An Open Letter to Alan Gottlieb

Dear Alan:

This responds to your open letter to me.

I agree with you that Second Amendment proponents should avoid personal attacks against one another. However, we also have a responsibility to vigorously fight proposals which would severely damage the right to keep and bear arms.

Tragically, when those anti-gun proposals bear the imprimatur of our Second Amendment friends, it confuses pro-gun grass roots advocates. These advocates want an explanation, and in fact, they deserve to have the confusion cleared.

In one respect, I was in error in my letter urging Washington state activists to oppose H.B. 1424. The bill does not provide for a felony. It explicitly provides that a person is guilty of the crime of reckless endangerment if he “stores or leaves a loaded firearm in a location where the person knows, or reasonably should know, that a child under the age of 16 is likely to gain access, and the child obtains possession of the loaded firearm.” Gun dealers are explicitly required to post signs to this effect.

The penalties for violating the requirements of H.B. 1424 are imprisonment for up to one year and/or a fine of up to $5,000.

Let’s assume that you or your wife keeps a loaded handgun in the night stand by your bed for self-defense. (Keeping an unloaded firearm in your night stand would not make a lot of sense.) Let’s further assume that your 15 year old child sneaks into your bedroom and removes the handgun, displaying it, but hurting no one.

Under these circumstances, you would be subject to up to one year in prison if a trier of fact, after the fact, determined that you “reasonably should” have known that the child was likely to gain access.

The act provides that you could not have been prosecuted under H.B. 1424 if the firearm was “secured in a locked box, gun safe, other secure locked storage space, or secured with a lock that prevents the firearm from discharging.” Unfortunately, when a burglar bursts into your bedroom, he will probably not wait for you to retrieve your gun from your gun safe.

Your assertions to the contrary that the act is not intended to mandate how or where a firearm must be stored, unhappily, cannot negate the bill’s explicit mandates or standards of criminal liability. If a court finds that you “reasonably should know” that a child could gain access– and the child did gain access– you can be sent to prison for up to one year.

Gun Owners of America has consistently been at the forefront of alerting gun owners to the danger of holding them criminally liable for “reasonably should know”-type negligent standards. We have consistently been ridiculed for our concern– frequently by our pro-gun friends. Tragically, the bevy of negligence suits now threatening to destroy American gun ownership has belatedly convinced all but the most obtuse of the danger of this negligence standard.

From time to time, pro-gunners have been asked to embrace virulently anti-gun court decisions in exchange for limiting further erosion. This is almost always a mistake. Gun owners are not guilty of “reckless endangerment” because they keep firearms to defend themselves. For us to ever accept the arguments of anti-gun zealots to the contrary would spell the death of the Second Amendment.

Alan, we disagree on how to fight the common enemy. It is evident from your editorial in Women and Guns that you believe that gun owners can gain tactical advantage by making preemptive concessions. We disagree. The history of the last 60 years in the defense of the right to keep and bear arms has been a record of concessions made to the gun grabbers– even though such compromises violated the Constitution.

This history of concession and compromise has been one of steady erosion of our liberty. Compromise, thus, fails on constitutional as well as pragmatic grounds.

Alan, I have no desire to wage a personal war of words against you. I recognize the causes and issues on which I have enjoyed your support, and I am grateful. But as much as I value your friendship, I must say that, when the two come in conflict, I value the Constitution more.

Larry Pratt

P.S. I am putting the entire documentation of our debate on our web page at:
Included are my original letter to Washington state activists, your letter to me, this letter, H.B. 1424, your article in Women and Guns and other related documents.