I first met Alan Gottlieb in 1998 when his annual Gun Rights Policy Conference was held near Seattle. Attending the GRPC, which was hosted by the Second Amendment Foundation, was a significant turning point in my life, since it gave me the tools and knowledge to turn my pro-gun feelings into effective action. In addition to lengthy lecture notes, I came away with a box of books like More Guns, Less Crime that provided inspiration and useful quotes for my pro-gun writing . . .
Gottlieb is probably best known to the People of the Gun as the founder, in 1974, of the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF). He’s also on the board of directors of numerous conservative organizations and offers advice to many more. It seems fair to describe him as a marketing genius, with a much-deserved reputation for effective direct mail fundraising. Even in the Internet age, SAF derives the bulk of its funding from direct mail appeals.
During a face-to-face interview last Friday near SAF headquarters in Bellevue, Washington, Gottlieb had a gleam in his eye as he spoke eagerly about his job and fighting the good fight. You can tell that after four decades, he still very much enjoys what he does.
He described his recent manic travel schedule. He’s likely to show up just about anywhere. Not only does he speak at county-level political meetings, he also jets off to Europe for international meetings on the future of the shooting sports and is involved with the small arms treaty debate at the UN. Somehow he still finds time to manage SAF and respond to media requests for interviews and quotes a few times each day. Fortunately, his four kids are grown and he’s particularly proud of a daughter who has a full scholarship to attain her second Masters degree.
Alan says he’s only had one day off since December 14th, which partly explains why he hasn’t done any shooting in a long time. These days, collecting guns is more his style.
When we returned to his office after our interview, there was a heavy package with the Walther logo waiting. It was a gift from a friend at Walther who he had recently seen in Germany – a gorgeous pair of coffee table books on the history of Walther firearms. Alan seemed just as pleased as if it had been a fine pistol.
While SAF is far smaller than the NRA in both membership and annual budget, they punch well above their weight in the battle for gun rights. This is, I believe, due to Gottlieb’s uncanny understanding of human behavior combined with an ability to plan a long term strategy. Comparing the efforts of SAF with those of the NRA can be instructive.
Gottlieb doesn’t believe the NRA is on the right track when it comes to influencing public opinion. While he says that the “cold dead hands rhetoric appeals to the base,” it alienates a lot of the people we’d like to reach with the gun rights message. “I have never seen the issue more polarized,” he said.
In contrast to the NRA’s fire and brimstone, Gottlieb comes across as the friendly professor. He says he has deliberately chosen his signature bow tie, small mustache and oversized glasses, because it’s a less threatening look. He never raises his voice and rarely says anything particularly negative about the opposition, preferring to persuade than to polarize. This video is a good example. It’s a great demonstration of how to get folks in the middle of the political spectrum to question the constant anti-gun drumbeat they’re fed by the media.
I asked Gottlieb who he felt is currently the biggest threat to gun rights. “Michael Bloomberg,” he shot back, “because he has so much money.” Just a couple of days later, Bloomberg announced that he’s funded a $12 million advertising campaign to push universal background checks out of his own pocket.
Of course, SAF’s best known for launching or supporting court challenges to anti-gun laws. And they’ve been highly successful, especially if you consider that it’s been a two decade-long process. Just about everyone reading this will know that SAF was responsible for the McDonald v. Chicago decision. But you might be surprised at how many other important gun rights cases they have been instrumental in. There is a partial list here.
Were it not for another SAF project, these legal efforts might not have been so successful. From the beginning, SAF played a big role in encouraging law students and legal scholars to investigate the real history behind the Second Amendment. When SAF was founded, there were few modern legal articles supporting the standard (individual right) model of the Second Amendment. Now, however, almost all the major players in the legal world subscribe to the individual right 2A view. Without this critical background effort, few of the gun rights lawsuits recently decided would have prevailed.
The next Gun Rights Policy Conference will be in Houston this September. Check it out here and attend if you can. If you can’t, consider joining SAF and help them to continue to host these valuable meetings.
Dr. Michael S. Brown is a member of Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership