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Guns... or Not?
by Leroy Pyle
As a way of introduction, I'll share a short history of my personal experience in the battle for individual rights, and link to more traditional resume information below.
My political activism came late in my adult life, actually. I grew up in a military family and then spent my entire adult life in law enforcement. The rules were very well defined in my home, as a youth, and in my career with an ever-present department duty manual. So my life did not involve making the rules, but rather following them and enforcing them. As a police officer I learned early that neither the rules NOR life were always fair, but I didn't even notice, or mind, that the rules governing my rights as a police officer were more restrictive than for most citizens. After all, I had an exciting job with rules that I was willing to adhere to.
In the early 1980's, I became aware of the debate and concerns for the right to own firearms. With much play in the press, California voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposition to ban handguns in the state. What impressed me most during that campaign was a full-page ad in the local paper supporting the right of California Citizens to own handguns. The ad was sponsored by law enforcement and was bordered by the names of every police and sheriffs department in California. The names-border was in the shape of the state. It was a clever design that made it very apparent that police officers were a valuable ally to gun owners.
The Chief of Police of my department, Joseph D. McNamara, became an outspoken critic of the rights of citizens to possess firearms. I dont think it an exaggeration to describe him as HCIs poster boy. I credit him with initializing the very effective effort to drive a wedge between law-abiding gun owners and law enforcement.
As an in-house police firearms instructor, academy instructor, and captain of the police pistol team, I was considered an expert in the area of police firearms training and competition, and enjoyed the credits. I was active in state and national police pistol competition, and licensed by the State to teach security firearms qualification training. I became the owner of a licensed security training institution.
My skills became marketable to the public, then, as more citizens sought training for the handguns they owned. As I taught the security personnel at public ranges, many civilians expressed interest in learning to draw from a holster and two-hand defensive techniques, which were new to the general public. It was not long before security personnel were a minority in my firearms classes.
And at about the same time, California law changed to allow citizens to carry tear gas if licensed by an approved institution. I qualified, and soon was teaching defensive tactics with tear gas and common sense two or three nights a week. That audience was comprised primarily of women, and many were eager to express their particular sense of concern for their personal safety.
I was familiar with and able to address many of the technical issues related to firearms and the law, as well as the very important personal safety issues presented in the firearms debate.
I did not really choose sides when I entered this fray. I merely expressed what I considered to be common sense opinions based on my experience with firearms and as a law enforcement officer.
I wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper critical of cop-killer bullet rhetoric advertising the protective equipment worn by police, which consequently created a danger to the working cop.
Anyone has a right to express an opinion: I just pointed out that the KTW bullet (designed by three police officers) was not being used to kill police and their erroneous reports created an officer-safety problem by exposing to the public awareness the protective vests that were just coming into common use. It was generally accepted in law enforcement circles, at the time, that the less discussion about vests, the better.
As you might imagine, it was my chief who was sounding off about the KTW bullet, and the press liked the contrast. He being the Chief, and me being the Grunt!
The press then used my "expertise" to bounce off the various sound bites that were becoming popular. The "Saturday night specials" and "plastic guns" were easy to fend off, and it was too easy to point out the error when the chief went on the evening news demonstrating how a rubber-band gun could shoot an arrow through a police vest. A police departments vest in the police department range. Demonstrating penetration! With a rubber-band gun! What was he doing, giving lessons? Even the reporter recognized stupidity in the name of politics.
But as the battle over gun rights heated up, the questions became more than just technical. And I became a more willing participant. The very careless and inaccurate statements made by police representatives offended me. I began referring to them as the political police since they did not represent the average cop. Their personal politics and statements were detrimental to the law enforcement reputation. Some statements were detrimental to the safety of the working cop.
And the obvious intent was to drive a wedge between cops and the gun owners. Gun owners that I knew were very law-abiding citizens and supportive of law enforcement.
In response to various news media questions, I began to express an opinion. It was my honest belief that you take the guns away from the crooks and you don't even question the honest citizen's right to retain the various instruments of self-defense, including guns. Simple enough, as it was my impression that my job was to PROTECT and SERVE the rights of law-abiding citizens. To DEFEND those rights seemed a natural goal for a cop and would also suffice to form a coalition between the honest citizen and the hard-working members of the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice communities!
But I did feel the wrath of my boss. In the first 25 years of my career I was disciplined only twice, and received written reprimands for minor offenses. In the last two years at the San Jose Police Department, I was in Infernal Affairs more times that I would ever have imagined, endured oral and written reprimands, a suspension without pay, and was threatened with termination. More humiliating was denial of assignments, public criticism in the presence of peers, and assignment to a desk without duties for as long as seventeen months......
