October 2000
Shooting big guns in the desert
with W.E.B. Griffin, mystery writers,
some lawyers, & a good ol' boy

- by Alice Marie Beard

The e-mail surprised me. It was from a law professor: "I'd like to invite you to Las Vegas for a three-day conference for writers. We'll pay all expenses, and we aren't asking for anything in return." I almost ignored it because it seemed too good to be true, but the law professor was legit, and the offer was real.

The professor is president of a group called "Academics for the Second Amendment," a group of law professors and other eggheads who believe that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution really means that individual people have the right to keep and bear arms. A few months ago, I had lucked into a breakfast interview with the retired cop who was behind the U.S. Supreme Court case Printz v. U.S. The law professor liked the way I'd written about the sheriff with the guts to stand up to the federal government.

William E. Butterworth III, "W.E.B. Griffin," with cigar in left handThe folks running the conference paid all costs for the trip, and they gave me arm loads of free books. My only obligation was to listen to lectures for two days, and to go shooting with them one morning. Others there to learn included W.E.B. Griffin; his son William E. Butterworth IV, managing editor of the Boy Scout magazine Boys' Life; science-fiction writer Jerry Pournelle; a woman who writes comic mysteries about a caterer; another mystery writer whose main character is a newspaper reporter, and the co-author of the Doom novels. There was a woman who writes for soap operas; there was a man who'd written for Twilight Zone. There were about 20 writers at the "Fiction Writers Seminar on Second Amendment," all there to get correct details about guns to make their stories believable. I didn't fit the mold, but no one noticed.

The lecturers included law professors, a criminologist, magazine editors, a cop who got rich making holsters, and John Mullins, the real-life Silver Star winner who is the main character in the video game Soldier of Fortune.

We were a mixed lot gathered for the conference: a man educated as a nuclear engineer, wearing a bow tie and looking like a nerd; a woman knitting a sweater and wearing Chanel shoes; an author who writes about guns and assassins but who had never held a gun; a football player who had become a lawyer and who teaches cops how to shoot; a man with a Ph.D. in political science who writes science fiction; a liberal atheist lawyer who is a member of both the National Rifle Association and Handgun, Inc., and a good ol' boy named "Clovis" who delights in talking "down home," being called a "rough neck," and giving off a clandestine aura. He's a deputy sheriff, private detective, and firearms instructor. It was a group with people who would argue about the correct pronunciation of the word "pogrom," and they did. As one of the law professors said privately after his time teaching us: "Teaching law students is easier. They don't fight back."

Of all, the most quiet, the one who listened the most, was the one who has written the most: William E. Butterworth III, the one-time war correspondent who writes under the pen name "W.E B. Griffin." He was there for every minute of every lecture. He listened to every speaker. He smoked on his cigar. He spoke only rarely, and the most words he spoke were when he was praising his son, as in, "Billy saved the shooting merit badge for the Boy Scouts." "Billy" is 41, an Eagle Scout who sees the purpose of Scouting as something other than law suits and legal battles.

The lectures began with a history of guns. In simplest terms, a gun is a launching pad for a projectile, and it was in about the 13th century when gun powder began to be used as a force to hurl projectiles.

I was familiar with two reasons for the 2nd Amendment: (1) The right of self defense. (2) The right of the people to safe guard against tyranny. I'd always considered the second more important than the first. One of the lecturers stressed that the right of self defense is the MOST basic of all rights, and that corollary to that right is the means to secure that right. In other words, if the most basic of ALL rights is the right of self defense, people must have the right to do what it takes, to have what they need, in order to exercise that right of self defense. As one of the law professors said, "The purpose is self defense, and one aspect of self defense is to repeal tyranny."

I wanted to hear their explanation of what some call the "waffle clause" of the 2nd Amendment, the prefatory clause that says, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State," before it goes on to say, "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Forty-four states now have a right to keep and bear arms in their state constitutions. Many of them state it plain and simple: "The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." Or, as Wisconsin's constitution says, "The people have the right to keep and bear arms for security, defense, hunting, recreation or any other lawful purpose." Plain and simple.

Their explanation was simple: (1) The prefatory language copied language that was already in some existing state constitutions; that's just the way people wrote in those days. [Click for Volokh's article.] (2) There were many ideas to be handled and dealt with concisely. The writer took two ideas and put them together, kind of like packing things a little tighter in the closet. (3) It finally clicked that the whole thing was a little like saying to my daughter, "Good grades in high school, being important if you don't want to spend your life serving hamburgers at McDonald's, you shall be in this house by 6 p.m." In the end, it doesn't make much difference what nice explanation is in the "up front" clause, the bottom line is that she is to be in the house by 6 p.m. The first part is Mom's spouting; the second part is Mom's rule.

One of the profs said that David Hardy has the best law review article to answer the question. I thought, "Ya, like for shure. I'll add reading that to my list of things to do, right after cleaning the mold from my shower. Does it have headnotes?"

The woman who'd been knitting slipped out to have her nails done. When she returned, she talked about "pro choice," as in women having the right to choose to defend themselves. She was about a size 2, wore dainty shoes and nice jewelry. The smallest man in the room could have taken her in a physical encounter, except that she talked about her Glock, and where she carried, and what her bullet preference was. It brought to mind the old ditty, "Boys seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses." Perhaps the variation would be, "Boys had best make SURE their passes are welcome if the lady in glasses is packing."

