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Outgunned: Up Against the NRA-The First Complete Insider Account of the Battle Over Gun Control

Outgunned: Up Against the NRA-The First Complete Insider Account of the Battle Over Gun Control

1.7 6
by Peter Harry Brown, Daniel G. Abel

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Ours is a nation in the grip of a strange kind of mania. Why after President Reagan was shot was there virtually no handgun legislation? Why after the Columbine massacre in Littleton, Colorado, was nothing done to regulate the tools that children most frequently use to kill one another? Why was there no legislative response after a six-year-old in Flint, Michigan,


Ours is a nation in the grip of a strange kind of mania. Why after President Reagan was shot was there virtually no handgun legislation? Why after the Columbine massacre in Littleton, Colorado, was nothing done to regulate the tools that children most frequently use to kill one another? Why was there no legislative response after a six-year-old in Flint, Michigan, shot a classmate with a .32 caliber "pocket rocket"? Tragedy follows tragedy, with twelve children shot dead every day in America, but guns remain less regulated than automobiles. Why? As authors Peter Harry Brown and Daniel G. Abel in this powerful book demonstrate, it is because of the terrible power of the gun coalition.

Outgunned begins with the story of Wendell Gauthier, the "master of disaster" attorney, who brought down the tobacco industry to the tune of billions and then turned his attention to guns. He struck fear into the hearts of the gun manufacturers as he set out to make gunmakers bear some liability for the killings caused by the often poorly made, inaccurate handguns they marketed to criminals. Coauthor Daniel G. Abel worked for Gauthier, along with other attorneys, as the gun-control campaign gathered momentum. This legal initiative seemed to be about to make history and change the face of violence in America, but sadly, Wendell Gauthier died of cancer before meaningful gun control could be established. More than thirty class-action suits against gun manufacturers now languish in courtroom paralysis while as many Saturday night specials as ever are being made. What happened? Brown and Abel demonstrate how the pro-gun forces once again curbed the will of a nation.

This book shows the enomous power of the NRA -- how it killed pending legislation in Congress, hijacked the Campaign Act to fund the George W. Bush presidential election victory, and eviscerated the American Shooting Sports Council. That association and the gun manufacturers actually wanted to compromise and agree to new handgun laws, implicitly accepting some liability, but the NRA leadership, with Charlton Heston as their president, crushed them. In Outgunned, Brown and Abel uncover how NRA lobbyists were instrumental in stopping Smith & Wesson in its tracks. They show how the tendrils of the NRA reach into the Christian Alliance and Republican Party, and how men like John McCain have fought back and been undermined. Outgunned reveals how the NRA began dealing with President George W. Bush when he was still governor of Texas -- prodding him into signing a shocking prohibition against the kind of suits Gauthier brought against the gun manufacturers.

Outgunned is the story of a legal crusade with up-close accounts of the people who fought every step of the way. For those who believe in the importance of stopping unnecessary bloodshed, this book is essential, powerful, and urgent.