But I was learning about rights. I knew the rules.
An earlier lesson could have been heeded when I was ordered to the department psychiatrist for complaining about repeated anti-gun, anti-NRA articles in the police department's newsletter.
It is ironic that the effort to divide was so successful when most cops I know trust the press about as much as they do lawyers! And I don't think I'd be talking out of school if I complained that the political policeman doesn't speak for us all...... The political Chief of Police, as a matter of fact, no more represents the beat cop than Lee Iacocca represented the autoworker!
But many in law enforcement have gone along with the press and political police. Even more unexpected, to me at least, is the fact that the wedge worked! Gun owners and activists blame the police for all the anti-gun legislation. After all, when the politicos lost their arguments to straight facts and figures, they resorted to emotions. Almost all anti-gun legislation has been carried on the backs of law enforcement when some political chief claims that his men are "outgunned", "losing the battle" or "Cops need this legislation".
It is no wonder then, much to my chagrin, that many in The Second Amendment Community have ignored the value of securing the very important voice of the average law enforcement officers who share attitudes very similar to the gun rights activists.
My activism and police firearms experience gained me a seat on the Law Enforcement Assistance Committee, and then I was appointed referee of the National Police Championships where I had competed for some years. I was then elected to the board of directors of the National Rifle Association in the early 80s where my attempt to activate pro Second Amendment cops was met with resistance. The NRA staff member who headed up the Law Enforcement Division controlled the Law Enforcement Assistance Committee. He was career military and had not a single day of law enforcement experience, but was convinced that politics should play no part in his law enforcement efforts that consisted primarily of police instructor training. In the days when the NRA still had the respect of most in law enforcement, this man not only had a vast police audience, but an influential audience of FIREARMS INSTRUCTORS! It was obvious to me that this group shared our interest and enthusiasm for firearms. But he didnt want the NRA politics to interfere with his program The NRA powers-that-were sat on their collective fat ones as Joe McNamara and HCI proceeded to demonize our organization while gathering law enforcement "leaders" and organizations to their side. The longer we waited, the more cops were exposed to the anti-gun, anti-NRA rhetoric. And their claims went unanswered for many years!
When my training experience gained me a seat on the Education and Training Committee, I was eager to help with the oh-so-outdated personal protection firearms program. After all, my own experience proved that the public wanted more than one-hand shooting techniques, and I thought it would be easy pickings to eliminate the NRA training prohibitions against drawing from a target or using a silhouette target. I couldnt have asked for better company, with Col. Jeff Cooper as Chair of the committee. We rallied the committee around a program that included the very real techniques of defensive shooting that was being incorporated by every other successful training facility in the U.S. With success in our sights, the then-director of NRA/ILA addressed the committee to influence AGAINST the adoption of this update of the program. She insisted that it would be detrimental to her efforts on Capitol Hill, and ordered us to take another vote. When the vote remained the same, Jeff Cooper was kicked out of the Chair and replaced with a yes-woman who insisted that the personal protection program go unchanged. She was voted down and the program was delivered to the training department. And ignored to this day. (anyone familiar with the recently released personal protection outline has probably noted the restriction on any use of a humanoid target, "Realistic humanoid targets are specifically prohibited".
Silly me! I should have remembered my conversations with NRA headquarters at an earlier date when I was unfamiliar with their operation, and prior to gaining a seat on the board. They were offended that I was teaching a class that included drawing from a holster, and firing at a silhouette target. And sounded surprised that I was charging money for the class! (remember, this was about 1980)
I did believe I was making some progress when in 1991, after almost 10 years, Wayne LaPierre finally agreed to support a more political law enforcement organization. I had some name recognition in the firearms community, had lent my name to NRA promotions, got some publicity when I was disciplined for lending my name to NRA promotions :-), and had teamed up with Tom Aveni, a police officer in New Jersey who founded Law Enforcement for the Preservation of The Second Amendment (LEPSA). I was the West Coast rep for LEPSA.
Wayne asked if I was interested in forming a coalition of pro-gun cops with a presence in Washington D.C. I assured him that I was more than ready, and gave him a list of those who could join me on the new board of directors. He asked for a name and business plan. I first came up with Law Enforcement Association (LEA), but then went for name recognition. Remember, I am an old cop from the days when the feds had the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA), and I knew that most cops, politicians, and others involved in law enforcement activities would remember that agency from their administration and financial support of LE programs. I settled on The Law Enforcement Alliance of America (LEAA).
