“It all started in 1976” the man in the red hat offered, “I said, Hey, I’m an adult, and I always wanted a Buntline Special like the one carried by Matt Dillon and Bat Masterson. So I ordered one, and the city of Washington DC banned it a few months later.” A candidate running for Missouri’s 2nd congressional district, a tea partier by the name of Ed Martin, had invited Dick Heller, the plaintiff in the landmark 2nd Amendment case Heller v DC  to do a tour of St. Louis metro area gun shops and shooting ranges. I was along for the ride, taking pictures and video . . .

Dick Heller was wearing his red Charter Arms hat. Charter Arms offered a Heller v DC commemorative .38, so Dick was doing his bit to help out those who had honored him. He rotated that hat with a blue NRA cap from time to time.

Dick pointed out a pistol similar to his once-banned 9 ½” cowboy sixgun while looking over a collection at Pistols Plus in St. Charles. “I had wanted that pistol for 20 years, and now I could not keep it in my home in Washington DC.”

Heller’s fight was not a matter of pique over not being able to keep a collectable firearm.  His 20 year crusade revolved around the inherent unfairness of the draconian restrictions in the nation’s capitol. “As a security officer, they gave me a gun to protect men and women who paid me to protect them. After my shift, I could not use my own gun to protect myself in my own home.”

Heller explained “I had the right to bear an arm to protect other people – people richer than I was – but I could not bear an arm to protect myself and my family and guests!” Dick holds up his palms, looking down as if reading a book “When I plainly read the 2nd amendment and we have the right to keep and bear arms, and then plainly read the 14th amendment where we are entitled to equal protection under the law, it was clear that some were enjoying the benefit of the 2nd and others were not, an absolute violation of the 14th.”

While Heller had common sense on his side, it would take more than common sense to prevail. It would take a strategy, money and tenacity. Twenty years worth of tenacity. I asked “You’ve pretty much stayed in Washington DC so you could pursue your case, right?” I asked, keying off of some statements he’d made earlier. Heller nodded “I did.  I like Washington DC. My neighborhood was kind of bad years ago, but then again I can ride my bike to meet with think-tanks and supporters. I like the Metrorail. And of course, I have to be subject to the laws that I am attacking if we are to have standing.”

At any given time, at least three in our party were armed as we drove Dick and his wife Jane from one gun range to another. I mentioned that and Dick laughed. “I know – I go to lots of places and the people I am with point out how ironic it is that Dick Heller is the one who is still unarmed!”

Dick is utterly charming. One thing I noted about him is how delighted he is with everything. “What a beautiful day” he says about our weather. “LOOK at ALL those GUNS!” he exclaims at a gun shop full of saucy firearms. “This is the BEST lasagna I’ve ever had!” he gushes at a local Italian restaurant. The man is happy and is not afraid to be happy. He has dedicated his life to fighting a singular injustice. He has limited his home base to a tiny place in America hostile to his cherished belief in the right to keep and bear arms, but along the way Dick Heller appears to have picked up not one iota of bitterness.

At a Top Gun Shooting Sports, Dick Heller participates in our “Dick Heller Shot My Gun” fundraiser. For a contribution, Dick Heller will fire your weapon at a special commemorative target. The range officer will authenticate the make, serial number and the fact that Dick Heller fired it.

Dick goes one better, and puts a “D” next to his shots and signs the target. “Look at this – boy, this little .380 was a smooth shooting gun!” Dick points to a nice, tight group on the target, the only one he is particularly pleased with in an evening firing Glocks, Kahrs and my beloved Compact .40 Smith M&P.

The range has provided an H&K submachine gun for the gathered guests, and Dick shoulders it deliberately. He fires a few rounds on single shot, then finishes the rest of the magazine in nice controlled bursts.

“Where do you shoot?” I ask later “You said there are no gun shops in Washington DC, I doubt there are any ranges nearby.”

“Oh, I have to drive about 45 minutes to go shoot, I don’t think I even get to shoot once a month.” Dick replied.

