[We have amended our charter to change our name from "Potomac Institute" to "Potowmack Institute" to avoid confusion with numerous other entities that call themselves "Potomac" and "Institute" and "Potomac, Inc." in various forms. The e-mail address and URLs have changed to "potowmack.org".]
It's not about guns...
It's about citizenship

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Addressing Ron Steward, President and CEO, Colt Manufacturing

The gun manufacturers are under pressure from gun control organizations' manufacturers' liability suits. The gun control groups have apparently given up on legislation and are now in court pursuing the gun manufacturers. The Potowmack Institute doubts the validity of this strategy. In an important development, at least on gun manufacturer has come out with a counterproposal in an editorial in the American Firearms Industry magazine, December, 1997, the trade publication of the gun manufacturing industry. The editorial received little attention. The Washington Post mentioned Ron Stewart in the context of gun safety in an editorial July 1, 1998, but has not mentioned his editoral. Stewart's editorial proposes a national system of permitting which would include training and testing. The proposal would put gun liability largely on gun owners where it belongs. This proposal is as frightening to the Washington Post as to the NRA.

We would like to help Stewart, but he did not respond to this letter. We can't have confidence that the gun manufacturers know what they are doing either.

[The Firearms Policy Journal named in the letter is the previous name of the Potowmack Institute.]

                  June 16, 1998
Ron Stewart
CEO and President
Colt Manufacturing Co., Inc.
PO Box 1868
Hartford, CT 06146-1846

Dear Mr. Stewart:

All I have seen of the proposals in your guest editorial in the American Firearms Industry magazine are the excerpts produced in the Gun Owners of America newsletter. What I have seen are matters of great interest. Please allow me to bring to your attention that the conceptual foundations for your proposals have already been well-developed in the Firearms Policy Journal which I have published on the Internet for the past three years. It had 45,000 readers in 1997 and has had more than 30,000 readers so far in 1998.

Potowmack Institute
asamicus curiae in
US v Emerson (1999)

The National Rifle Association
What does the NRA want?

The National Rifle Association
Charlton Heston Speaks

The Founders and the AK47
Sue Wimmershoff-Caplan:
The NRA's "armed citizen guerrillas" "outflank", Wash. Post 7/6/89
The Washington Post
Cultivating Ignorance

Guns, Rights, the Libertarian Fantasy, and the Rule of Law
Not Seen in The Responsive Community
Getting Commitment from Congress
The blood on their doorstep
The Libertarian Fantasy on the Supreme Court
Thomas and Scalia
Joyce Lee Malcolm
Ayn Rand, Blackstone
Joseph Story's
"Palladium of the Liberties"
The Second Amendment in Court

John Kenneth Rowland
Lawrence Cress
Jerry Cooper
Gary Hart
LaPierre's List and the Law Reviews
Revolutionary Militia

Militia Act, 1792
Mass. Militia Act, 1793

Whittaker Chambers
Reviews Ayn Rand

National Review, 1957

I have to wonder, however, that when you make proposals for permits and a national registration scheme, how much you appreciate that you are stepping into very inflamed territory. The context of the Firearms Policy Journal is that gun ownership has been polarized around false definitions. We see the polarization as progun/antigun and as an individual right versus a collective right. These definitions are false because what is at stake is something very different. What is really at stake is gun ownership within the rule of law or gun ownership outside of the rule of law. Within the rule of law means accountability to public authority. Outside the rule of law means no accountability to public authority. The National Rifle Association's individual right is the right to be armed outside of accountability to public authority. The right to be armed outside of accountability to public authority is the right to individual sovereignty. Individual sovereigns are laws unto themselves. By definition they do not consent to be governed and do not give "just powers" to government. They create no sovereign public authority. Without sovereign public authority there is no rule of law and no civic culture of public trust which is essential to the economic existence of any business. The whole crisis in gun violence turns on accountability to public authority. It is the one point the doctrine of political liberty that the gun lobby has built around its purported individual right cannot accommodate. If you don't think so, just ask them. The doctrine amounts to a childish political fantasy. The fantasy is the inflamed territory. It took me a long time to figure out what is at work, but when I figured it out everything else in the matter of gun ownership made sense.

The NRA cannot win its childish fantasy in court. It has to have it by defeating legislation. To defeat legislation it has to employ fraud and demagoguery. Much of the Firearms Policy Journal is devoted to examining the historical and constitutional frauds the NRA successfully puts over on gun owners. From the mail we receive at the Firearms Policy Journal and I can guess you have received in reaction to your proposals, it is clear that the NRA does not have to work hard to put over its frauds. If gun manufacturers do not understand what is really at work, you become accomplices in the strategy too. The enclosed letter to the NRA's Wayne LaPierre outlines the gun lobby's doctrine and challenges him and the NRA to defend it. The letter has not been sent out yet. Yours is an advance copy provided in confidence. I will not expect a response from the NRA. The NRA has another agenda. It does not debate its agenda in public.

On the other side of the false polarization are the gun control organizations and the public health lobby. Rather than address the real issue of why the gun lobby has to be armed outside of the law these advocates pursue their own misdirected strategies. Handgun Control is in court trying to establish a legal doctrine of "abnormally dangerous activity" which can be applied to gun manufacturers and gun dealers in liability cases. The ultimate goal, which you surely appreciate, is to put gun manufacturers out of business. The false consciousness behind this strategy has been taken up by politicians. Every time I ask a gun control politician, what does the NRA really want?, the answer is, the NRA represents the gun manufacturers. You will not find this false demonization of gun manufacturers as merchants of death in the Firearms Policy Journal. The Firearms Policy Journal gets it right. What the NRA wants is its childish political fantasy. The public health lobby for its contribution has decided it will address gun violence with strategies similar to those employed to improve automobile safety and to make the tobacco industry accountable to the public health. Although many of the objectives are worthy, guns are not automobiles or tobacco. The direction toward an anarchic, uncertain and perverse legal environment for gun manufacturers and gun owners is already indicated in legislative and judicial actions in progress. The enclosed column by E.J. Dionne indicates the momentum these efforts will capture if no one provides leadership based on conceptual foundations that make sense.

This false polarization is given the status of a "gun control debate," so-called. The false progun/antigun characterization has so completely deadened public consciousness that when the real issues are presented to the news media, they are reflexively dismissed as one person's "particular truth." See .../potowmack/news.html.

You run a manufacturing business. A business enterprise cannot function in a state of anarchy or legal uncertainty. The NRA's right to be armed outside of the law tends toward the basic condition for anarchy or a domestic state of war. The so-called "antigun" forces do not have anything much better to offer. You become demonized as merchants of death when you profit off of a domestic state of war just as arms merchants have historically been characterized as merchants of death when they have profiteered off of a state a war among nations. Gun manufacturers, like any business, have to have a clearly defined legal environment to function in. A legal environment happens under the rule of law and in a civic culture of public trust. To find that legal environment you have to examine your relationship to the gun lobby's doctrine of political liberty. It is not a matter of a compromise between or an accommodation to two false progun/antigun definitions but a matter of defining a legal environment for gun manufacturers consistent with a viable legal political order.

