I’ve been privileged to be acquainted with Marie for several decades, owing to her work with Kahr Arms and her efforts on pro-gun litigation. After a 21-year career as Deputy County Attorney for the Monroe County NY Law Department, she became General Counsel for Kahr Arms, having been associated with the gun maker for many years providing marketing support, staffing their exhibits at conventions, advising on product development and assisting in many other ways.
A certified Force Science analyst, Marie contributes litigation support to legal cases, including the recent, high-profile case New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen and others dealing with red flag laws, community caretaking, disparity of force, justified force, orders of protection, firearms confiscation, mental health, licensing and more.
She serves on the Board of the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association and represents Kahr Arms as a voting member of the Boards of the National Shooting Sport Foundation and Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers, Inc., commonly called SAAMI, which sets performance and safety standards for ammunition. I enjoyed a long phone visit with Marie in July, getting caught up on her many accomplishments. She is such a strong pro-freedom voice that I think members will enjoy some of that conversation, so we switch now to Q & A.
eJournal: I understand your work as a county attorney included representing law enforcement. I’d like to hear about that.
D’Amico: In New York State, the county attorney is an office of civil attorneys that represent all the departments of the county. For a short time, I was counsel to the sheriff. Our office was well staffed and two of the supervisors handled most of the 1983 claims (42 US Code § 1983 civil action for deprivation of rights) filed in court against the officers, so I was very interested in that work, but had limited opportunity to be involved in it.
One day, one of my supervisors had met with a deputy who was the subject of a complaint on a use of force. He asked me, “How do you think this could have happened? What do you think of what the deputy said?” and I thought for a minute, and I said, “How can we even evaluate what he said? We don’t have any expertise in that area or any way to judge what he said. Who is to say it didn’t happen the way he said it did?” I was not a subject matter expert, but it caused me to go and research how that kind of thing happens, who are the experts and how do they train. [Laughing] I went deep into the rabbit hole!
eJournal: Were you an armed citizen at that point?
D’Amico: Yes, I had my concealed carry permit when I started working there. Because I’m a lawyer, I was concerned about safety and legality. I had gotten my concealed carry permit in New York in the county I reside in, which was generally issuing concealed carry permits if you weren’t a prohibited person or had other indicators that you were not going to be safe and responsible with a firearm. I began to study New York’s Article 35 on use of force and use of deadly force. There weren’t a lot of instructors, and the gun club wasn’t doing formal instruction, so I started out taking classes about shooting and then I became an NRA certified handgun instructor.
eJournal: You invested considerable effort into unarmed defenses, too. How did that come about?
D’Amico: The building I worked in, the courthouse I had to go to and other places I worked were specifically enumerated by statute as places you could not carry. I knew we had violence in the workplace. I knew a lot of the advice given in mandatory workplace violence training was not going to suffice for my own or anyone else’s safety and protection.
What can you do to enhance your own safety when you are in a position where you can’t carry, where deadly force is not an option? I’m a woman so realistically there is disparity of force. You can be in relatively good health and still not able to defend yourself against multiple aggressors or against a stronger person, or a male or bigger person.
We had a workplace violence seminar that included the story of a woman who had an order of protection. This guy got into the offices and stabbed her when somebody coming back from lunch held the door open for him and the security guard didn’t see him come in. The comment that stuck with me was, “Well, in spite of our best efforts, sometimes things like this happen.”
I said, “These are your best efforts?! These are the efforts that people are relying upon?” It is not good enough! It is just not good enough! It was a terrible message to give at a mandated program. I basically said to the sheriff’s deputy teaching the program, “This is BS. Is that your best effort? Well, I am not going to rely on it!” I was pretty outspoken, and the sheriff’s deputy said, “Maybe you should go and talk to Guy Rossi.”
eJournal: Good advice! Guy Rossi contributed a very instructional interview to this journal a few years back. Readers who missed it should browse to https://armedcitizensnetwork.org/january-2016-defending-against-physical-attack and read it.
D’Amico: I wanted to take some unarmed training because I knew I couldn’t always control distance from people on the street, and even if deadly force was justified, I might not be able to use my gun in close proximity. With Guy, I trained in the unarmed areas. It was very important for me to know that I would not just go to the gun out of reflex – that was what I was used to doing at the range. I had to make sure that my response was lawful.
When I went to meet him, Guy told me that there were recruits in the police academy that were not going to pass because they could not deliver force–due largely to the physicality of it. He didn’t want to fail people so late in the program, but he needed to teach them something different about delivering power so they could pass their defensive tactics classes.
eJournal: Techniques for smaller people are challenging!