Because of his chosen home, Dick has had to be a fan of firearms and not much of a participant. I sense that he’d have loved to been able to become proficient at cowboy style shooting competitions, but his life’s work has come first. Here in River City, I have a gun range not 5 miles from my South St. Louis home.

“What do you think the handgun ban has done, as it pertains to attitudes about guns, to the culture of DC?”

“I think the people of Washington DC now associate firearms with the criminal element.  When I grew up, guns were a part of sports. Kids would take .22 rifles to school to participate in marksmanship competitions. Now, the ‘gun culture’ isn’t about sport shooting and personal defense, the people here only think of guns as a tool of thugs.”

At the ranges we were visiting, men, women and youths were intently mastering the basics of handling a firearm. Dick encouraged a young woman along as she fired a Ruger .22 revolver, the first time she had ever fired a weapon.

“About once a year, my family might go shooting” Dick offered. “We were not ‘gun nuts’ but we knew enough to respect them. In a city like Washington DC, there is no community where young people can learn to respect firearms and use them responsibly. The city criminals have LOTS of guns, and new generations are growing up where ONLY the criminasl have guns.”

The first time I ever shot a gun, I was probably five years old. My father had a .22 rifle, and we went into the backyard of the rural Kennett Missouri home of my grandpa. I remember him holding up the rifle and I tried to aim the thing at a tin can perched on the rim of a barrel. My strongest memory was the noise, and something hot peppering my face every time I fired. My second strongest memory was not being able to get the grin off my face.

My wife and I took Dick and His wife to dinner where Heller enjoys a local microbrew.  True to his genial nature, he seems to enjoy the living hell out of it. “There were threads throughout this whole thing (the Heller v DC case) that were serendipitous.” Dick said “I met a guy who was an Olympic shooter and had just moved into Washington DC.  He had a footlocker full of custom guns that fit his hand like gloves. He asked me ‘Where should I store them?’ and I said ‘Man, you got to get those things out of Dodge, you could get five years for each pistol!’”

“This guy was very smart.” Dick continued, “…and he would go on to be part of the team that carried this case forward. If I had not met him, nobody would know who the hell Dick Heller is!”

As we travel around, I am surprised that few people know who the hell Dick Heller is.  Sometimes meeting a celebrity is like Karaoke. People will participate once a few other do.  I would go around in a gun shop and say, “Have you ever heard of Dick Heller?”

I was expecting them to say “Yeah” or better yet “Hell Yeah” but the majority of my gun-toting compatriots looked at me like Nipper the RCA Dog. I soon changed my pitch “Have you ever heard of Heller v DC?” expecting a “Yeah or “Hell Yeah!”…

Even among gun nuts, it seems that a prophet is without honor. While plenty of people availed themselves of the opportunity to meet Dick and get their picture taken, many were just puzzled.

“Why do you think that is, Dick?” I asked. “We’ve been sparring over ‘militia right’ versus ‘individual right’ for decades, and you get that question settled. I am really stunned our fellow gun enthusiasts are not more aware of the significance of the case.”

Dick shrugged his shoulders, “Millions of gun owners aren’t registered to vote, and millions more do not vote.” Get registered and vote were items one through five on a five point list of messages he wanted gun owners to get. “I don’t know if it is apathy or what, but (NRA President) Wayne LaPierre put out that 20 million or more gun owners are not registered. A tiny fraction are politically active. It would not take much of an increase in gun owner participation to completely change the equation.” Political activism in favor of Pro Second Amendment candidates is what motivated Dick to come to St. Louis to help out Ed Martin in a race against a well-heeled GOP insider.

We wrapped up the weekend at the St. Louis Zoo. Dick’s wife Jane had been yearning to enjoy the nice weather after a dreary stretch in Washington DC. We talked and toured Big Cat Country, the Primate House and other attractions before settling in for a beer, this time an uninspiring pedestrian brew. Dick talked cheerily with us all the way to the airport. We said our good-byes to our new friends.