The Firearms Policy Journal has been devoted to developing the conceptual foundations for a viable legal political order. There is not complete agreement between your proposals and the proposal for a national firearms policy presented in the Firearms Policy Journal but there is agreement on the one point of accountability of ownership. That point has to be taken up. I write to you in the hope of being able to pursue this matter further. Many gun control measures proposed or already enacted are poorly conceived. It is not the business of the Federal Government to microregulate gun ownership. The business of the Federal Government is to maintain a viable legal political order. The Firearms Policy Journal's simple proposal to that end is for a national policy based on accountability of ownership through registration and the reporting of private sales. It is a policy that directly challenges the gun lobby's doctrine of political liberty but, at the same time, creates the foundations to establish a legal environment for gun ownership and gun manufacturers. It is not a new or radical proposal. It follows from the Militia Act of 1792. See .../potowmack/597mil.html. (Every time I tell people that the original militia act required gun owners to be registered they laugh out loud.) It is a policy that leaves the details of licensing and permitting, separate from registration, up to local jurisdictions. (The Federal Government would still have an important role regarding military weapons and interstate dealers.) The purpose of this policy, as I have developed it, would be to shut down the illegal traffic in firearms so that local jurisdictions would be empowered to enforce their own rules for ownership which could vary widely depending on local conditions. To be effective the policy would have to be accompanied by an amnestied buyback of guns that do not meet legal ownership requirements. This policy would be in the rational self-interests of gun owners regardless of what they have eagerly believed coming from the NRA. Of greater interest to reputable gun manufacturers should be that this policy, in addition to providing the foundations for a legal environment, would serve their economic interests because a buyback would create new markets for quality firearms. Furthermore, getting the NRA's doctrine of political liberty out of the way would create the possibility of establishing consumer product standards that would drive out of business manufacturers of cheap, low- quality guns and close out low-quality imports. By taking up a policy along these lines reputable gun manufacturers would serve their own interests, clarify the issues and establish their credibility against the demonization that has been directed at them because of their association with the gun lobby's doctrine. To have this legal environment gun manufacturers have to tell some people they cannot have their childish political fantasy. That is how you take the high ground and preempt the next strike from the "anti-gun lobby," so-called.

The Firearms Policy Journal will be discontinued in the near future and recreated as the Potowmack Institute, a nonprofit corporation. Tax exempt status is applied for and may be granted as early as July. (The enclosed letter to LaPierre is intended for wide distribution. Our legal advice has been not to send it out until tax exempt status is granted.) Many of the files in the Firearms Policy Journal will be transferred to a new website. Others will be rewritten into a new, more coherent statement. The Potowmack Institute will be a serious endeavor. One of the lessons learned from the Firearms Policy Journal is that law and government have no constituency. I make you the offer that gun manufacturers become the first constituents. We don't expect any support from politicians, the news media, Handgun Control, the Violence Policy Center, the public health lobby, academics, or the foundations. The analysis and research in the Firearms Policy Journal has been available to them for years. I do hear from a small number of state level gun control organizations which I think are beginning to be educated into a new consciousness. We will need support to continue this work. The concepts need to be further developed and there are many areas of inquiry that still need to be pursued. We have to be able to reach a larger audience and to hire and commission scholars and researchers.

. . .
. . .
You have raised the issue of accountability of ownership. It is very serious business not only for gun manufacturers and gun owners but also for the success and survival of this nation. We should not miss the opportunity to raise very important issues about the civic culture. Establishing a civic culture for gun ownership begins with rational, informed public debate. If you want to stay in business on reasonable terms, you do not have a choice but to take this issue up on its proper terms and get it right. I would greatly appreciate hearing your thoughts and reactions in response to my offers and proposals.

As this goes in the mail I see you mentioned in the 6/22 USNews. When will they ever learn? In the end, it is not about guns or gun safety. It is about citizenship.

                  Yours truly,
                  G. Eyclesheimer Ernst
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18 - December 1997


This Month's Guest Editorial by Ron Stewart, CEO and President of Colt's Manufacturing

Millions of American citizens own firearms. For the most part these citizens enjoy the use of their firearms in a safe and responsible way for hunting, skeet shooting, trap shooting, target shooting and other recreational sports. Over the last few years, however, the "gun control issue" has gained center stage due to the relentless, negative campaign launched by the gun control lobby. They want to put us all out of business, manufacturers, dealers and distributors, and eliminate our Second Amendment rights. Ironically, with the exception of the Brady bill and the assault weapons ban which passed last year, no gun control legislation passed in Congress this year and the much-touted Washington State referendum failed.

