by Marty Hayes, J.D.
President, Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network, Inc.
In 2008, we established the Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network, Inc. as a membership organization to fulfill two core missions: first, to help members in the legal fight after they justifiably use force in self defense by paying for the services of attorneys, expert witnesses, private investigators and other professionals essential to mounting a vigorous legal defense of self defense on behalf of our members. Our second mission is educating our members (and to some extent, the gun-owning public) in the law governing use of force in self defense and how armed citizens can protect against unmeritorious prosecution. Let me explain how we do this.
When a member joins the Network, they become eligible to receive member benefits after a self-defense incident. If a member is involved in self defense, as soon as practical, he or she (either through their attorney, spouse or on their own behalf) calls the Network and speaks with me, conveying the details of the case so we are assured the incident was a legitimate act of self defense. Upon understanding that no criminal act occurred, and the occurrence was, indeed, a legitimate use of force in self defense, the Network immediately pays your attorney a fee retainer to be sure you can hire good, competent legal counsel and that the attorney is paid up front.
Each individual situation will be different, so there is no set amount that we automatically pay, but instead, I work with the attorney to make sure we provide a sufficient retainer to handle court appearances, interacting with law enforcement, investigating the incident, dealing with the press and provides other legal services needed for full representation. If the member needs bail money, the Network can assist the member with posting bail, but that is not automatic. (See this link for a complete explanation.)
The immediate goal of our funding efforts is to work towards getting any charges dropped when the prosecuting attorney reviews all the evidence and becomes convinced a crime has not been committed.
If the charges are not dropped or if a grand jury is convened and issues an indictment, then we once again consult with the member’s legal counsel. We ask the attorney to estimate how much money is needed to prepare for and go to trial. When this question is settled, the Network will fund the entire defense, assuming no new evidence has surfaced that invalidates the self-defense claim. Please understand that the Network has no interest in helping criminals; our mission is joining together in support of lawful armed citizens exercising their right to self defense.
The immediate–and frankly one of the strongest–benefits of membership in the Network is the educational package our members receive upon enrollment. This consists of eight educational lectures on DVD and Massad Ayoob’s book Deadly Force: Understanding Your Right to Self Defense. We strongly encourage our new members to take notes while watching the video lectures and to study Ayoob’s book, as well as suggesting that long-time members review the member-education materials periodically. By educating themselves on the many different legalities bearing on using force in self defense, our members become better prepared to defend themselves in court after a self-defense incident. This training gives members a realistic idea of what to expect from the criminal justice system after self defense, helps members articulate what was occurring that caused them to reasonably fear for their safety, and helps them show why the force they used was reasonable, necessary and not excessive.
Each month, for the past 11 years, we have published an online journal which, while written for members, is also available to the general public on our website at this link. The articles, columns and editorials focus on what people need to know about self defense, with a specific focus on self-defense law.
We also help educate the gun-owning public by supplying printed copies of our booklet What Every Gun Owner Needs to Know about Self-Defense Law available by PDF. Printed copies of this booklet are supplied at no cost to firearms training schools, attorneys and gun shops, and they pass the publication out free of charge to their customers. This effort is conducted through the Network’s sister organization, the Armed Citizens’ Educational Foundation, a non-profit charitable foundation under IRS 501 (c) (3).
History of the Network
I first conceptualized the idea of the Network between 2003 and 2007, while going to law school. As graduation neared, I decided that instead of taking the bar and becoming an attorney, I would instead form a membership organization to protect the legal rights of its members after a self-defense incident. I enlisted the aid and support of my wife, Gila Hayes (who serves the Network as chief operations officer), and Vincent Shuck, a 30-year association management professional, who serves as Vice-President of the Network and President of the Armed Citizens’ Educational Foundation. I’d gotten to know Vincent when he was a student in my classes at my other business, The Firearms Academy of Seattle, Inc.
We started the Network and serve as its officers. We are joined by an Advisory Board consisting of many of the top names in the industry. Currently serving on the Advisory Board are Massad Ayoob, John Farnam, Tom Givens, Dennis Tueller and attorneys James Fleming and Emanual Kapelsohn.