Editorial Reviews

The Los Angeles Times
Outgunned joins a slew of recent gun books by John R. Lott Jr., Wayne LaPierre and James Jay Baker, Sarah Brady and others. While most authors take strong partisan positions, Outgunned coauthors Brown and Abel cover both sides of the story. Brown is a seasoned investigative reporter; Abel is an attorney with experience suing gun makers — but the voice of the book sounds more like a journalist's than a lawyer's. The authors draw on the work of other reporters to cover multiple fronts. Anyone who wants to better understand contemporary gun politics should start with this book. — Thom Powers
Publishers Weekly
Journalist Brown and attorney Abel make a compelling case against the stranglehold the National Rifle Association exerts over attempts to introduce firearms regulation. With Congress and many state legislatures in the NRA's back pocket, activists ask, what is a reformer to do? According to Wendell Gauthier, the flamboyant Louisiana attorney who played a key role in suing tobacco companies, the plaintiffs' bar serves as a de facto "fourth branch" of government, achieving by litigation what lobbying prevents through legislation. The authors chronicle Gauthier's last crusade (Abel was a partner of the now deceased lawyer) against America's firearms manufacturers. The book describes how policy is shaped in the legislatures and courtrooms of the country, and the picture is unsettling. As portrayed by the authors, the process is characterized by equal doses of cynicism, ego, pragmatism and money. The story begins in New Orleans with the murder of gospel singer Raymond Myles, which spurred Mayor Marc Morial and Gauthier to initiate the first civil action by a municipality against gun manufacturers. Yet this book is ultimately a story of the NRA's profound political influence. Although some subsequent civil suits against guns remain active, most have been dismissed. Furthermore, as the authors recount, a settlement negotiated with gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson by the Clinton administration has been eviscerated by the Bush administration. While hardly a model of journalistic objectivity, the book presents a lively take on how business does, or doesn't, get done in the legislatures of the country. (Jan. 8) Forecast: Readers of Sarah Brady's recent memoir, A Good Fight, will also want to read this. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This behind-the-scenes narrative of recent and ongoing struggles between gun-control activists and the firearms lobby follows the constitutional and interpretive battle over the individual's right to bear firearms through myriad political forums. Brown is an investigative reporter and Abel an attorney in the New Orleans law firm of Wendell Gauthier, which is currently active in lawsuits against several American gun companies. Complete access to the law firm's antigun project has helped the authors uncover other elements of the story: the gun lobby and its culture, the firearms industry and its laissez-faire philosophy of marketing, and the municipalities in whose name the attorneys are suing. The authors are resigned to the near impossibility of effective legislation any time soon, but they conclude that lawsuits are the only hope for meaningful gun control, as they tend to remove the powerful NRA from a direct lobbying role and thrust the issues into the complex realm of tort litigation. Essential for those who seek a thorough insider's understanding of the issues involved.-Philip Y. Blue, New York State Supreme Court Criminal Branch Law Lib., First Judicial Dist., New York Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
How efforts to curb America's "Great Gun Bazaar" have foundered on the lobbying shoals of the National Rifle Association and kindred gun-rights organizations. Since legislators can't confront the issue of handgun proliferation and misuse—bills never even get out of committee—couldn't litigation do the job? Abel's law firm, Wendell Gauthier, tried to demand culpability on the part of weapon makers as it did successfully with the tobacco industry. Their suit seemed modest, requiring waiting periods, limiting to one the number of guns that could be bought within a 30-day period, advocating the development of smart guns that could be used only by their owner. Forget it. When the NRA gets rolling, explain Abel and investigative journalist Brown, they wield outsized political clout for their three million members: dealing with largesse, playing hard on the sacredness of individual rights, convincing the courts that gun control is a legislative issue. The authors detail the schism that almost allowed some control to emerge: The NRA is a consumerist organization that thrives on crisis and perceived threats to rights, while the gun makers are businesspeople who want to be left alone. Smith & Wesson, hoping to be exempted from lawsuits, agreed to a "Code of Conduct" and were instantly pilloried by the NRA, boycotted, and left holding a very lonely, wind-blown position. Throughout, Brown and Abel stipple their legal and political tale with recountings of horrific killings, including the deaths of youngsters and plenty of hate murders—recurring phenomena that should be more than enough to stack the scales of justice on the side of some form of gun control. Still, only eight weeks afterthe Columbine shootings, the NRA had thwarted any gun-control legislation that might have come out of Congress. Wendell Gauthier hasn't fared any better. A dispiriting situation, one that will bring only more misery, Brown and Abel foretell, before all the gun-distribution loopholes are closed.

Product Details

Free Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.14(w) x 9.44(h) x 1.05(d)

Read an Excerpt


A Shooting in Faubourg Marigny

New Orleans, Louisiana, October 11, 1998. Gospel Singer Raymond Myles opened the door to a rundown card club — little more than a hole in the wall — and shouted a farewell to a friend: "I don't know when I will see you again. I've got concerts booked months in advance."

Then he walked toward his car through the cloudy, moonless night. Myles had just spent the last few hours in the projects where he grew up. He'd devoured a plate of barbecue and picked up a new purple choir robe from his seamstress before heading to his favorite club.

The cozy club's atmosphere made him feel mellow. Sipping on a Coke, he watched a card game, and then defied his public image for seriousness by singing along with a recording of Elvis Presley's "Crying in the Chapel."

