A Member Support Organization Matures
by Gila Hayes
As the Network starts its 14th year of service, we move forward in the company of over 19,000 members, many of whom have been part our big Network family for many years. We close out 2021 with over $3 million in the Legal Defense Fund, having paid legal defense expenses on behalf of 29 members, and had a hand in educating thousands more. With growth inevitably comes change, so a reminder of the mission we first undertook in 2008, and the extent to which our bold plans from that beginning have expanded, matured and grown may prove useful to members. How did we reach January 1, 2022, and what lies ahead in this new year?
A Mission Defined by Need
No Arbitrary Limits
We frequently converse with callers who want definite dollar limits on specific types of post-self-defense incident legal work. “What is the dollar limit on criminal defense?” is a common question, as only one example. The Network’s assistance to members who have defended themselves and their families is not restricted by arbitrary limits, nor is it rationed out for one facet of legal defense but not another.
Frankly, it asks too much of uncertain fate to pre-determine what the circumstances of an attack requiring use of force in self defense might involve! In the same way, the legal aftermath of one individual who takes action in self defense will differ radically from the legal assistance needed by another – even one who makes similar self-defense choices – but in a different locale, for example. Instead, the Network fully funds lawyers, investigators, experts, pays court costs and assists with bail as needed by members and dictated by the unique needs the individual faces.
The accompanying chart illustrates the range of expenses for legal representation we have paid on behalf of members over the years.
We strive to get an attorney on the job and representing a member who has used force in self defense as quickly as possible, having experienced success in preventing authorities from filing charges by making sure the member’s part of the story is factored in to the charging decision. A well-connected attorney, sharing the true facts of the situation the member faced when they used force, can get charges dropped, too.
If any of our member-involved cases proved the value of getting an attorney working on a member’s case ASAP, it was probably the story told at https://armedcitizensnetwork.org/defending-against-first-degree-murder-charges, although the advantage of early legal representation holds true all across the range of member experiences. Most of our members have contacted us as soon as they were free to telephone; only a few have waited until served a summons, having erroneously concluded that the conflict was resolved bloodlessly, and so was not serious enough to get an attorney involved. In the latter, it is inevitably more difficult to derail the prosecutor’s drive to convict the member. Timeliness matters!
I’ve long said the Network’s proof of concept is in the past 13 years’ experience. With only three member-involved cases in 2021 – three defensive displays of firearms without shots fired – members and non-members alike will benefit from going back into our archives and reviewing the busier years, as outlined at https://armedcitizensnetwork.org/a-decade-of-assistance with the 2020 update given at https://armedcitizensnetwork.org/membership-and-defense-fund-growth .
Members and non-members alike sometimes lose sight of the differences between the Network and our competitors’ insurance products that involve limits and exclusions. Sometimes people reach inaccurate conclusions if they compare policies and contracts from competitors to supportive membership in the Network.
To fully fund a member’s legal defense after self defense, we ask only that the use of force was in legitimate self defense and by means legal in the jurisdiction in which it occurred. We are frequently asked if Network assistance is limited to shootings or to firearms use, and, of course, the answer is no – we’ll help members defend self-defense use of any legal weapon or of physical force or improvised weapons. We have paid attorneys to represent several members who’ve used pepper spray and early on, it was our privilege to assist a member who created distance between himself and an aggressor with a golf club.
The above chart, outlining the variety and frequency of various force option members have used in self defense since we opened the Network in 2008 and had our first member-involved incident in 2009, is often of great interest to readers.
All Across our Great Nation
The Network has members in all 50 states and the U.S. Territories. Although currently prohibited from recruiting new Network members from Washington state only (our legal battle continues during our plea for judicial review), we continue to serve our existing members in WA as well as assisting Network members across all of the rest of the nation. The below map illustrates the geographical breakdown of member incidents by state.
Even long-time Network members sometimes forget that as a national organization, the Network is there to assist members as they travel. Of course, our traveling members do need to be alert to differences in use of force law and firearms restrictions from state to state, since the Network would soon cease to exist if we were to pay for defense of violations of statutory law. With resources like https://handgunlaw.us/ it is well within the ability of armed citizens to know the law that is in force in the cities and states that they plan to visit. The maxim attributed to Thomas Jefferson, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse in any country. If it were, the laws would lose their effect, because it can always be pretended,” remains as true today as was when America’s Founding Fathers were setting our new nation on its path to greatness. While Jefferson could not have envisioned the massive number of laws on the books today, America is still at the “ballot box” stage of the fight, not armed revolt (the bullet box stage) over laws and governance. To pay legal expenses of one violating the law – either through ignorance or willful disregard – would quickly render the Network unable to fulfill its mission, the legal defense of lawful self defense.
