, charitable entity. The Network is not a nonprofit. It operates as a for-profit corporation, because, as responsible stewards of the Legal Defense Fund, we know it is essential to reserve Network assistance after lawful self defense for dues-paying members.

The Network was founded on investments by Marty Hayes, Vincent Shuck and me, and our operating expenses have never been covered by donations. When members and businesses offer donations, we add those kind gifts to the 25% of member dues that we deposit directly into the Legal Defense Fund, now grown to over $3,600,000. The Fund is set aside and untouched except to pay for legal defense of members after self defense. A common question is, “Why aren’t all my dues put into the Legal Defense Fund? What happens to the other 3/4?” The answer is straightforward: we have to also pay taxes, wages, postage, rent and cover all the other expenses of serving Network members.

Now, in addition to the business of keeping the Network a vital, growing membership organization, we are driven to improve the general public’s understanding of justifiable use of force in self defense. As Dr. Margulies expressed in this month’s lead interview, there exists a vast misunderstanding of the risk of death or permanent injury from a violent attacker. Few American citizens understand or even seem to care about self defense allowances recognized in U.S. statutory law, case law, and in the very foundations of our criminal justice system going back to the early English common law traditions that influenced America’s Founding Fathers’ views on the right to self defense.

First-time gun owners rarely have a full grasp of the allowances for and restrictions on use of deadly force in self defense, let alone understanding basic gun safety, and we recognize that is only one facet of the general ignorance about the law, albeit an alarming one. Still, that element alone is quite a Gordian knot. Never shy about taking on big problems, early in the Network’s history, Marty wrote What Every Gun Owner Needs to Know About Self-Defense Law, a primer intended to introduce gun owners to the basic elements of self-defense law, while encouraging interest in more in-depth study and teaching about gun owner responsibility.

Since 2009, we have distributed tens of thousands of copies of that little primer. Because that booklet is distributed at no charge to educate the public, in 2013, after applying several years earlier, we received IRS approval for a 501(c)(3) Educational Foundation to receive donations to cover its printing costs and other expenses of providing use of force education to the public. The Foundation’s first mission was providing that booklet to firearms instructors, gun stores, manufacturer/distributors and hundreds of copies are mailed out to individuals requesting them. In 2020, we added publicly available streaming video lectures to reach the population segment that rarely reads but relies instead on video for education and information.

The Foundation’s work – shipping booklets and creating and hosting video content – is accomplished through the Network’s donation of time and labor. As a result, the Foundation does not have paid staff or salaried directors, although I’m asked with surprising frequency to provide details on Foundation director salaries. We contribute our time to the Foundation because we know we must do all in our power to prevent misuse of firearms and indefensible deadly force decisions. When armed citizens use deadly force without justification or have gun accidents, their mistakes fuel campaigns by freedom-haters who are continuously working to deny us lawful possession of guns for self defense. An accident or unjustified use of deadly force makes a poignant, powerful rallying issue for those who hate and mistrust independent-thinking armed citizens. Freedom-haters will make the most out of every mistake and tragedy. Leading by good, responsible example, providing reliable education and encouraging the public’s access to trustworthy resources are essential antidotes. We take doing our part to address those needs seriously and use the Educational Foundation to accomplish that end.

Because Marty, Vincent and I operate both entities – the for-profit Network focused on assistance to members only, and the nonprofit Educational Foundation focused on educating the public about responsible use of force in self defense – confusion is bound to arise about the structure of the Network and its services to members. We work hard to communicate clearly and operate transparently, and when confusion does arise, it often comes about because we’re up to our eyeballs in all of the operational tasks and duties and forget that since members aren’t involved in the day to day work, they can easily misunderstand which pieces of our mission are funded by the Network and what is accomplished by the Foundation. I was glad our member brought it up.

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