Given this recent reprieve one could almost believe the debate has ended and the gun control lobby has been silenced. Unfortunately, a November 20, 1997 article in the Wall Street Journal entitled "Big Guns in the Media Take Aim Against Firearms" reminds us that the gun control lobby is more determined than ever to put firearms manufacturers out of business, and they are devising new methods to achieve their goals. The reality is that we are about to be hit by a new wave of attacks on our industry and the key battleground is that of public opinion. Failure to address this issue aggressively could be devastating.

The question that begs to be answered is why is the gun industry being so singularly targeted when statistics and public opinion appear to be on our side? In my opinion, the answer is simple: the anti-gun lobby argument focuses on the fact that innocent people, including children, are occasionally the victims of firearms. The gun control lobby has become dangerously adept at using manipulative public relations campaigns and high powered public relations firms to portray the firearms industry as villainous and self-serving.

By contrast, the firearms industry has consistently and arduously taken the lead in advocating and implementing strong measures to improve weapons safety. Despite this fact, we have not been successful in presenting our case to the public. We have allowed ourselves to sit back and ignore the problem, thus becoming part of it. Silence is acceptance. Our responses to the anti-gun lobby are ill-postured, defensive and pathetically inadequate when we accept watered down versions of their agenda and nod our heads in agreement to their publicity stunts while, we as an industry, do abhor the unsafe use of handguns.

It would be a grievous mistake to allow the next wave of attacks by the gun control lobby to back us into a corner and for us to respond as we have in the past. The time has come to take the high ground and pre-empt their next strike. We need to focus on two fronts: advocate programs that promote safe firearm practices and take the lead in developing new technologies to improve firearm safety. Today's reality requires that consumers and industry work together to responsibly address the issue of gun safety.

Given the skillful manipulation of public perception by the anti-gun lobby, we need to rally our large base of support to make certain that our message and, most importantly, our actions, are getting through to the public. To accomplish it I offer the following five courses of action.

(1) The creation of a research and development program to further firearms technology toward more advanced methods that promote safety (such as personalized firearms). While technology such as this should not be mandated it should be an option for the consumer. If we can send a motorized computer to Mars, then certainly we can advance our technology to be more childproof.

(2) The passage of a comprehensive federal firearms law, including the creation of a federal gun permit, that would pre-empt the hodgepodge of existing state laws and local ordinances. I heard several manufacturers complain to the Attorney General in Massachusetts that we already have serial numbers on our firearms so why do we need a second set of serial numbers. If he and the others mandate hidden serial numbers then we would likely have to live with 50 different state regulations. Why not federalize this standard - isn't that a protective measure that prevents illegal ownership of a firearm?

(3) Emphasize responsibility and accountability where it belongs. We ought to give serious consideration to a gun permit requirement that would necessitate each permit holder to undergo thorough firearms training and pass a uniform examinations. The law also should require that dealers qualify as certified firearms instructors and actively participate in training the public concerning the safe the appropriate handling of guns. The distribution chain should embrace this as it should stimulate sales.

(4) We believe that legislative reform should ensue to prohibit the bringing of so called "defectless" product liability cases, such as the Hamilton case, against the firearms industry. We as defendants, need to take the offensive in gun cases, which remedies should include obtaining sanctions against certain plaintiffs for bringing frivolous lawsuits, and, when warranted, seeking redress against those persons failing to safeguard weapons used to cause wrongful injury or death. (5) The creation of a joint industry committee to study firearms technology and safety mechanisms.

I challenge the industry to respond; to work together and act upon this proposed course of action, NOW.

[PotowmackForum], interactive posting
[NRA v. Reno (July, 2000)]
[US v. Emerson PAGE]
[Printz and Mack PAGE]
[US v. Lopez PAGE]
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