As we move into 2015, it is a good time to review the Network’s growth from its beginnings as little more than a great idea in 2008 to the vital armed citizens’ support organization that it is today.
The Legal Defense Fund
The Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network’s accomplishments during 2014, its seventh year, embody the fulfillment of the reason it was created: funding the legal representation of Network members who have used force in self defense. Although Network membership grew to 8,300 this year, numbers of members involved in self-defense incidents were identical to the previous year. Four members used varying degrees of force to prevent injury to themselves, and the cost of these members’ initial legal representation ranged from $400 to $3,000. None faced further legal repercussions. However, the Network paid an attorney to help a member prepare to face trial this coming year on felony assault charges stemming from a 2013 incident. That matter remains unsettled as of this publication date, and we must first and foremost protect that member’s interests, so we can only report the expenditure from the Legal Defense Fund.
All too frequently prospective members and even Network members request details about members for whom the Network has paid attorney fees and other legal expenses. Sorry, folks, we simply will not violate the privacy of our members and risk further legal problems, in an effort to sell Network membership upon the support we provided. This is a Golden Rule situation–if you had fended off an assailant and we paid your attorney to represent you, would you want your name and circumstances written up on the Internet? Of course not, and neither do the members who’s attorneys got a check from the Network in 2014.
How do 2014’s stats compare with earlier years?
We paid attorney fees for four members in 2013; none of our members asked for Network assistance after self defense in 2012; and in 2011, three years after starting the Network, two members requested funding for legal representation after self defense and we paid their attorneys to protect their rights as they interacted with the criminal justice system. We enter 2015 with $450,000 in the Legal Defense Fund.
We started 2014 with 345 attorneys affiliated and standing ready to represent Network members. We conclude 2014 with 376 affiliated attorneys, and this year’s increase is largely thanks to the recommendations of Network members who know whom to call for legal work in their local communities.
A common question is where do we learn about Network affiliated attorneys and how do we choose our affiliates. The Network’s affiliated attorneys come to us through a variety of sources: our Advisory Board introduces us to attorneys they’ve trained or worked with; Network members make recommendations; attorneys themselves volunteer to affiliate with the the Network because as gun owners they want to be part of our team and via other publicity that identifies the attorney as a good resource for armed citizens.
The individual member has full control over whom they engage as their attorney. This means that the member needs to form their own opinion about the lawyer they want to use. One way members can get to know Network affiliated attorneys is through their contributions to the Attorney Question of the Month column in this online journal. In 2014, dozens contributed answers to questions about use of polygraph and other physical examinations after self defense, standard jury instructions, hiring and using expert witnesses in self defense cases, prosecutorial misconduct, breathalyzer tests, posting bail, whether insurance stimulates lawsuits, and more.
The Network renders no judgments on the attorney’s experience or abilities: we are not providing a referral service that would be restricted by outside rules, liabilities for incorrect conclusions, and other entanglements. Instead, the Network keeps it simple, welcoming practicing attorneys to affiliate with the Network, making their information available to members, and leaving the decision of whom the member chooses as his or her attorney entirely up to the member, as is only right. Network affiliated attorneys participate in the Network as full members, receiving the same member education as all Network members, and eligible for Network support after self defense, although none has yet needed that assistance.
Few criminal defense attorneys have extensive experience defending innocent clients who used guns in self defense, so if we limited the affiliated attorney listings to attorneys with that experience, the list would be small, indeed (to say nothing of the impossibility of determining and proving such a restrictive criteria for affiliation).
Realistically, the armed citizen’s initial need is for an attorney to attend any law enforcement interviews, and provide counsel after the member’s self-defense incident. If criminal charges are filed, the Network may recommend that the member’s local attorney associate with an attorney or attorneys with whom we are acquainted who do have experience defending legitimate self-defense cases in which issues were similar to those in the member’s case. These recommendations may stem from our Advisory Board’s review when recommending support for the member’s legal defense, beyond that funded by the deposit against attorney fees sent immediately after the incident.
Bringing In More Members
Historically, the Network has relied on affiliations with gun shops and firearms instructors to tell their grassroots clientele about the Network and why being part of our organization is so critical to armed citizens.
It has allowed our paid media promotion to be very sparse throughout our first seven years, while maintaining steady membership growth thanks largely to the outreach our affiliates perform, as well as the public recommendations of our friends like Massad Ayoob, John Farnam, Tom Gresham, Michael Bane, and countless others in the firearms media too numerous to mention.
In 2015, we intend to back up these generous endorsements with paid advertising in select firearms media. Although we run a very lean budget, as we enter our eighth year, the funds are there to undertake this next step in our outreach, without sacrificing any of the member services or the relationships with our solidly supportive friends and affiliates.
