I learned about the Second Amendment in the second grade, growing up in a city in northern Illinois. I remember the classroom, the teacher, the message, and the feeling. The teacher explained how the United States is the only country that has a Constitution that guarantees and protects the right of the people to keep and bear arms, so that they maintain power over the government. This lesson came along with the other freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights. I'll never forget that feeling of amazement and awe, that humans could be so wise and thoughtful too look out for one another in such a way. Thank you, Mrs. Myers.
I had BB and pellet guns as a kid. I enjoyed being outdoors and my grandparents house with lots of woods around and being able to target shoot. It was a challenge to improve marksmanship, and was enjoyable. I wanted to hunt. My parents never owned guns, handled them, showed me how, or spoke about them. They had no knowledge or experience with firearms, nor thought or spoke much about the right to keep and bear arms. If anything, they were more on the ignorant side and more pre-disposed to supporting at least some "gun control," but I can't remember any discussions about it.
Another shaping experience with guns was when the Columbine shooting occurred. I was in jr. high school at the time. I remember asking s how could they pull this off along with why would they? I thought to myself, "If I had a gun, I would shoot back and stop them." Some may laugh at such a statement, but there are countless real-life cases of minors using firearms to protect themselves and their families - minors even younger than I was at the time. A firearm is such an equalizer in a fight. I was never exposed to the NRA, hunting, second amendment talk, or anything like that for that matter. Yet my first reaction to the Columbine shooting was that such a thing could and should be stopped - that would-be victims shouldn't be helpless and defenseless.
When I turned 18, I was operating a retail-type business that was open late hours and sometimes all night. We had had some theft and mischief, and I was thinking "This is great, I am an adult now, and I can buy a gun for protection." So I looked up the gun laws in Illinois, and couldn't believe what I discovered. 1) Must have a "FOID" card (take photos, fill out paperwork, pay money, and wait, wait wait) 2) Can buy high-powered hunting rifles, .50 cal, etc, but can't buy a pistol (21+ for pistol - federal "law"), 3) Can't carry in Illinois - at all (later I discovered carrying a firearm meant it needed to be unloaded and enclosed in a case or other container). I was absolutely stunned, and upset.
I was fortunate that my parents gifted me a pistol at that time. I went to a 40-hour tactical pistol training course to learn how to handle and use it. This was the best decision ever. I learned safety, marksmanship, and tactics for defense. I decided that the current laws in Illinois were not acceptable. I had to do something about it - so I created the website ICarry.org and started what became a very large network of gun owners mainly in Illinois, but also in Wisconsin and around the country and world - those interested in the battle before us for the second amendment. ICarry.org started as a news portal with a web discussion forum.
I was also inspired by the website OpenCarry.org, which discussed (and still does to this day) the use of open carry as a way to raise awareness and re-normalize guns in society. On there I also discovered the photographic and philosophical work of Oleg Volk (olegvolk.net and a-human-right.com). I understood the benefits of open carry in those respects. There had already been a "fannypack carry" also called "6 seconds to safety" movement in Illinois. Guys like John Birch and the folks from the Champaign County Rifle Association had been exercising and promoting it. Others in gun rights shied away or even discouraged the practice, out of fear of retribution/backlash and setting gun rights backwards. I believe this fearful stance, while understandable from having been defeated before, was the wrong mindset. Illinois gun owners needed to go on the offensive.
As of this writing - June 21, 2021 - there are still places in the country that have been beat up similar to how Illinois had been. Places like New York, California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey for example. Will those places advance without going on the offensive? Will the 2nd Amendment in its true original intent be restored to those areas by being meek, cautious, patient, and waiting? I don't believe so. The squeaky wheel gets the grease - action speaks louder than words.
In Illinois we could carry an unloaded pistol enclosed in a container. Some used fanny packs, some used other containers. I used a fully-enclosed holster - drop-leg type. Guns were banned by my college, so I used to wear my holster empty on campus. Fellow students would come up to me and have conversations with me about it - it was really effective. I wanted to raise awareness and share information. I also wanted to take up the issue of the gun ban with the school, so I went to talk to the administration about that. Instead of talking to me and listening to me, they arrested me and charged me with disorderly conduct. I had never been arrested before or had anything but a traffic ticket prior to this. My record had been perfectly clean.
