By Ben Langlotz | May 11, 2015 | Firearms | 0 Comments
It was my first ever NRA Annual Meeting, and do I ever have a story to tell! There are lots of “Rock Stars” in our industry, but there’s only one Ted Nugent… (“Thankfully!” – most of his adversaries and some fans would say – he’d probably agree – though I wish there were a thousand like him speaking out as forcefully as he does).
I’m an old rock and roll fan, and play the drums pretty seriously these days. I first knew Ted on the AM radio, but didn’t become a true fan of his until after I became a gun nut and read his books that shared his love for hunting, the outdoors, liberty, and gun rights. Ted Nugent is an inspiration to anyone who has “reinvented” themselves – he didn’t just retire to the “Seniors Tour” of rock and roll touring (or celebrity golf), but turned the second part of his life into something that will have more impact, and be remembered longer than his guitar-playing.
Back in 2001 I was on the verge of reinventing myself. I was a boring (bored) Silicon-valley-type patent attorney who had become a gun nut, and had more fun with firearms than all the printers, algorithms, and optics on my desk. Ted’s book “God, Guns, & Rock ‘n Roll” was published that year, and I read it as I was on the verge of attending my first of many consecutive SHOT Shows. I don’t remember perfectly, but I’m sure that I was inspired by the book’s underlying message:
Follow your passion, Don’t fear being controversial or offending, and you’ll find success and happiness.
I should have written this public note of thanks to Ted Nugent years ago, but this month’s events make it especially appropriate. I’m not a celebrity nut, and the only autographs I own are those of a few authors on the title pages of their books (mostly Apollo astronauts). So if I ran into Eric Clapton or Carlos Santana, I wouldn’t bother them. But “Uncle Ted” is special to me because of our shared passion for guns and liberty. So when my industry photographer friend Oleg Volk told me that Ted was going to appear at a special private event at the NRA annual meeting in Nashville last month, I made plans to meet the rock star.
At a small reception, I waited in line for a chance to shake Ted’s hand, and to get a picture. That’s all I really expected for the weekend. I planned to offer Ted’s youth charities the same pro-bono free legal services I provide for other organizations and causes I support, like the NSSF, and the US Rifle Team. I stood in line between a baby-boomer rock and roll fan who had a bag stuffed with every LP album Ted had recorded. (She told me later he cheerfully signed every one!) When my turn came, we had a nice chat about Ted’s “Kamp for Kids” and the importance of protecting intellectual property when you’re a public target. Oleg got the shot, and I was looking forward to an evening of inspiring speakers.
At the dinner event, I found myself at Ted’s table with his wife Shemane. When he sat down, he asked: “So tell me, Ben: Do you think I could get a trademark on ‘the finger’? ‘Cause that’s what these anti-gun folks like Piers Morgan think I’m giving ‘em!”
Ted didn’t pull any punches in the dinner-table conversation, and left no doubt where he stands on the issues. But his best stuff came in his speech to the crowd. He was addressing a crowd of gun-right activists and supporters, and didn’t want anyone resting too easy or feeling too good about what they had done so far. He wanted to be sure we were motivated not just to defend against adversaries, but were fearless in aggressively pursuing the cause. “If you’re not pi**ing off the a**holes, then you’re an a**hole!”
The crowd flinched a moment at the language, but roundly applauded. We also loved his irreverent observation that: “You know, I’ve never been to a gun-free zone!”
The evening was a fundraiser, and one of the big prizes to be auctioned was the chance to be part of a group to do some shooting at the range the next morning, with Ted and a number of other celebrities. Right after Ted was “auctioned,” his lovely wife Shemane whispered something in Ted’s ear that led Ted to do something creative that doubled the funds his presence raised. I admired the way their partnership worked so well.
Usually, when I’m at SHOT or a show like NRA it’s all business, with so many clients to see. But I couldn’t resist a few hours of fun for some range time, and maybe some more “Ted Talk.” I expected Ted to pop in, shake some hands, thank everyone, and shoot a few rounds, but he hung out with us for hours like any other gun geek, trying different equipment the range provided, posing for pictures, autographing targets, and enjoying the target shooting as much as anyone. The Garand was a popular item, with the clip clanging on the concrete floor after the last round for each shooter.
At one point, I shouted over the din, suggesting “Ted, I’d like to see you shoot your carry gun!” He had told us the previous evening how he doesn’t even go to the grocery store for milk without his two Glocks (famously chambered in 10mm) and six magazines. Maybe it was the hearing protectors, or an old rock-‘n- roller’s hearing failing, but Ted misheard me. I was thrilled when he replied: “Ya wanna shoot my carry gun? Sure!” …so, I can now cross one more item off the bucket list.