NRA flew me, Tom, Harry Thomas, and a few others that I recommended back to DC to formulate a plan. To my surprise, some strange faces showed up for the meeting, invited by Jim Baker. These people were unknown to me and had no prior 2nd Amendment activist experience. One, an officer from Tennessee brought his wife along. She was a lieutenant in the same department assigned to the AGs office. (I have not heard of them in the 2nd Amendment Arena since, btw)
I was introduced to a new NRA employee, Jim Fotis, who had law enforcement experience in the state of New York. He was going to act as liaison between the NRA and LEAA. The meeting started and I presented my plan. LaPierre informed me that everyone attending would be on the LEAA board and asked if I would take the job of executive director. That would require that I quit the police department after 28 years of service, give up the established security training school that I owned for 15 years, and relocate to the DC area.
Hey! How could I pass up a chance to initiate a brand new membership organization in our nations capitol for the purpose of rallying law enforcement around The Second Amendment? It was a dream come true. I packed everything up and moved East.
Five months later, I was fired by the LEAA Board of Directors for Spending too much time on The Second Amendment. (as stated to me by then LEAA board member, and now NRA board member Dwight VanHorne) You may wish to read more on that at LEAA DISAPPOINTMENT
So, there I was in quite a predicament! Unemployed! I had held at least two jobs all of my adult life. I didnt realize when I quit the police department that I was in for so damn many exciting experiences in such a short time J.
With my tail between my legs, I returned to San Jose, CA. I was on the NRA board for some years, by then, and associated regularly with the officers and many board members. After moving to DC, I became very familiar with staff. It became quite apparent to me that those with influence and control in the NRA did not want aggressive activism by pro-gun law enforcement to be part of their organization! I was never again invited back to referee the National Police Championships, and was refused the chairmanship of the Law Enforcement Assistance Committee that had been guaranteed to me in a meeting with LaPierre, the NRA President, the NRA attorney, and a number of board members. If interested, you can read more about that bit of treachery at BROKEN PROMISES.
I did have some friends on the board, and as a consolation, I was offered a contract to use my firearms training experience to start a new program recruiting and training women as instructors. It became known as the Personal Protection Instructor Development Program. I welcomed the opportunity to see some income, so I prepared an outline and budget and was soon traveling from Honolulu to Long Island certifying NRA instructors. I was pleased to meet some of the very nicest pro-gun women in these United States, and am sure many are still sharing their knowledge and skills with many more women.
After about a year, the PPID program was put out to pasture when it was determined that a womans program should be led by a woman. That sounded reasonable to me. The program was renewed as the Refuse to be a Victim program that does not involve firearms. THAT was unreasonable! I have no problem with the Refuse to be a Victim program, but to drop a program that was successful in recruiting women into the NRA instructor program was foolish.
Unemployed, again, I approached the NRA Training Division with a novel idea. I offered to take over the training duties of The Training Counselor Program. All training and appointments of Training Counselors (the TC is a level of trainer that certifies instructors) was handled out of HQ and required staff to travel about the US to do the training. I offered to do the training for them at a considerable savings. Staff balked at any usurps of their duties, but TC training was down and I was able to prove they could save a lot of money.
We finally agreed on terms of a contract that was sent to the NRA legal department for final approval and I proceeded to travel the US, again, doing what I like to do. I repeatedly asked for a copy of the contract, but was stalled month after month. I was successful in training and recommending many candidates for Training Counselor, but after nine months I was told that my services were no longer needed. I never did get a copy of that contract, but observe that they have continued such a program.
For a variety of reasons, not the least of which was an opportunity for a fresh start away from some very bitter memories, I moved to Chicago. Many friends expressed surprise that I would relocate to a city with such an anti-gun reputation. But in Chicago, I can get in my car and be in America in 15-20 minutes. When I lived in California, I could drive for hours and never get there! :-). A more traditional resume can be viewed at Leroy Pyle-Resume.
By now, you would be correct in assuming that I have lost faith in my friends at the NRA. But as most of you who have shared a BBS or Internet forum with me know, I have not lost my enthusiasm for getting pro-gun cops organized and active in The Second Amendment Arena. I will invite everyone to join me in this endeavor by participating in the 2AMPD forum and inviting your law enforcement acquaintances to join in. And regardless of your opinion, if you are a cop or viewed as a part of the law enforcement community, you are viewed as a major player in this game of "gun control"! I invite you all to participate in this new and exciting police department in cyberspace, the 2AMPD.
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