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HCI "Whistle-Blower" Reveals Very Little

Sunday, February 9, 2003

The gun-ban lobby announced this week that it had reached a "watershed event" in its reckless lawsuit campaign with the filing of an affidavit by what the anti-gun organization calls an "insider" of the gun industry. Michael Barnes, the president of the Brady Center/Campaign (perhaps more commonly known as HCI) praised the affidavit from Robert Ricker, who has had a rather transitory career with several organizations involved with firearms, as an "explosive declaration." Not surprisingly, however, the hype, as well as the affidavit itself, would appear to be much ado about nothing.

Barnes and HCI always make lofty claims about the significance of court cases and what they portend for the future of the gun-ban movement, but turn silent when these "landmark" anti-gun rulings are overturned and their predictions fall flat. And if this extremist organization had paid any attention to history, it might have thought twice before relying on the statements of a man whose positions seem to change with the wind.

In his affidavit, Ricker outlines a career that included a brief stint with NRA in the early ‘80s, followed by at least five career moves over approximately eight years. Throughout most of the ‘90s, Ricker’s affidavit states, he worked for himself as a lobbyist, peddling his services among various clients, including some in the firearms industry. In 1997, he secured a full-time position with the American Shooting Sports Council, Inc. (ASSC), a group that represented the interests of a small segment of the firearm industry, and in March 1999, he became the ASSC’s Executive Director. Ricker held that position for only four months, though, and the ASSC was dissolved later that year. And while Ricker goes to great lengths in his statement to create the impression that he was once well-connected within the firearm industry, the crux of his affidavit is to bolster the gun-ban lobby’s absurd and failing argument that law-abiding gun makers should be held accountable for the actions of violent criminals.

Ricker implies that the entire firearms industry is fully aware of how violent criminals obtain firearms, knows what needs to be done to stop this, but simply refuses to do so, and has worked to "silence others within the industry," himself included, who have supported efforts to capitulate to the demands of anti-gun extremists. He claims federally-licensed firearms manufacturers, importers, and dealers (FFLs) generally turn a blind eye to, and do little to prevent, illegal firearm sales. But the affidavit is sorely lacking in substance, and seems more a fanciful tale created to support the reckless lawsuit agenda. In fact, the "reforms" to the firearms industry Ricker claims should be done is a mirror image of what anti-gun extremists have demanded for years, including several calls to "reform" industry practices to take on duties that should be and are handled by the law-enforcement community.

In response to Ricker’s affidavit, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), which actually represents the firearms industry, released a statement that read, in part, "Contrary to Mr. Ricker’s allegations, the industry has a longstanding record of substantive efforts designed to help ensure the safe use and responsible distribution of its products. Just last year, in a request for dismissal of its lawsuit against the industry, the City of Boston acknowledged firearms industry members ‘are genuinely concerned with and are committed to, the safe, legal and responsible sale and use of their products’ after an exhaustive review of hundreds of thousands of documents in almost three years of litigation."

In addition, in the case of Hamilton v. Accu-Tek—another predatory lawsuit promoted by the gun-ban lobby—the New York Court of Appeals held in April 2001 that "Federal law already has implemented a statutory and regulatory scheme to ensure seller ‘responsibility’ through licensing requirements and buyer ‘responsibility’ through background checks." Further, the ruling rejected the "reforms" to the firearm industry proposed by the plaintiffs because of a failure to show how such changes in manufacturing or marketing practices would reduce the criminal misuse of firearms, and because the court found the proposed changes would eliminate "a significant number of lawful sales to ‘responsible’ buyers by ‘responsible’ Federal firearms licensees...." The ruling also concluded that the suit’s demand that manufacturers investigate Federal firearms licensees for possible illegal activity was "neither feasible nor appropriate," noting that "the plaintiffs’ own law enforcement experts agreed that the manufacturers should not make any attempt to investigate illegal gun trafficking on their own since such attempts could disrupt pending criminal investigations and endanger the lives of undercover officers." The reforms rejected in Hamilton v. Accu-Tek are, by and large, the same reforms Ricker claims can and should be implemented.

Furthermore, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE)—the federal agency responsible for regulating FFLs and identifying, investigating, and arresting people who knowingly sell guns to felons, other prohibited persons, and their accomplices—says that the vast majority of FFLs are law-abiding. And last week in Philadelphia, during the second annual national conference of the federal government’s Project Safe Neighborhoods program—a Bush Administration priority that targets illegal firearm possessors—BATFE told U.S. Attorneys, law enforcement officers, and professionals in related fields that FFLs who deliberately violate the law are as rare as police officers who do so. Many FFLs, BATFE said, bend over backwards to help the agency with its investigations.

So why would someone HCI describes as a "significant senior official in the gun industry" suddenly decide to ignore court rulings, law-enforcement officials, and a position he has publicly stood behind for several years, and now decide to throw his support behind an effort designed to drive into bankruptcy the industry he used to represent and claims he still supports? That’s hard to say. The New York Times reported on Tuesday, February 4, that "Mr. Ricker said someone in the gun industry needed to speak up about bad dealers...." But Ricker’s affidavit implies he’s known about the alleged problem and solutions since the early ‘90s. And he claims he has been trying to address this "issue" within the industry for most of this time. He seems to have had plenty of opportunities to come forward with his position, yet he has not for approximately a decade.

