by Network President Marty Hayes
I always enjoy writing these messages to our members, primarily because each year, the Network gets stronger, and the members receive more and more value for their membership dues. For example, our Legal Defense Fund has now topped $900,000. That money, set aside in several credit union and banking institutions to keep each account below the deposit insurance limit, is ear marked to pay members’ legal fees.
Of all the competing products now in the marketplace that purport to pay their client’s legal fees, the Network is the only organization that does not put a cap on the amount we will pay toward the member’s defense, with the proviso that we have always said, and continue to say, that we will not drain the Legal Defense Fund below the half-way mark for the defense of any given member. At this time, that equates to a soft cap at $450,000 for legal fees and bail. By comparison, for criminal defense, our largest insurance-based competitor’s top tier program will only pay up to $125,000 for legal fees provided in advance of a verdict and only $10,000 toward bail. Their cost for that much coverage is over $300 per year.
For new members who do not know the history of the Network, I will explain how we got to this point. Eight years ago, in 2008, I formed the Network in partnership with Vincent Shuck and my wife Gila Hayes. It was our idea that those of us in the gun culture who were passionate about our right to self defense would be willing to help one another if one of us was involved in a self-defense incident and, as a result, faced prosecution. We also knew that effort could not be accomplished on a strictly voluntarily basis, human nature being what it is. Thus, we structured the Network as a membership organization, and charged enough for dues that we were initially able to earmark 20% for a Legal Defense Fund, raising that allocation to 25% a couple years later.
Armed with good intentions and our reputation in the industry as a firearms trainer (me) and author (Gila) and organizational manager (Vincent) we approached our friends and associates and told them of our ambitions. Our earliest advisors included Massad Ayoob, Tom Givens, John Farnam and the late Jim Cirillo. Later we added Dennis Tueller, along with attorneys James Fleming and Manny Kapelsohn. They comprise our advisory board, and at least once a year, we gather to discuss the long range plans for the Network, along with making any needed revisions to our current operations. The Advisory Board also serves as our sounding board and case review team, although that aspect has been under-utilized. That is a good thing!
In the beginning, we also invited about a hundred firearms trainers across the nation to join us and help spread the word about the Network. Through that effort, we started growing, and as a result, the Legal Defense Fund balance increased, too.
Over the next few years, we put all of our efforts into growing the Network (and as a result, growing our Legal Defense Fund), along with starting our member-education series of DVDs. You see, those DVDs you receive are the heart and soul of your legal defense, because they show your ability to articulate WHY you felt you needed to use force in self defense. Showing legitimate training as the basis of your use of force decision is the key to being exonerated of wrongdoing after a self-defense incident. And, speaking of DVDs, we have a couple more being edited right now. When added to our existing lectures these new titles will raise the number of DVD lectures we send to our members to ten. Each new member education package also includes Massad Ayoob’s 2014 book Deadly Force: Understanding Your Right to Self Defense.
During the Network’s early years, I spent quite a lot of time working with the media, explaining the Network on Internet forums, guesting on podcasts, along with the occasional radio show. I also was asked to be a guest commentator on The Best Defense TV show, and while I only recently moved on from there, it was a great experience. Through these efforts, the Network continued to grow. Interestingly, so did the competition.
When we introduced the Network in 2008, there were no other organizations doing what we do. Thus, I failed to anticipate and plan to counteract competition from the copycats that soon began popping up. I guess these entrepreneurs understood the concept of what we were doing, and decided they could make money by selling look-alike products. None did what we did–build up a dedicated legal defense fund–but instead most sold insurance or insurance-backed plans (meaning their clients are reimbursed for legal fees after receiving a favorable verdict), while others are legal retainer schemes (they say they will defend you either by the attorneys in their own firm or find and hire an attorney for you).
In addition to developing the infrastructure of the Network, we also early on had the privilege of putting our membership benefits into action, helping our members after acts of self defense. While our membership benefits initially focused on paying attorneys to defend a member after a shooting, we soon realized that there were more self-defense incidents that did not entail shooting someone. So far, we have had seven members display a firearm during an incident, along with one shooting of another person. That comports with research showing that firearms are displayed in defense without shots being fired far more frequently than incidents in which the armed citizen is forced to shoot. Other interesting cases include one in which a member was forced to shoot an attacking dog, and in another the member resorted to defense with a golf club. To date, we have spent a little over $110,000 to assist members, with our largest draw on the Fund topping out at $68,000.00.
Network membership numbers also continue to grow and have done so since we started the organization. We can now boast that we have over 12,000 members in the Network. Of course, we could have many more members if we advertised more (we do a little magazine advertising) or if we participated in aggressive e-mail marketing. Our goal, however, is not to be the biggest, just to be the best. To accomplish this, we pursue slow and steady growth.
To handle the needs of 12,000 members, the Network employs a staff of six, counting Vincent, Gila and myself. For each position, we have hand-selected each team member from our own close circle of friends and associates, so each is a proven entity before they come join the staff. I can’t imagine not being able to choose employees this way, so as a side-benefit of staying a manageable size, we control the quality of person who works for the Network. Bigger is not always better.
Well, members, that should bring you up to date with the State of the Network. It is my goal that you feel comfortable knowing that your investment is being managed efficiently and effectively. I refer to your investment in member dues and the time you, as a responsible member, invested watching the DVD lectures and reading the book we sent you.
I close this message with my sincere thanks to each member for being a part of the Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network, Inc.
Click here to return to our January 2017 Journal to read more.