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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

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  1. Alan is da man! Just wish he learned to tie his own bowtie!! 🙂

    Maybe I will bring him one in Houston, if I can get time off

  2. You’d be surprised at how many gun owners still have never heard of the SAF. Pushed aside by the more vocal NRA, GOA, et al. Low key is good, to a point. The more attention they draw, the more they will be vilified, like the other orgs. I think they could do a better job of getting through to gun owners who care about the 2A. Their web site is a bit too 20th century.

    Of course, the results of their work speak for themselves. They sure have made a difference it where it counts.

    • Joined SAF and JPFO last year, then used the CtD discount to buy life membership in NRA (assuming that it costs CtD to offer that discount, 2 birds with 1 stone!).

      JPFO I think has a tougher row to hoe, since so many Jews are ‘progressive’ anti-gunners, who see the gun as a totem of evil, and are so stupidly trusting of Big Government to ‘make things right’ given millennia of history to the contrary.

    • You’re still otherwise funding them with property tax (directly or via rent), income tax and other sales taxes.

      That’s why, in the end, I can’t agree with the “stand and fight” contingent. Once 50%+1 have turned into leeches and eaters, all you’re doing is feeding them. The only solutions are to kill or drive off enough of them to bring them down below 50%+1 or to flee yourself.

      • Completely agree with you. Even I move to Indiana, my salary still is mostly taxed in IL since my job is in Chicago. Wish I could move back home to NM but my income and industry make that very improbably.

        There was an article a couple months ago talking about which states are in a death spiral, with more people on gov’t support or working for the gov’t than not. The 5 were NY, NJ, IL, HI(i think), and NM. NM has a lot of poverty then a bunch of higher level feds (nuclear guys at DOE).

  3. I must admit that I am a staunch supporter of the SAF. I prefer the SAF’s strategy to the NRA’s. I prefer their tactics, I prefer their public statements.

    I agree with Gottlieb that the NRA is doing much to polarize the issue.

    I will also remind my fellow readers that the SAF, not the NRA, led the charge on Heller. The SAF, not the NRA, led the charge fighting the SF gun ban. The list goes on.

    I think the NRA does a decent job with lobbying, but when it comes to taking it to the mats in the court system, the SAF eats the NRA’s lunch. End of story.

    The NRA had a chance to take the Heller case from the beginning, and it declined. The SAF, however, did not.

    Now the NRA jumps on pretty much every case the SAF litigates. I guess that is a good thing, but I cannot help but wonder if the NRA is simply trying to ride on the SAF’s judicial coattails…

    In any event, I give my money to the SAF because they get stuff done. Their strategy is far more aggressive (in the courts) than the NRA’s, and has been responsible for cementing the legal view that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual, rather than collective, right to keep and bear arms. The NRA gets the limelight, but the SAF brings home the bacon.

      • SAF did in fact support Heller from the beginning, just not as a funder or as a party. SAF supported Mr. Levy’s efforts, as contrasted with the NRA, which tried to derail Mr. Levy’s efforts. SAF also filed an amicus in Heller supporting the individual right interpretation that was being advanced in Heller.

        Also, though Mr. Levy was a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, it was Mr. Levy that initiated and financed Heller, not the Cato Institute.

        • If SAF didn’t support Heller “from the beginning… as a funder or a party,” then how did they support the case? In Alan Gottleib’s dreams?

          NRA-ILA may have attempted to dissuade Gura and Levy from taking Heller all the way to the Supreme Court, but SAF didn’t do anything other than file an amicus brief — which is no more or less than what nearly 50 other organizations did.

          This notion that SAF is taking the “smart” approach to Second Amendment litigation (and the NRA is taking the “dumb” approach) is belied by the facts. To date, SAF has lost almost all of their cases. The Supreme Court may eventually overturn some of these losses, but until they do, SAF’s track record is very mixed.

  4. Thanks for this! I had never heard of SAF.

    And I am now a member.

    If you read this, and aren’t a member, come and join me! It’s $15 – about the same as a box of 22LR these days.

    Let’s see how many new members we can bring them today!

    • I am always surprised by the number of fellow gun owners that have not heard of the SAF.