After the shooting, I had a chance to talk to Ted a bit more. I agree with him on just about everything, including his lightning-rod approach to the issues. Maybe we need activists who have a range of styles, but we certainly need more people like Ted who aren’t afraid to put their reputation on the line for what they believe. (Which makes me recall Ted’s contempt for some specific famous rock stars who are big machine gun buffs, but who are afraid to go public because it might cost them some money).
But in a small conversation, Ted said something I disagreed with. As I readied to politely offer my contrary view, I was prepared for a dose of “Full Bluntal Nugity”.
Ted had said he thought that open carry (a big issue in Texas, which he and I both now call home) was generally a mistake, and concealed was the way to go, even that some activists might be hurting the overall gun rights movement.
I wasn’t sure how he’d react, but I told Ted that I think the open carry activists were helping us in the long run (I support the leading Open Carry Texas group with my free legal services and advice, as I have offered for Ted’s pro-gun charities). People might feel worried the first few times they see a holstered gun on a belt, but eventually, after months and years of occasionally seeing this (and nothing bad happening) their gun fears might become deprogrammed. I didn’t argue that open carry is tactically superior, but that it can be a public relations weapon in the war on the gun culture that’s essential to our liberties.
Basically, open carrying changes the hearts and minds of the next generation of voters who might vote away your right to keep and bear arms. And some might expect a firebrand like Ted Nugent to react strongly, but he was a gentleman, and replied: “I guess I could see that in the long run, eventually.” Whether he was being polite, or I had changed his mind a little, I came away convinced that Nugent’s a class act.
A soft-spoken skyscraper of a gentleman was the weekend’s other rock star, and the reason for all this happening. John R. Lott Jr. is a PhD economist who might seem out of place at an NRA show in his suit and tie, and professorial style, but he was the reason we all gathered on Friday night.
John Lott is best known as the brain behind “More Guns, Less Crime.” That book was published in the early years of the tidal wave of right-to-carry laws across the nation. With it, he armed activists pleading with state legislatures with the facts: states that have the right to carry probably enjoy a reduction in crime, and certainly not an increase. There’s nothing like proof to persuade anti-liberty legislators (or the voters they fear at the next election cycle). While there were hundreds or thousands of activists that formed the right-to-carry wave that swept the nation, John Lott genuinely deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work as perhaps the most critical catalyst for one of the most important pro-liberty successes in my lifetime.
John is the director of the Crime Prevention Research Center (CPRC), which continues to do the research and analysis to fight back against the inexorable tide of anti-gun politicians, news media, and activists. Dr. Lott is often seen on the national news networks as an expert to put the issues into perspective, and to counterbalance the gun grabbers who will say anything to take away our guns. The Friday event at the NRA show was a fundraiser for the CPRC, which I was happy to contribute to. What John and his underpaid staff can do with $100 is amazingly powerful compared to just about any alternative. We heard from media stars and rock stars, and the highlight was John’s own presentation showing how he has been able to refute the bold claims from the left, making our side look like the reasonable one.
It’s all about data and crunching the numbers. Even though John had a ball with the rest of us at the range the next day, he’s basically the Albert Einstein of gun control statistics, the master of the statistical spreadsheet, and of the printed and spoken word to convey the persuasive truth of how liberty turns out to be beneficial to society after all.
My favorite part of the evening was when John gave some examples of research he’d like to do if he had the funding (not a lot of government grants for our side of the issue). Imagine a study released to coincide with all the media attention on the annual NRA show, that revealed how crime rates in the host city are different when 80,000 NRA members are in town, as opposed to a typical convention of, say, insurance agents or concrete contractors!
They call it the NRA Annual Meeting. It was my first visit. I had previously assumed that it was mostly a jerky, ATV, outfitter type of show, but some of my clients have been telling me that everyone is there, including the top executives. So I renewed my NRA membership(inadvertently joining 12 different NRA email lists) and visited Nashville.
NRA is all about the “end user.” The pace in the aisle is more like a Sunday drive than the SHOT Show’s rush hour fast lane. Folks are friendly, and the exhibitors I talked to seem to agree that it’s a great chance to meet their customers. The fans get to meet the makers, and the makers get to learn what the fans really like and what they want. It seems a good way to keep in touch with the folks that make the industry possible.
Among the highlights were the oysters at The Southern (yes, some of the best oysters I’ve had in years in Tennessee). Also, bumping into Wayne LaPierre on Sunday afternoon gave us a chance to recreate the image 7 years later, with the current edition of my book.
I’ll surely return to NRA in future years, but I understand that Louisville isn’t a great convention city, with the convention center miles away from all the hotels and restaurants, making it a bus/taxi experience. Meanwhile I’ll see y’all in New Orleans for the NASGW, which should give Nashville’s oysters a run for their money!