In early days, we aggressively pursued affiliations with gun shops and instructors to tell our story in their local communities. Key to that effort is distribution of our booklet What Every Gun Owner Needs to Know About Self-Defense Law, the success of which we’ll detail on later pages of this journal. Many of our affiliates have done a wonderful job, and we would not be the strong membership organization that we are without their outreach. Other affiliates lost interest and drifted away without actively cutting ties with the Network. This is problematic, since we provide affiliates with full Network membership benefits, assistance with legal expenses if needed, the yearly educational item, and so the affiliation program has a fairly high cost to return ratio.
In 2014, we redoubled efforts to recognize active affiliates while identifying the affiliates that lost interest and became unresponsive. When an affiliate has not ordered copies of What Every Gun Owner Needs to Know About Self Defense Law for a year, it is what one might term a “clue.”
Out of gratitude to those who told their clients they should join the Network, we’re flexible about not requiring strict quantities of materials distributed, but when we simply cannot get a response back from a lapsed affiliate, we have to cut them from the ranks of members in good standing.
While trimming away inactive affiliates shrunk Network membership numbers somewhat, it also reduced potential expenditures from the Legal Defense Fund and costs to obtain and mail the yearly member education item. It’s an acceptable trade off. Today, the Network is better off with 8,300 dedicated, supportive members.
Participation in national gun owner events is another way we publicize the Network. As strong, supportive NRA members, the choice to exhibit at the National Rifle Association’s annual meetings has been an easy decision for Network leadership, and we have continued to have a booth at that event yearly since 2009.
Exhibiting at the 2014 annual meeting in Indianapolis, we hosted book signings by a handful of self-defense authors, and while it tied up booth space, it made for a good time, and we enjoyed seeing readers meeting and visiting with the authors. The greatest benefit of exhibiting at NRA or similar events, though, is the opportunity to speak one-on-one with Network members and potential members. There persists a surprising amount of disinformation about the post-incident aftermath and a face-to-face discussion is the best way to clearly explain Network membership benefits.
Along the same line, Network President Marty Hayes represents the Network at several training events per year. In April of 2014 he taught at the 2nd Annual A Girl and A Gun training conference, but unfortunately had to cancel his usual participation in Rangemaster’s training conference owing to jury duty. He is back on the teaching team for the 2015 Rangemaster Tactical Conference in Memphis, in late February, which we note has completely sold out.
Another strong outreach for the Network comes from an unexpected quarter: Facebook.
Thanks to Hayes’ willingness to invest hours and hours monitoring and managing content, our Network has a tightly focused Facebook page for discussion of legal concerns following use of deadly force in self defense. With regular contributions from Network affiliated attorneys, our Facebook page maintains civil discussion that is limited to the legal aftermath of self defense.
Like it or not, social media is how people conduct discussions online these days. Online bulletin boards and forums have become as outdated as leisure suits, as people use their one-stop visit to Facebook to update family news, scan posts from their specific interest areas be those guns, state politics or hobbies—all on one website. And yes, it is all done publicly, right out in the open. Welcome to the brave new world! Keep your brain connected to your keyboard because what you post cannot be kept private. If Hayes has earned a reputation as a strict supervisor on the Network’s Facebook page, it is out of concern for comments that might be used against the poster later on down the line. He also keeps discussions focused on legal defense and aftermath issues, aggressively deletes meaningless chatter and the inevitable spammers to make our Facebook page well worth the time invested.
Mapping the Network’s Future
Last summer’s membership survey underscored priorities and has guided our strategic planning ever since. An overwhelming 81% of respondents cited access to the Legal Defense Fund as the driving force behind their decision to become a Network member. The strength of the Legal Defense Fund depends on two factors: a reasonable number of members and the educated, lawful defense choices of those members.
Member education also ranked as another top reason members joined the Network, and that includes this online journal as well as yearly member education via DVD.
In 2014, we deviated from our usual lecture-on-DVD format and sent each member a copy of Massad Ayoob’s new book Deadly Force. Network members are educated, reasonable armed citizens, and we are convinced that the yearly educational updates provided to our members and the eight DVDs and book new members receive have helped members avoid injudicious use of force in response to threats that are better defused in other ways.
The member survey revealed that the least used or desired benefits of Network membership included our online book and DVD store and the member-only chat forum at www.armedcitizensnetwork.org. Those findings didn’t really come as a surprise, and we can understand the diminishing interest in our forum competing against the prominence of social media like Facebook.
Likewise, we’ve decided it is no longer good business to continue to stock the book and DVD store. Increasingly, book and DVD sales are made at mega-online sites like Amazon and it is an unusual month in which more than four or five items are ordered from the Network’s online bookstore. Amazon sells books at prices lower than what the Network’s small operation pays to buy a qualifying quantity of books or DVDs from publishers. Even after offering our members a discount on a book or DVD, our price was not competitive.
Money tied up in retail stock will be better used to build Network membership and other efforts. We must eliminate services that are no longer relevant to member needs, so bid farewell to the online store and the member forums as we focus on building membership and the Legal Defense Fund, on member education through our yearly member education DVD, this journal, and our Facebook page.