I had to find a lawyer, interview multiple attorneys, and come up with the money to pay them. I was fortunate to have help from the gun owning community - people sent donations to help me cover the legal fees. I was successful in getting the charges dropped, and then sued the school and the police for arresting me and violating my 1st Amendment right to free speech. They had to settle with me to avoid going to trial. I offered them a non-monetary settlement, one that would remind people of their constitutionally-protected rights, but they decided to pay me instead.
The following year in 2006, I was arrested for container carrying at my local shopping mall. Despite carrying a copy of the law which explicitly states to carry a firearm unloaded in a container, and despite carrying language from the Illinois State Police brochure on how to carry a firearm legally, the police still arrested me. Those officers there took the low-road, the path of cowardice, and charged me with unlawful use of weapons. I was booked, strip-searched, and released on bond. Weeks later after the state's attorney's office lied to a grand jury saying my pistol was loaded, I was then indicted on felony aggravated unlawful use of weapons - up to 3 years in prison. I spent the next over 4 years fighting these charges. My attorney, Walter Maksym, helped me immensely. The legal bills were tens of thousands of dollars - not easy when you're married and about to have your first child.
I refused to take any plea deals. I refused to back down. I was not in the wrong, was not a criminal, hadn't done anything wrong, followed the letter of the law, despite the law itself being unconstitutional. And yet they still wanted to "teach me a lesson." They wanted to scare the rest of people in Illinois away from exercising their rights - even within the "law"! They didn't want gun owners to even get near the boundaries of their unconstitutional edicts. They wanted gun owners to sit down, back down, shut up, and fall back inline and depend on government for their own personal safety. Be scared - be afraid - be sheep - be dependent - be-have - obey. Never.
I discovered power in numbers. Alone I could not fight these battles, but with support in the form of help towards my legal bills and moral support, it was possible. My judge dismissed my charges after about 2 years. The state appealed and sent me back into the ringer for much more in legal bills and stress. But in the end, I was vindicated when members of the community stood up and told the state's attorney to stop prosecuting me. Finally they dropped the charges.
During this time, Illinois and Wisconsin became the 2 very last states in the Union with zero form of concealed carry law on the books. Obviously we wanted a shall-issue for both, but currently concealed carry was completely banned by serious criminal statutes. Wisconsin law, however, did not prohibit open carry. So, Wiscinson Carry, Inc. was actively using open carry as a way to raise awareness and push for concealed carry. This was an excellent idea, so we wanted to participate in it and in that energy, so ICarry.org also adopted Wisconsin. We organized open carry events of our own, and brought support and showed up for events organized by Wisconsin Carry. A cross-border comradery developed.
You can see some of these photos here:
We organized the first open carry events in Illinois. The way we got around the "law" was by holding them on private property. Some of these events were enormous, with hundreds of participants and special guests like the US Marines, Save-a-Vet, political candidates, and others. Wisconsin's ban on concealed carry fell, replaced with shall-issue. A few years later Illinois fell as well.
I am a firm believer that before one can ask for more, one needs to clean what's on their plate. Since open carry was legal in Wisconsin, and container carry legal in Illinois, we had to exercise those rights fully. We had to lick our plates clean before demanding more. Not everyone agreed, and that's fine. But don't let those people discourage you. I believe exercising the right is the only way to retain the right. Everything else is just talk, talk, talk, and talk is cheap. I'm thankful for the people who do lobbying, but I still believe it's the least effective and least efficient way. I'm glad there are people doing it. But having more people exercise rights to the fullest extent possible, sometimes necessarily even employing civil disobedience and disobeying an unconstitutional law, is the way to restore the 2nd Amendment (and the same principle applies to all rights).
Talk, or act? Gun Owners Defense Association exists to bring more action.