-Caveat Lector-

"To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people
always possess arms and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use
- Richard Henry Lee; Founding Father

'Speaking Up for Guns, Lots of Them, for Nearly Anyone'
New York Times April 26, 1999 Frank Bruni

SPRINGFIELD, Va. -- Larry Pratt said that his first thoughts after hearing
about the bloodshed in a Colorado school were, "This is bad, and there's
going to be a feeding frenzy on the gun issue, and I'll probably have to
wear a coat and tie to work for the next few days." The television cameras
would surely be coming. He should look nice.

Pratt, the executive director of the Gun Owners of America, an advocacy
group situated in this suburb of Washington, stands tall even when some
officials with the National Rifle Association are lying low. He expects as
much from NRA officials; they are, he believes, sometimes faint of heart
and impure of ideology. Pratt is not.

He believes there should be absolutely no regulations governing the sale or
purchase of handguns -- no waiting period, no background checks, no trigger
locks. Automatic weapons should be as available as hunting rifles. People
should be permitted to buy them in abundance.

In this more perfect world, Pratt said, many of the deaths in Colorado
might have been prevented.

"We're saddened that there were not teachers and principals who had access
to a gun, who might have been able to stop the mayhem," Pratt said late
last week in his office, from which he directs the lobbying and other
activities of an organization that he said has about 150,000 members.

Pratt's group is a mere shadow of the NRA, and it holds sway over only a
small number of extremely conservative lawmakers.

But if you are looking for the most unyielding proponents of the right to
bear arms, the kind whose ardor and outspokenness are undimmed even by the
deaths of 14 teen-agers and a teacher in one ghastly spree, this is where
you will find them, along with Pratt, a 56-year-old with a sallow
complexion, gray-fringed hair and a gentle voice. He is the kind of man you
would ask to watch your luggage while you dashed to the rest room.

As Bob Walker, president of Handgun Control, an advocacy group on the other
side, said: "His personality is disarming. But his views are not."

For Pratt, it is really quite simple: When the founding fathers fashioned
the Second Amendment, they rightly saw an armed citizenry as a final
safeguard against any possibility of tyranny. And because tyranny does not
augur or announce its arrival, it is best to be ready, just in case.

"One is advised to buy fire insurance when one's house is not burning down,
and you hope it never does burn down, but you're certainly not going to be
able to buy it during or after the fire," Pratt said.

"And it's the same thing with firearms," he continued, "whether it's a
government that goes bad like Milosevic against the Croats and his own
people as well as the Kosovars, or Hitler, or Stalin, or whatever, or just
the criminal element."

Pratt was not always so wary. He described his childhood outside of Camden,
N.J., as uneventful. His father, an electrical engineer, worked in
television sales for an electronics company. His mother stayed home to rear
him and one sister.

He first touched a gun as a teen-ager, on a duck-hunting trip with a
friend, and then not again until 1968, when he felt compelled to buy one.
He was then living just outside Washington, and there were riots under way,
and he suddenly felt a sense of helplessness in the chaos. He had a wife
and the first of what would be four children. He wanted to know that he
could protect them.

A graduate of American University with a degree in political science, he
worked in the late 1960s and early 1970s for various conservative policy
groups before taking the helm of Gun Owners in 1976, one year after its
inception. Initially a job, it turned into a crusade as he witnessed a
growing number of restrictions over guns.

He also came to associate with extremists in the militia movement, white
supremacy groups and the violent fringes of anti-abortion militancy. When
these ties were revealed in 1996, he was forced to step aside temporarily
from his role as co-chairman of Pat Buchanan's campaign for the Republican
presidential nomination.

Pratt said he had merely given speeches to -- or appeared at events of --
the organizations in question and did not share their racist or
anti-Semitic views. He simply wanted to talk to them about guns, he said.

He said he has never been the victim of a violent crime, nor has any member
of his family, though one of his daughters, then a teen-ager, was home
alone at the family's house in Springfield about eight years ago when she
saw a man who seemed to be casing the house.

Pratt was out of town, but she called him to ask where the gun was. As he
told her he felt relief. He said she did not have to use the weapon; the
man never approached the house.

Pratt tries to have a sense of humor about his work, but it can come across
as brazenness. One of two baseball caps in his office has a picture of a
handgun and the words, "I Don't Dial 911." The other cap has two mock
bullet holes in it and says, "My Gun Cleaning Hat."

He acknowledged that he indeed had a gun with him in his office, at this
moment. Was it actually on him?

He paused a short beat before answering. "It's close enough."

"The very atmosphere of firearms anywhere and everywhere restrains evil
interference -- they deserve a place of honor with all that is good."
-George Washington

"Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the
American people's liberty teeth and keystone under independence...From the
hour the Pilgrims landed, to the present day, events, occurrences, and
tendencies prove that to insure peace, security, and happiness, the rifle
and pistol are equally indispensable."
-George Washington

Just exactly what part of "SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED" don't you understand???
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