D’Amico: Right! The techniques should prevail, but if you’ve taken classes like this, you will see that there are always people who are bigger and stronger and they will try to muscle you through instead of showing the validity or invalidity of the technique. Guy was asking, “Does this technique work? Under what conditions does it work or not work for this person?” His teachings really affected me because he had more concern for the individual student then commitment to the technique.
eJournal: You have since gone on to also train police in your county, haven’t you?
D’Amico: I teach a special program, incorporating defensive tactics, that is offered at the police academy a couple of times a year, once to the basic firearms instructor class and once to the advanced firearms instructor class.
eJournal: Your influence goes beyond police. Ten years ago you founded Legal Force E.T.C. What is your company’s focus?
D’Amico: The name is Legal Force, E.T.C., and E. T. C. stands for education, training, and consulting because I focus on the continuum to provide education, to provide training, and to provide consulting. It is a full spectrum because you teach it, you train it, you break it down and you go back, and you redo it, and you keep working at it. It is one thing to educate, it is another thing to do the training, and then you have to stand back and ask did that work? Why did it work?
I do consulting because a lot of defense attorneys just do not understand use of force. In everyday life, there is so much about use of force that we all fail to understand! As John Farnam says, “There is a difference between violence and use of force.” The use of force is the lawful application to oppose violence. Most people have no concept in their minds to understand the violence they see everyday.
I am a resource to the attorneys defending use of force cases. I don’t testify as an expert; I provide services to help prosecutors and defense attorneys understand what they need to know about use of force in a case, whether they even want to take a case, and to help them find expert witnesses. Sometimes it is police unions that are trying to reconcile whether to provide a defense or put an officer on light duty or put them through a disciplinary or termination proceeding. I also work on litigation support for the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association (NYSR&PA) and the National Rifle Association. Through those entities, I’ve come into contact with people throughout the country seeking attorneys or assistance from the NRA’s Civil Rights Defense Fund.
eJournal: That brings up the supreme court decision, New York State Rifle & Pistol Assn. v. Bruen. At what point did you and NYSR&PA get involved?
D’Amico: It was really a ground game. Robert Nash came to the New York state association after he had been denied a permit. He reapplied and we worked with him through the whole reapplication process. We worked to set that up for contesting the Kachalsky case.
eJournal: Is starting from the ground up how you win big victories like Bruen?
D’Amico: Yes. A lot of people try to represent themselves and then they get denied. Not everybody can afford to hire a lawyer to exercise a constitutional right! The state rifle and pistol associations are a clearing house for those issues. They help people navigate through the licensing process, starting with a list of attorneys that we would refer them to. If it was something that would apply across the country – like this case on permitting and proper cause and standard of review, which Bruen affected, too – that is the kind of case that the NRA would take because it would affect a lot of jurisdictions and lawful gun owners beyond the boundaries of New York State.
That’s one reason the Bruen case was so important. Fundamentally, the question needed to be resolved: Is it a right, or is it a privilege to be granted or not granted on a good reason, bad reason or no reason or on a whim. I think the supreme court answered that pretty clearly.
eJournal: The decision has set our imaginations running wild. Could this be the basis of a challenge to magazine capacity limits, to bans on so-called assault weapons, to other restrictions? Laypersons want to know if what was illegal before the decision immediately becomes legal. What does Bruen mean to us in the short term and what could it change in the long term?
D’Amico: The case was remanded, so we have to wait and see what happens on the remand. The implications are huge. Four cases that got remanded back to the states in light of the Bruen decision are: Young v. Hawaii, Duncan v. Bonta, Assoc. of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs v. Bruck, and Bianchi v. Frosh.
The court did two very important things. First, they said that the second amendment was a right and not a privilege and threw out what they called the two-prong test. Think of it like this: the constitutional right being affected is one prong; the second prong was the justification for the impingement. Typically, it entails what people would call a balancing test. You hear it in language like, “If it saves just one life.” If you’re going to eradicate the second amendment because it could save one life in a “just in case” scenario, then you really have no right.
The court is saying that if the government makes a magazine capacity restriction or bans semi-automatic firearms like Illinois is trying to do, the burden is no longer on me to say why I need an AR-15 or why I need a handgun that holds more than ten rounds. Those firearms have been held to be in common use in Heller, so the combination of Heller, McDonald and Bruen taken together means that the citizen no longer bears the burden of asserting a particular reason to justify the exercise of a constitutional right. That is the difference between a right and a privilege.
The court said that an individual doesn’t have to prove proper cause. The language of the statute is that an applicant must show proper cause or a unique need to carry a firearm on their person outside their home. The supreme court said you have a right to carry a firearm on your person outside your home. The government has the burden to say why you shouldn’t be able to do that. The burden is not upon the citizen. The constitution has already answered that question.
eJournal: What happens on remand? Could they just stiffen their necks and defy the Supreme Court of the United States? You shared an explanatory video by attorney Stephen Halbrook that discusses some of the backlash from New York, but you are on the ground there – how do you view what is happening?