At the 1994 Gun Rights Policy Conference (GRPC), Ricker represented the ASSC, and reportedly cautioned that the gun-ban movement would use the courts to try to drive gun makers out of business under the crushing financial burden of expensive legal fees. ASSC, at the time, was still adamantly opposed to the anti-gun extremist agenda, and was paying Ricker as a lobbyist. Unless he wanted to lose a paying client, he apparently had to stifle any feelings he might have had that the firearms industry "encourages and rewards illegal activity."

But ASSC’s position softened, and the group seemed to adopt the strategy that capitulating to the demands of the gun-ban movement might somehow be beneficial to the firearms industry. In 1997, ASSC began working closely with Bill Clinton, the most anti-gun president this country has ever had, and the recipient of a lifetime achievement award from the gun-ban lobby. ASSC was clearly playing with fire trying to befriend anti-gun extremists by supporting some of their positions

In 1999, Ricker ascended to the position of ASSC Executive Director, and a Washington Post article from April 25, 1999, quotes Ricker, stating, "Our (ASSC’s) position right now is that we are operating in concert and coordination with the NRA." With Ricker in charge of ASSC, you would think he could let his feelings be known, and he could openly promote the "reforms" he now claims he supported. But the fact of the matter is that, even if he actually supported such alleged reforms at the time, the rest of the industry certainly didn’t. If he had begun to promote them, he would have surely lost his position.

Unfortunately for Ricker, he continued to play with fire by courting the anti-gun Clinton Administration. After he agreed to appear with the President at a White House meeting shortly after the Columbine tragedy, those few gun industry clients that had remained with ASSC gave up on the group’s tactics, Ricker resigned his position, and the organization was dissolved.

With Ricker out of a job, one would think it would be a perfect opportunity to speak out about the industry reforms he claims he supported. But Ricker was still silent. In fact, just prior to Ricker’s resignation from ASSC, he took part in a discussion on gun control put together by CNN. He defended industry practices numerous times, stating, "This industry has nothing to do with why criminals commit crimes with guns. Our industry is highly regulated. We pay millions and millions of dollars each year in federal and state taxes, we employ thousands and thousands of individuals, and we are the mainstay in many states in their state economy. There is no relationship between our sound business practices and the criminals who may misuse the products we may make." This position completely contradicts what Ricker says now, leading one to wonder what is the truth?

But even if, for the sake of argument, we accept Ricker’s statement that he truly felt the "reforms" promoted by the gun-ban movement should be adopted by law-abiding gun makers, the question remains, why did he remain silent for so long? After ASSC was dissolved, and he was no longer employed by gun makers, it would seem that he would be free to openly promote these "reforms." But Ricker told the New York Times he is still "a consultant to some gun companies," so perhaps financial considerations kept him from supporting a lawsuit agenda designed to drive his clients out of business. It would be hard to imagine any gun makers continuing to seek the services of Ricker now that he is trying to bolster the gun-ban lobby’s failing reckless lawsuit campaign. Maybe it actually took around a decade for Ricker to finally summon up the "courage" to come forward with the views he claims to have had all along. Or maybe he simply sees some other benefit, either financial or otherwise, by spinning his tale. Whatever the case, it seems unlikely that many will take seriously the allegations of a man who appears to have lost his position within the firearms industry when those he was supposed to represent simply lost confidence in his abilities to defend their interests. Most will likely simply look at his statement as the lashing out of a bitter man at those he blames for his own failures.

Ricker is in the news today only because the anti-gun media elite, as symbolized by the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, find him a useful tool by which to advance the gun-ban agenda. And as the media promotes Ricker as a courageous "whistle-blower," don’t look for them to bother looking into his contradictory statements, positions, or motives.

Although Ricker’s affidavit may prove to be relatively insignificant, it is because of such desperate attempts by the gun-ban lobby that one of NRA’s top priorities during this congressional session is the passage of federal legislation that will prohibit these junk lawsuits. We had tremendous success last year gaining support for bills in the House and the Senate, but time ran out before either could be given full consideration. The House bill (H.R. 2037) ended up with 231 cosponsors, more than a majority of congressmen, while the Senate’s version (S. 2268) ended up with 46 cosponsors, which is almost a majority. Although no legislation has been introduced to date, it is still early in the session, and NRA is working with our friends in Congress to ensure that bills are introduced in each chamber soon. Thirty states have enacted similar legislation.

Please contact your U.S. Representative and both of your U.S. Senators and urge them to support and cosponsor federal reckless lawsuit preemption legislation that will bring an end to this unwarranted harassment of law-abiding gun manufacturers. You can reach your U.S. Representative by calling (202) 225-3121, and your U.S. Senators by calling (202) 224-3121. For additional contact information, use our "Write Your Representatives" tool.

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