Who Comprises the Network?
The Network is currently made up of over 17,000 armed citizens who have become part of the Network for peace of mind as they go about their daily lives as armed citizens. They are fathers, mothers, clergy, attorneys, firearms instructors, law enforcement officers, students, physicians and come from many other walks of life, all representative of the average American gun owner. These men and women understand that unmeritorious prosecution for lawful acts of self defense happens to people just like them. They want to know they have the resources for a legal defense team to fight such a prosecution.
Who is the Network? In a nutshell, we are 17,000+ individuals who have banded together for the peace of mind that comes from knowing that if one of us is wrongfully prosecuted or sued, the Network will step in and assist.
How is it Funded?
When we started the Network in 2008, we choose to establish a separate Legal Defense Fund from a portion of the members’ dues. At first, we set aside 20% of all dues, but before too long we raised that to 25%, and watched the Legal Defense Fund grow. It was slow at first, but so was the frequency of member-involved use of force incidents. Over our 11-year history, the Legal Defense Fund has grown to two million dollars. We have tapped into the Fund to assist 22 of our members after self defense. The Fund balance at present is over $2,000,000.
What We are Not
First off, we are NOT insurance! There is no insurance component in our member benefits. Nor are we a pre-paid legal service plan. We do not have any attorneys on staff or under contract to assign to handle your case. You see, we insist that each member retain complete control of his or her legal defense, including hiring and, if necessary, even firing their attorney. We are the funding mechanism for the legal defense and that is the extent of our involvement into ongoing member cases. We do have affiliated attorneys in each state that are willing to go to bat for our members–a facet of the Network we developed to help members meet and work with gun-friendly attorneys–but the member chooses whom they hire as their attorney and is not limited to our affiliates.
No Scare Tactics or Puffery
In our advertising and outreach to potential members, we do not make outlandish claims, or frighten worried armed citizens into joining. We don’t give away guns or ammo or trot out other enticements to lure new members into signing up. Our Internet presence is very conservative, not dominated by pop-ups and videos brow-beating non-members into joining. You see, here at the Network we choose to associate with like-minded folks: people who do their own research and who are not swayed by fancy advertising or gloom-and-doom prophecies predicting an awful fallout if you need to use force in self defense. We know that you are intelligent enough to understand the issues and make informed choices.
Training is the Key
Early on, we recruited hundreds of self-defense firearms instructors to help spread the word about the Network. I have also run a successful firearms training business for 30 years, so have many friends in the firearms industry. It was natural to reach out to them, first to ask what they thought about the concept of the Network, then to invite them to participate in our organization. Soon, we formed a unique facet of the Network, our Affiliated Instructors.
These dedicated men and women remain our best new member recruiters. Thanks to their outreach, Network members are the cream of the crop: serious, dedicated, trained gun owners. Our Foundation provides copies of What Every Gun Owner Needs to Know About Self-Defense Law for instructors to hand out to their students free of charge and upon written request, we will grant permission for use of member-education video lectures in affiliated instructors' classes, all to encourage our affiliated instructors to introduce their students to the long-term benefits of being a Network member – assistance with legal expenses after self defense, ongoing education, and peace of mind.
The Bottom Line
For several years, I attempted to publish a comparison between the Network and the competitors, but what they offer has changed so often and is so frequently obscured behind outlandish advertising claims that I have decided recently that I can no longer make a real comparison.
Each competing company in the post-self-defense support industry has different pricing, and many have changed their scope of services several times over. Over eleven years, we have only had two price increases–the first came at the end of 2013 when new member dues increased along with the size of the member education package and the second increase was at the end of 2015. We successfully manage the business of the Network through fiscally conservative management and hard work, striving to keep the member dues at a very affordable price. In fact, many competing companies charge up to $500 per year or higher, while our highest fees are only $135 for the first year of membership and $95 per year for renewals. That is by far the lowest in the industry, and we give discounts for multi-year enrollment, making the cost even lower.