No matter how plaintively, aggressively and repeatedly members and non-members ask why we can’t offer funding for legal defense of illegal concealed carry or in a few highly restrictive states, illegal possession of certain weapons those states have outlawed, doing so would literally encourage people to violate the law and leave the Network unable to fulfill the goal for which it was founded.
The mission of the Network is providing members with funding to assure no member ever stands alone before the law after legal use of force in self defense.
One need only read the Internet news feeds or watch the evening news to see examples of people who inadvertently committed crimes by not knowing the restrictions placed on their activities by the law. Often, a simple violation mushrooms into additional crimes when citizens do not understand how or choose to interact unproductively with authorities after the deed is done. Whether a simple speeding infraction after changes to the posted speed limit on a familiar street, violating the game laws or running afoul of ecology restrictions, it can be challenging to get a handle on which laws regulate our behavior, to say nothing of aftermath management – explaining lawful but widely misunderstood actions.
We consider our member education mission one of our most important efforts! An educated membership is less likely to suffer mistakes of judgment because members have studied and thought through defensive use of force issues, considering what is allowed, along with acknowledging the legal, ethical and societal results of using force against a fellow human being and related realities of self defense – which often contradict the “white knight riding to the rescue” fantasies some entertain when they get their first gun. Our full lecture library is provided to each new member; updates and additions are streamed at https://armedcitizensnetwork.org/members/lectures-on-video .
For armed citizens – members or not – the Network’s website encourages in-depth study of use of force and legal aftermath issues. We host a library of educational videos provided by our non-profit Educational Foundation at https://armedcitizenstv.org while reserving the Network’s core educational series for members. Even the preview of our member education set (https://armedcitizensnetwork.org/learn/member-education-commitment) offers gems of information. Members, we urge you to share the links to our educational message with your family, friends and associates. We also make our monthly online journal publicly available at https://armedcitizensnetwork.org/our-journal/ .
One Affordable Dues Rate
Over the years, the Network has maintained a lean operational budget with an eye toward keeping membership dues affordable for people from all socio-economic strata. We have no upcharges for additional areas of assistance or as is common with competitors, we don’t charge more for legal help outside your residential state, nor do we charge higher fees for the top tier dollar amounts or withhold premier-level assistance unless you pay more. All Network members are eligible for the same assistance after self defense and instead of just buying insurance, members often express their satisfaction in belonging to something bigger than themselves. Many comment on their hope to never need Network assistance but add that they are proud to have had a hand in alleviating the hardships of their fellow members who did.
Decisions About How to Best Help
Do you remember the old joke about the guy who wanted to help in the worst possible way, and he did, in the worst way? Sentence structure matters – and so does the structure of an organization founded to educate and support armed citizens. It will be useful to talk a little about why the Network is set up as a membership organization instead of selling insurance or prepaid legal services.
Prior to the Network’s introduction in 2008, our President Marty Hayes operated and taught at The Firearms Academy of Seattle, Inc. and eventually committed four years to studying for his law degree. Although few Academy students faced the necessity of explaining their self-defense choices to police, prosecutors and courts, talking with students and responding to concerns and questions they voiced showed that the legal aftermath of self defense was a huge area of concern for armed citizens—even in the kinder and gentler first decade of the new millennium. At that time, only a prepaid legal service contract and a traditional insurance policy were offered to help armed citizens with the legal aftermath of use of force in self defense.
Why not just buy into a prepaid legal services plan and let the plan lawyers worry about the legal issues? For one thing, the prepaid plan would assign an attorney, not pay the lawyer of the client’s choice. Hayes knew from his work as an expert witness in firearms and use of force cases that not all lawyers can bring the same skill level or dedication to their work. This was a no-starter because some attorneys are burdened with unrealistically heavy caseloads and juggle client needs with only the “pot boiling over on the stove” receiving attention; some are just starting their careers and are defending their first few clients with little to no experience; some are robustly backed up by a hard-charging staff while others work solo, handling everything from court filings, to trials, to putting the bills in envelopes and taking them to the post office. He was chilled by the requirement to accept representation by an assigned attorney hired and supervised by a case manager, which is standard procedure for prepaid legal services.