I recalled a young woman whose story I first learned 15 years ago. When she was a little girl, her mother remarried. Her step-father began molesting her. By the time she was about 12, he had advanced it to rape. With regularity, and with her mother's and grandmother's knowledge, this child was raped for about three years. She went to her school counselor; her mother convinced the counselor the girl was lying and crazy. And, her behavior was somewhat strange, as would be the behavior of any child being raped on a regular basis. Finally, she told her boyfriend, a boy whom she would not permit to do what her step-father was doing by force. Her boyfriend, a child about her age, got a gun, illegally, obviously. He showed her how to use the gun and gave it to her. At home, she showed her step-father what she had, and she said she would be sleeping with the gun. She said that if he tried to rape her again, she would use the gun on him. He ultimately forced her out of the house, but he didn't rape her again.

We heard from the soft spoken, one-time cop with a Ph.D. who had gotten rich making holsters. John Bianchi said his "law" for carrying a gun safely is, "One gun, and one carry method." For people who carry a gun, he argues that it should always be in the same, familiar spot, just like your belly button. His "law" is accepted by most firearms trainers. He added that gun lovers didn't follow his law, "and that fact made me very wealthy."

I'd tell you where and how he carries his gun, but he made us promise not to tell. He did, however, share two stories from his days as a cop:

He stopped one evening to do his business in a gas station bathroom. When he dropped his drawers, he hung his gun on a coat hook on the back of the door. When he pulled up his pants, he forgot his gun. At home five hours later, no gun, and he didn't know which gas station along a 20-mile stretch was the one where he'd left his gun. An hour later, with lots of cops going into lots of gas stations, the gun was found.

Another time his gun fell off his person as he was checking a stopped vehicle for suspected drugs. He and his partner had stopped a car that fit a profile. The car seat was cut up with the stuffing coming out, and it had to be checked closely. Nothing was found, and the driver was told he could drive on. Back in the squad car, Bianchi felt for his gun. No gun, and the lights on the car he'd stopped were receeding in the distance. He and his partner made a quick, repeat stop of the car, and he began looking thru the car seat stuffing again, with the driver saying, "I got nothing!" Bianchi found his gun, pulled it out, and the driver shouted, "That's not mine!" Officer Bianchi said, "Then do you mind if I keep it?"

The real life "Soldier of Fortune," John Mullins, does firearms training these days. He said that 86% of police officers' bullets miss their targets. Clovis, a deputy sheriff, said that on his force 20 rounds fired per year qualified a cop to carry. Other departments may require more, but few require as much as Mullins argues is needed: "It takes 3,000 times of performing a motion to make it automatic."

There wasn't time to do anything 3,000 times at the conference, but Clovis stressed these four rules above all else:
(1) ALL guns are ALWAYS loaded.
(2) Never allow the muzzle to cover anything you're not willing to DESTROY. [The muzzle is the end where the bullet comes out.]
(3) Keep your finger off the trigger till your sights are on target.
(4) Always be sure of your target and BEYOND.

The rules seemed like the adult version of rules for kids from "Eddie Eagle," kind of the "Smokey Bear" of firearm safety:
(1) If you see a gun, STOP! Don't touch.
(2) Leave the area.
(3) Tell an adult.

For the classroom training in Las Vegas, we shot paint bullets at a target. We were warned that paint bullets could hurt also, and that Clovis' four rules were in effect. I remembered a sociology class in high school over 30 years ago. I'd been the most vocal supporter in a 2nd Amendment argument. A boy who knew nothing about guns got the teacher's permission to shoot me with a pistol loaded with blanks. The teacher thought the idea was "cute," and it would help the other student "make his point." At close range, the boy pulled a pistol and fired at my face. Thank God he was a poor shot. "Blanks" can kill. The rule is always that all guns are always loaded with bullets that can kill, and no gun is ever to be pointed at anything you're not willing to destroy.

The next day on the Nevada desert, I stood before a semi-automatic rifle typical of what a U.S. soldier would carry and was told to put the cartridges into the magazine. The cartridges went in hard, but I got them all in. I waited for my trainer, John Mullins himself, the Silver Star winning "Soldier of Fortune." He said, "Put the magazine in." I tried and said, "It won't go." He said, "Let me see. Oh. You put the bullets in backward." I don't think the U.S. Marines will be recruiting me.

We fired no "ladies' guns." All of the guns we fired were large, heavy, and high power. The biggest was fired from a tri-pod. The casing left after the bullet fired was four inches long. When the gun was fired, the kA-boom could be felt two feet behind the gun. Because of the weight and the length of most of the guns, shooting was strenuous activity. Holding a firearm steady enough to hit a target is not easy. When I would have the sight on the target, I would breathe and have to begin the "hold it steady" part all over again. The weight and the "kick" of the guns made me wonder about the people who argue against "small guns." A "small gun" is the only kind of gun I can handle with ease. Are those who argue against "small guns" really arguing against women having guns, or against women having guns that they can use? Umm, there may be a law review article in that question.

Our hosts got us safely back to the hotel in Las Vegas. I got out of Las Vegas without dropping even a nickel into a slot machine. And I'll remember that good things sometimes come by e-mail.

Best wishes!
Alice Marie Beard,
Bethesda, Maryland

Not all persons at the seminar accepted reimbursement of expenses. Some writers refused to have their costs paid because of ethical reasons. There was absolutely NO request for a promise that anything be written. There was absolutely NO request that, if something was written, it be written in any particular way.

Alice with a 1911 Browning clone; photo by WEB IV

An argument:
The devaluing of human life



Search this site


email Alice