By Chris Bird

About 400 people – most carrying handguns in the open or concealed – attended a banquet in Phoenix to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Arizona concealed weapons law.

The “Human Right of Self Defense Award” was presented at the banquet to three men who were involved in defensive gun use incidents. Two women who were also selected to receive the awards were unable to attend. The award – an eagle with wings spread – was also presented to Patti Noland, the Arizona legislator who was responsible for pushing through the law.

The banquet was held Saturday, October 2, at the Shrine Auditorium in Phoenix. The banquet was organized by a committee pro-gun supporters including publisher Alan Korwin. Charles Heller of Liberty Watch Radio was master of ceremonies.

The circumstances of each defensive gun use were read out before the recipients or their stand-ins were presented with the awards.

Maryann Watkins, a school teacher, was driving from Phoenix to Yuma and stopped at a rest stop. She did not know why but when she got out of her vehicle, she took her Ruger SP 101 revolver with her. She held the gun in her right hand, hidden in the folds of her skirt.

She was confronted by a truck driver the size of an NFL lineman who was holding a rope and said: “I’m gonna have some reeeal fun now.”

Watkins brought up the gun with a two-handed grip and pointed the gun at his chest.

“If you want to play, we’ll play with this,” she said.

The man raised his hands and backed off muttering: “Bitches with guns. Bitches with guns.”

Another award recipient was Bob Lawrence, a 61-year-old Air Force veteran, who was the subject of a cautionary tale. Lawrence was driving in Tempe, a suburb of Phoenix when he irritated two men and a woman in a vehicle behind him because he was driving at the speed limit.

They harassed him and threw a can of soda at him then at a stoplight appeared about to attack him. Lawrence drew his .380-caliber Colt pistol and held it up so they could see it.

He called police on his cell phone but when he got home the police officers treated him as the suspect. It appeared the people in the other vehicle had also called police and told them a man with a gun was threatening them.

Lawrence was charged with aggravated assault and put through hell for months before his lawyer found a third 911 tape. A citizen had seen the incident and called in to report an elderly man being hassled and attacked by two men and a woman.

Lawrence was finally vindicated. Nothing happened to his assailants.

Other recipients of the Human Right of Self Defense Award were Zelda Hunt, a woman in her 70s, who pulled a gun on a burglar, and two men – James Delcoure and Chuck Robles – who were involved in a shootout at a pawn shop.

The keynote speaker was Alaska legislator Eric Croft, a Democrat, who is the author of the bill – now law – that gives Alaskans and anyone visiting that state the right to carry a handgun whether concealed or in plain view.

Croft said the 10th anniversary of concealed carry in Arizona was a milestone in the progress of right to carry and was worthy of celebration.

“But I was brought down all the way from Alaska really to ask you nice people one simple question: why is it that we should have to get a government permit to exercise a constitutional right?”

When he was promoting his bill to allow concealed carry without a permit, Croft was told repeatedly that permits and licenses were required for driving a motor vehicle and for building a house.

“I would have to say, very slowly so they understood, because this is a constitutional right,” Croft said.

NRA First Vice President Sandra Froman praised the Arizona Department of Public Safety for its support of the concealed carry program.

“I travel around the country and I hear about what happens in other states that have administrative programs for their concealed carry permits and we are very, very lucky here in Arizona to have such a great program with the Department of Public Safety.

Earlier in the program, Lieut. Larry Burns was presented with a plaque of appreciation from the Texas Concealed Handgun Association.

Froman said she was 32 years old before she learned to shoot. She said she was almost the victim of a home invasion at that time. By the time police arrived, the would-be home invader had left.

“But I will never ever forget the fear and the hopelessness I felt at that time when I felt there was nobody there to protect me,” Froman said. “I realized – and this was an incredibly empowering thought – that the only person who was going to protect me in the long run was me.”

The next day she went to a gun store and bought a gun.

Ted Deeds, chief operations officer of the Law Enforcement Alliance of America, said his organization is probably best known for its 12-year-fight to get a national right-to-carry law for off duty and retired police officers. The law was passed by Congress earlier this year and signed into law by President George W. Bush. Off duty and retired law enforcement officers are regarded as civilians, Deeds added.

“We always looked at the bill when it was passed as authorizing approximately 1.5 to 2 million civilians to carry firearms across our state lines,” he said.

Gun rights activist Alan Gottlieb who founded the Second Amendment Foundation told the crowd that Arizona citizens have shown beyond doubt that law-abiding civilians carrying guns are not and never have been a threat to public safety.

The people who want to disarm ordinary Americans don’t wear red coats and carry Brown Bess muskets, they wear business suits and carry briefcases, he said.

“Their message of hysteria has remained consistent though,” Gottlieb said. “In 1775, there were some fools in Massachusetts who decided that Americans could not be trusted with their guns.”

In a veiled reference to Democratic presidential contender John Kerry’s anti-gun record, he added: “In 2004, well the more things change, the more they stay the same.”