Would an insurance policy be a better option? Although today there are hybrid programs with certain amounts of upfront funding which sprang up later to compete with the Network’s offer, in the early 2000s, insurance policies available required their policy holder to first attain a not guilty plea, then present expenses for reimbursement. Pleading guilty to a lesser charge invalidated coverage, and policies left necessary facets of defending self-defense cases up to their client to pay or go without.
Today’s hybrids, involving insurance regulations as they do, can require repayment of legal defense expenses paid on behalf of a policyholder who is found guilty. This is only one example of the enormous difficulties of trying to apply insurance to the self-defense aftermath that continue to this day. As a result, the Network has not followed the pack into the morass of reselling specialized insurance policies for legal defense after self defense. There is no insurance component to Network assistance to members who have defended themselves or their loved ones.
A New Approach
The Network was created to meet the needs its founders believed they would want if they had used force in self defense. Having identified the necessity to select, hire, fire and guide one’s own attorney and have the final say over one’s own legal defense after self defense, there seemed little reason to try to create a national prepaid legal services offering, so that model was swept off the planning table. Also nixed was the idea of finding an underwriter and an insurance policy we could sell. First, the expense–which would have to be covered by membership fees–was unattractive, but as we delved deeper into the problem, unfavorable compromises required to accommodate an insurance underwriter and their myriad exclusions, soured further exploration into offering insurance for post-self-defense legal needs. In time, the heavy hand of government regulation and bureaucratic interference would eventually reveal one of the biggest disadvantages to copying the insurance model, but that came a decade after those early, formative days.
We needed a new way to give armed citizens the peace of mind that they’d be backed by a host of other armed citizens if fighting charges of murder, manslaughter or assault after legal, justifiable self defense. With concern over one small individual with limited financial resources standing alone against unmeritorious prosecution by a powerful government arose the parallel desire to make sure that fate didn’t befall other armed citizens, either, leading to a call for like-minded men and women who might wish to join together to look out for one another.
A supportive membership organization, a big family of like-minded people, met that description and from that ideal, the Network emerged in January of 2008, just in time to go to the big Shooting, Hunting and Outdoors Trade Show to introduce the movers and shakers in the world of the gun to our new association.
Starting a supportive membership organization from scratch proved an interesting challenge. Expenses were covered by the investment of our three founders, Marty Hayes, Vincent Shuck and Gila Hayes. Soon we were buoyed by endorsements of prominent firearms instructors and other forward-thinking leaders from the fields of firearms and self defense. From that beginning, modest income from membership dues germinated and grew into what today is a $3,000,000-plus Legal Defense Fund earmarked for the legal defense of Network members.
Naturally, competitors quickly grasped the value of a new approach, although interestingly, all launched variations on the insurance or prepaid legal model or hybrids of the two. When we introduce armed citizens to the Network’s supportive family, our new acquaintances wonder whether to become customers of a competitors’ program, and inevitably ask about coverage limits, policy exclusions, whether the “plan” provides for legal needs following self defense outside one’s home state.
These and similar questions, although not applicable to Network assistance, are understandable because folks tend to see new ideas through the lens of things they’ve already experienced. For those who understand the inadequacy of insurance limitations or prepaid legal plan restrictions to the legal aftermath of using force in self defense, the Network makes a lot of sense. Perhaps this is the reason a lot of our Network members have turned out to be men and women who compare their experiences with faith-based groups or fraternal organizations, and thus, they came into the Network already understanding the power of thousands of like-minded men and women standing together and saying, “Do not harm my brother or sister!”
Network members are also understandably proud to be associated with our Advisory Board members Massad Ayoob, John Farnam, Emanuel Kapelsohn, Dennis Tueller and Tom Givens, along with founders Marty Hayes and Vincent Shuck. Of course, members and potential members, in addition to recognizing the expertise and time-in-service these leaders have selflessly given the world of the armed citizen, value their opinion about the Network’s mission. In a world where salesmanship all too often takes precedence over customer service, the Network does what it says it will do – and has done that many times over. In the end, we prove our worth through the work we do on behalf of members.
To read more of this month's journal, please click here.