D’Amico: The legislation passed by the governor in New York directly contradicts the clear holding of Bruen. That is an attack on the rule of law! We still have the three branches of government and if you get a supreme court win and the country’s elected officials don’t follow it, they have eradicated the rule of law. It is like having a crime on the books, but saying you’re not going to prosecute it.
We see the eradication of the rule of law in so many different areas. Defund the police is part of the eradication of the rule of law. That is a way to restructure what is legal and what is not legal. So is the arrest of a person clearly acting in self defense like the bodega worker who defended himself. There are places outside of America where you cannot defend yourself inside your own home without being a criminal. We don’t want to be that place! Unless we enforce the rule of law that is what will happen.
We have a supreme court ruling that is very clear. We are just going to have to see what will happen when the cases are remanded and see if they will honor the rule of law by the United States Supreme Court.
It is a scary time because the respect for the checks and balances of this country and the three branches of government is really gone. When you lose the three branches of government, you have just eroded what makes America America. We need to understand that the core right to self defense applies where the person is or else the idea of the basic dignity of every human life is really lost.
I feel really strongly that we need to take a step back and ask why is it that people are concerned for their self defense these days? Why are people buying guns? Why is it so much in the news? If gun control is what people want “if it saves just one life?” well, maybe the life that a gun saves is my life when someone is breaking into my house.
eJournal: Earlier, you mentioned your work in litigation support pointing attorneys toward experts who can testify and other resources. Do you find prejudice against armed defense amongst lawyers? You mentioned the difference between violence and use of force. Is that a hard concept for lawyers to embrace?
D’Amico: I think most people have not looked very deeply into violence and what kind of force is needed to counter violence. In their own lives, they have not done what I consider some fundamental work to prepare to face a violent situation. You know as well as I do the statistics about the growing violence across the country; it is out of control. Right now, a lot of women are buying firearms for self defense and I support that, but when they ask me if I will teach them to shoot for self defense, a lot of times I say probably not. The reason is that I do not know that they have done the fundamental work to create boundaries to make other decisions short of deadly force to prepare themselves to respond to a violent encounter.
Yes, there is a lot of prejudice; there is a lot of bias. There is the prejudice that if you have a gun you are looking for trouble, although today it seems like trouble is coming to people in broad daylight, unprovoked, so I don’t know if they can really maintain that position with a serious face. Every day newspapers are filled with stories about truly innocent victims – not someone who got shot because they were trying to rob a drug house. The stories are about truly innocent people who are getting bashed over the head with skateboards in the middle of the afternoon.
eJournal: You just suggested an interesting prediction: will the surge in violent crime change biased opinions held by people who don’t want to admit that bad things happen to good people? Maybe the risk is going to become harder to ignore.
D’Amico: I hope people can understand and see what is happening, because you can’t guard against what you don’t recognize. I think of it as “trained eyes.” It is a matter of trained perspective. If you, I, or Vicki or John Farnam were walking down the street, we would see things differently than a person with a different bias. We would see a person and then maybe another person who would be what we call the “plus one,” right? Do they look to us like they could be acting in concert for some reason? We watch their movement and their synchronicity.
We perceive things in our situational awareness; we’re trained to be aware of certain things around us and what they mean. We aren’t just aware of our situation; we are aware of patterns of behavior, patterns of movement. We are aware of areas where crimes have been committed, where there have been prior rapes, where there have been robberies in the past. We are not going to walk close to buildings that are abandoned or boarded up.
Until you can train someone’s eyes to see what you see, they will never understand the danger and they will never understand the use of force against it.
eJournal: I’d like to come back to you in the months and years to come and have you teach us more on those topics and on the legal use of force.
D’Amico: I have been the recipient of a lot of very good instruction in the firearms and use of force areas: Guy Rossi teaching me what it is like to be an instructor, Vicki and John Farnam instructing me on the technical firearms issues, but also their training methodology and their values. It has been a 20-year endeavor, and I am still continuing. I think everyone should continue to grow. I’m happy to join the Advisory Board because I look at it as an opportunity for me to help members grow through their understanding of these issues.
eJournal: You’re so right to cite the people who have so strongly influenced both you and me – the Farnams, Guy Rossi and so many others. That we stand on the shoulders of giants is more than a common saying; for me, it is so very true. Tomorrow’s leaders, currently on their way up, will do better because of your guidance. Thank you for all of your behind-the-scenes work and the many ways you share your knowledge.
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