      Hell, at this point, even the crowd at HuffPo have pinged the SAF in their articles…

      Glad you joined! Spread the word!!

    • I looked into the SAF after learning they were instrumental in 7th Circuit overturning of IL’s ban on conceal carry. I immediately became a life member. $150, and well spent at that.

  5. I have been an NRA member for years, but just joined the SAF in late 2012. I really like their style, and while we need the NRA’s bruiser mentality now I hope the SAF, or the SAF’s style takes the lead after this current madness passes in winning hearts and minds that may be turned off by WLP’s more bellicose demeanor.

    The irony is the pro-gun position is the one backed up by logic and reason, and should appeal to open minded people, but it is easy to turn people off by screaming and yelling and putting polarizing figures (Sarah Palin) to the fore.

  6. Hurray for the SAF! Glad to have Mr. Gottlieb and the SAF in our backyard here in WA state. I was very reluctant about giving money to the NRA (I eventually did… sigh), but the SAF gets 2 thumbs up and a check. They may not be as flashy or big as the NRA, but the SAF has a viable strategy and has been effective in addressing gun rights in the legal arena. I encourage everyone to donate!

  7. Alan is the man, bow-tie and all. I’m a SAF supporting member. I just wished they’d take me off their snail-mail mailing list as they have promised me they would three times now over the past four months.

  8. I have had this lingering question whether the SAF has been a bit too aggressive at litigating, given that they do lose some cases, even fairly high-profiles ones, like the concealed carry cases in Maryland and Colorado recently. I know one typically seeks contradictory rulings from around the country to have a better chance to reach the Supreme Court, and that losing in one district court and winning in another can be part of the strategy. Still, if anyone here who understands the legal process has an opinion (s)he is willing to share: is the SAF litigation strategy sound these days, generally speaking, or have they lost some of the due caution after winning Heller and McDonald? (That’s not to doubt the need to support the SAF.)

    • Hard to tell, in part because court cases take so long to work their way through that the environment when you start can be wildly different from when you get to SCOTUS.

    • I think you will have to do some reading and talking off-line.

      At Calguns, for example, where theres a great deal of good work being done patiently county by county to establish shall issue CCW, and work on other issues,

      theres an understanding in the forums that too much discussion of tactics might tip the opposition-

      so you have to do the homework to understand the details of the litigation, and understand whats being said, and not.

      But, I think its fair to say that theres a careful step by step strategy designed to pick cases that have sympathetic petitioners and strong enough issues to set a precedent, that in turn can be used to win the next one. This requires some patience, but it builds upon the foundation of case law, to make the argument that is powerful enough that the Supremes get involved, in necessary, to correct the mistakes of the lower courts. Ibelieve SAF is responsible for bringing in Alan Gura, the attorney, who has been credited with doing some of the best work, including on McDonald, but I’d defer to Ralph and the others with more detailed history on that.

  9. Even though money’s tight these days – some things are worth the effort.

    I just joined SAF for 5 years for $50.00. I’m confident the money will be well spent.

  10. The SAF is a great organization, but it was The Cato Institute and not the SAF that organized and financed the Heller case. Robert A. Levy, an attorney and former businessman whose name we should all know, began the case in 2002, recruiting plaintiffs and bringing suit against the District.

    Somewhere along the line, the work of the Cato Institute and Attorney Levy has been forgotten, presumably because the SAF is far superior at self-promotion. So while SAF fans (and I’m one of them) are blowing Gottleib’s horn, they are mistaken as to the genesis of the Heller case.

  11. Within a day or two of the 2012 Presidential election, I donated to SAF for a 5 year membership. While I am not in a position to financially support SAF more, I at least wanted to help boost their membership number.

    I suggest anyone who can at least help boost their membership, do so.

  12. As an Endowment member of the NRA, I’ve found I prefer Mr. Gottlieb. Wayne LaPierre of the NRA — the highest-paid N-f-P CEO in the world, at nearly a million a year — doesn’t care about gun rights, he cares about power and money. He has doubled-crossed firearms and sporting goods companies and undercut members of Congress in order to further his personal agenda of staying in the limelight and keeping the dollars rolling in.

    If you want to support gun rights, SAF is the far better choice.


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