Dick Heller proved to be a delightful guy. Human life is precious, but some people are of such a disposition that they bring the preciousness of life into focus. Dick is the kind of person that when you learn a man or woman like him has been hurt or killed in a crime, you are heartbroken. You instantly despise the attacker and most would find justice in the murderer’s forfeited life. During a mugging or a home invasion, to think a man like Dick Heller was lost to us for want of a firearm brings the tragic conceit of liberals into sharp relief.

The most extraordinary thing about Dick Heller is his resounding ordinariness. He is intelligent, but not terribly above average. He is gregarious, but I know a dozen men who are just as merry in spirit. He daily toils in what he calls the murder capital of the nation, giving up all the things he could enjoy if he moved just a few miles away. While hardly obscure, he is not a rock-star. His singular accomplishment is lost on a wide number of the beneficiaries of his long hard slog, but he does not seem to care.

His super-power is simple determination to see through as much of his crusade to strike down the unconstitutional thorns and thistles sown by those who, on balance, are contemptuous of free men. I can think of nothing more American than that.

21 Responses to My Dinner with Heller

  1. God bless him. 20 years in a liberal hell-hole to establish a Supreme Court precedent on the individual right to bear arms. When we get rid of the current occupant of the White House, Dick Heller should be awarded the Medal of Freedom.

  2. Tim, this is a wonderful post. Thank you for bringing a human face and a real identity to a person that we only knew as a name on a lawsuit.

    • Dick Heller was almost instantly one of my favorite people. I have met people I admire for their accomplishments, but rather flat for their personality. Dick really is a gem.

  3. While I agree that DC is a “liberal hell-hole” Where were all of your conservative representatives from the POTUS, the SCOTUS, and the congresscritters you seem to admire, from Jan 2001 to Jan 2007? They sat on their collective hands and wallets doing nothing to expand your freedoms and especially your gun rights.
    They (GOP) let the AWB expire, by doing nothing, why didn’t they vote earlier to repeal it, they definitely had the votes? Why did President Bush (R) in the last days of his second term, put in some executive order or whatever it was, to reinstate carrying of loaded weapons in national parks, knowing full well that the new administration would have to fight the challenges in court (something Reagan implemented)? Also it was Reagan (R) that campaigned for the Brady Bill!
    Why did VP Cheney (R) have to go against Bush (R) and his justice department with the Heller lawsuit?
    Why hasn’t National Concealed Carry Reciprocity, HR822 passed the house, they (R) once again have the majority?
    And no, I’m not a democrat or a liberal. But I am smart enough to see a pattern of abuse by a party (R), of being used for their political gain!
    At least with the democrats, or should I say liberals (since not all democrats are liberals), I know how they think and what they stand for. But with republicans, their actions (or inaction) speak louder than words.

      • Because Ralph, once again I see the liberal bashing from most of these stories, (DC liberal hell-hole, tea party candidates) and it seems you folks (the ones who see the GOP as the Holy Ones) can’t see you’re being used by the republican party. And maybe if the republican party had done what they were suppose to, Dick heller wouldn’t have had to go to the Supreme Court. So I guess that’s why it was interjected as a comment. Sorry I’m not a follower of all things republican, or democrat and bashing all democrats as liberals, will never solidify a consensus on our gun rights.

        • Taurus609, I read the same article you did, but I didn’t see the words Democrat, Republican, conservative or liberal. Did you?

        • In Tim’s story the “tea party” candidate Ed Martin is mentioned, and in Pete’s response he mentions the DC liberal hell-hole. What I was trying to elaborate on, was that if the republicans, who had control of all three branches of government between 2001 and 2007 had been what you claim they are or will be for gun rights. Then Dick Heller shouldn’t have had to fight this fight for all of us! I have nothing but praise for Mr Heller, but even in his win, the “Right” side of the SCOTUS let us down. And let’s not forget this little jab at the current POTUS. ‘When we get rid of the current occupant of the White House, Dick Heller should be awarded the Medal of Freedom. Seems this POTUS has done more for gun rights than his predecessor.

        • had been what you claim

          I didn’t see any such claim in this article. If you want to take issue with other posts, that’s fine, but why here? Likewise, your objection to Pete’s comment would have been better addressed to Pete.

          The fact is, if you carefully check TTAG, you’ll find that the Democrat and Republican parties are equally scorned.

          As far as the liberal/conservative clash of beliefs, surely there are liberal gun-owners. But it is an article of faith among liberal politicians of both parties that guns must be restricted or banned. The record of conservative politicians of either party is extremely disappointing, as you correctly pointed out.

          The bottom line: when it comes to 2A, we can’t trust anyone.

        • Ralph, I stand, oops sit corrected, I should have addressed my liberal remarks to Pete. But as I said, the reason the remarks were about this article, was if the right had done their job, Heller v DC and McDonald v Chicago wouldn’t have been necessary. And where should I have brought this up, if not during a discussion about a gun decision from the SCOTUS?

  4. Tim, I didn’t realize Pistols Plus was still in business after the smash and grab. Went by once after the S & G, wasn’t impressed, do most of my buying at Mike’s or Ultimate Defense. Good article though!

    • Pistols Plus had a great selection of long guns when we visited, and Ultimate Defense has a great range, and offers shoot-house training with Simunition. Very cool.

  5. Taurus609 – Since we are homeboys, let’s get together and have a beer or something. It’s my way of apologizing in advance, as I am about to go all “Clark Griswold” on some of your points.

    Yes, the GOP is not the party I want to be. I would even say that half the GOP is little more than “liberal light” in that they like big government, so long as THEY are running it.

    I and my colleagues working this campaign are not blind to this – not by a damn sight. We volunteers who work for conservative candidates spend an enormous amount of time and effort to improve things, while other ostensibly conservative folk just sit back and bitch, flinging about lazy apathy as if it is some great insight.

    I have no idea how active you are in politics. perhaps activism is not your calling. Fair enough. Many of us rather than bitch and moan, are working our asses off.To that point, allow me to quote Colonel Jessup – “I would rather you just said ‘thank you’ and went on your way, otherwise I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand a post”

  6. Well Tim, I typed out a very long dissertation, and somehow it went to reply heaven. So if you would like to meet, that would be fine with me. I don’t drink, I carry all of the time, so wherever and whenever is okay. I would rather not leave my name, number or email address for everyone to see, it seems that I have ruffled a few feathers, and I think you understand. So I think Robert or whomever controls this website has my email address, so since you are a contributor you can get it from them.

  7. OK – I admit I have a burr under my saddle, and none of this means I won’t be happy to hang with Taurus609, who I am confident is as decent as all gun folk seem to be once you get past the crusty exterior. Still, this statement is what set me off earlier.

    “Where were all of your conservative representatives from the POTUS, the SCOTUS, and the congresscritters you seem to admire, from Jan 2001 to Jan 2007? ”

    First, from my article, it is clear I admire Dick Heller. I also admire Ed Martin, but he is not POTUS, SCOTUS or a congresscritter.

    I will tell you what I have been doing for the eight years with George W. Bush. Bitching about 75% of the time. There were fights we could have won they did not engage, and fights they flat out capitulated on. GWB is a “big government” conservative and so were most of the “Bushies”

    Denny Hastert was a worthless tool as speaker of the house. John Boenher is, in my opinion, much better, but that is like saying your cooking is better than that of the English, damnably faint praise.

    Herein is a larger point. As a conservative, I am doomed to be disappointed. Because there is never enough liberty for the man who wants it, no politician – EVER – will be sufficiently liberty minded, much less able to champion sufficient, successful efforts to restore liberty, especially after nearly 100 years of Progressive ascension.

    The nation is less free now than when I was born. It’s all I can hope to do is maybe work to put it back the way it was. Still, I will never be satisfied.

    • My only quarrel with your comment is that GWB was by no means a Conservative President. Other than that, you post and comments were very interesting and enjoyable. God bless Dick Heller and all who worked with him.

    • Tim, I go from decent to crusty exterior all in one sentence, man you already know me, or have you been talking to my wife? Nope, she would never say I’m decent! I’ll be emailing you soon for a get together, this week has too much crap going on.

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