After four decades, SAF is powerhouse for 2A litigation, education

By Dave Workman
Senior Editor,

The Second Amendment Foundation celebrates a milestone this year with its 40th anniversary, and with four decades under its belt, one might suggest that the organization – founded by Alan Gottlieb in 1974 – is at the top of its game.

Gottlieb is justifiably proud of what SAF has accomplished over the years, and that applies most definitely to the 2010 Supreme Court landmark ruling in McDonald v. City of Chicago. It was a victory that literally put SAF on the map for a lot of people in the mainstream press who had never before heard of the organization.

SAF has come to be known as “the legal arm of the gun rights lobby,” and over the past decade, with various legal actions that have included some significant victories, that image seems pretty well cemented. About five years ago, Gottlieb adopted a slogan for the organization: “Winning Firearms Freedom, One Lawsuit at a Time.”

SAF’s victories have included a legal action against the City of New Orleans and then-Mayor Ray Nagin (who has since been convicted on corruption charges). In a joint action with the NRA following Hurricane Katrina, the two organizations went to federal court and stopped the illegal confiscation of firearms without warrant, probable cause or due process from hundreds of hurricane survivors.

Nagin and other officials were held in contempt of court for violating the consent order secured by the lawsuit. It is the memory of that legal action that compelled Gottlieb – acting in his other capacity as chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms (CCRKBA) – to introduce an initiative in Washington State earlier this year that includes a prohibition on government gun seizures without due process.

That measure, Initiative 591, was filed as an alternative to an 18-page gun control package sponsored by the anti-gun Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility. Initiative 594 is being packaged as a “universal background check” measure, but opponents say it is much more than that. Gottlieb’s initiative would require that background checks done in Washington comply with a uniform national standard. SAF is not involved in that initiative battle.

In addition to the New Orleans victory, SAF and NRA have teamed up to defeat a gun ban in San Francisco, and an attempted gun ban in Seattle. The latter case was brought when former Seattle Mayors Greg Nickels and Mike McGinn pushed and then defended an attempt to ban guns in city park facilities as an administrative regulation, rather than by ordinance. It was a move to overturn the state’s model preemption law, but instead resulted in making the law stronger.

Then there was SAF’s case of Moore v. Madigan, which forced the Illinois Legislature to pass a concealed carry law in that state. Also, Bateman v. Purdue, a North Carolina case, which struck down that state’s emergency powers law, that allowed the suspension of Second Amendment rights in times of emergencies, like snow storms and hurricanes.

What SAF is involved with, in addition to legal actions, is educational activities.

Small crew

SAF accomplishes a lot with a little. In terms of staff, it is very small in comparison to other organizations. Yet in addition to the legal work, which involves a handful of skilled attorneys including Alan Gura, winner of the McDonald and Heller Second Amendment cases, SAF partners with the CCRKBA annually to put on the Gun Rights Policy Conference.

This gathering brings together many of the leaders in the gun rights community and hundreds of grassroots activists for panel discussions on a variety of Second Amendment issues. Topics range from crime to politics, dealing with the press and promoting activism back home.

Rather than a large monolithic office building, SAF is headquartered in a small two-building complex in Bellevue, Wash., a few miles east of that growing city’s downtown core. The complex is called “Liberty Park” and the building is named after James Madison, author of the Second Amendment. Also located here is the CCRKBA headquarters.

SAF offers books and other educational materials, and it has operated for many years an attorney referral service for citizens with legal troubles related to firearms. What it will not do is endorse political candidates or get involved in political campaigns.

Sometimes SAF loses a case, and one that was surprising was a lawsuit against Washington state’s North Central Regional Library District, which had been filtering internet content on its computers to block various publications that included SAF’s Women & Guns magazine. In that case, SAF was an unusual ally with the American Civil Liberties Union because this was a First Amendment issue more than a Second. The library declined to unblock access, and a federal district court ruled that this was not unconstitutional.

SAF wins, however, on several fronts, with each victory advancing, regardless how gradually, the Second Amendment. Gottlieb has compared this to fighting strategic battles in a war, willing to accept some losses here and there in order to go for the big wins.

In addition to Women & Guns and The Gun Mag – which replaced Gun Week about three years ago – SAF also publishes the popular Gottlieb-Tartaro Report, the SAF Reporter, and the annual Journal of Firearms and Public Policy.