At 11:15 p.m., he leaned over to a friend and said, "I've gotta go man. I'm up tomorrow at 5 a.m. I've got a plane to catch." The unlit parking lot was strewn with shards of glass and brick fragments, causing Myles to stumble as he headed toward his Lincoln Navigator. He sank down into his luxurious car and began the familiar drive toward Bourbon Street.

Eleven minutes later, Myles' $45,000 automobile sped from the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood, headed down Chartres Street, and turned onto Elysian Fields Avenue, where it stopped at a street corner. The passenger door swung open and the singer's body was flung into a gutter awash with foul runoff. It landed faceup, the head resting in a clump of bayou morning glories. Blood commingled with the runoff. The singer had been shot three times — twice in the leg and once in the chest. The third bullet had pierced his heart.

During the last fifteen minutes of Myles' life, his killer had stripped the diamond rings from his hands, pocketed his Lorcin pistol, and grabbed a small television set. Job completed, the killer would abandon the Navigator five miles away.

At 11:51 p.m. the headlights on Cecil Termez' truck illuminated the death scene. Termez, leaning out his window, knew immediately that Myles was dead. He sped toward an all-night gas station, where he dialed 911. Bradley Rhodes was the first officer on the scene. He vainly searched for a pulse and some identification. Moments later, Homicide Detective John Ronquillo ran from his car and knelt beside the body: "Don't you know who that is?" he asked Rhodes. "It's Raymond Myles. The gospel singer."

When the preliminary report of the death passed across the desk of the watch commander, he scanned it briefly before reaching for a telephone. He had a celebrity killing on his hands — one that would outrage most of New Orleans' religious community.

Not only was Myles one of the premier evangelistic singers in the Deep South, he was a New Orleans icon well known to every powerful figure in the city. He was also a Grammy winner who frequently played on the national stage, so respected that Daily Variety, the Bible of Hollywood, would feature a front-page obituary.

As the coroner sped to the death scene, the watch commander beeped Police Chief Richard Pennington and New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial — standard procedure following a homicide. The chief called a minute later. When he learned that the DOA was Raymond Myles, he sank back on his bed. The singer was a favorite of the police brass. He had sung at their benefits, at funerals of fallen officers, and at many famed jazz festivals.

"I'm coming in," Pennington told the watch commander, "and try and dodge the news calls. We need a couple of hours."

When Pennington read the details from the early reports, reality set in. He had to call the mayor.

Morial was awakened by the beeping but went back to sleep, feeling impotent and angry. Another murder. Many nights the shrill beeper would awaken him four or five times, reminding him that New Orleans had become "a city of death." As mayor, he carried these deaths on his political shoulders. Yet it seemed that nobody else shared his outrage. Certainly, nobody wanted to do anything about it.

While serving two terms as a state senator, he had authored six antigun bills, none of which even made it out of committee. His cronies in the Democratic Party offered no help. The rural sections of Louisiana stymied any attempt to strengthen the state's gun laws. And the muscular lobby of the National Rifle Association blocked all of his proposals.

Back at police headquarters, Chief Pennington searched for the best way to disclose to Morial that his friend was dead. Myles and Morial had known one another since childhood. The well-loved entertainer had performed at both of the mayor's inaugurations and all of his public and private functions. "He always brought the house down and everyone had a great time whenever he performed," Morial said.

Pennington finally just picked up the phone and called his boss. Morial seemed to respond calmly — until he slammed down the phone in rage.

Myles had been shot with his own gun, he had learned. It was a death that, he felt, could have been prevented. For years, gun manufacturers, including Colt and Smith & Wesson, had been experimenting with "personalized guns" — guns that could only be fired by their owners. Gunsmiths called them "smart guns": they were smart enough to save lives.

But the National Rifle Association had taken a stand against mandatory alterations of handguns. The NRA's executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, spoke for his members when he derided the gun companies for considering these "risky pistols," adding, "The industry is decades away from making a safe personal weapon."

News of Myles' death spread quickly through New Orleans. Before dawn, just hours after the murder, scores of churchwomen in mourning outfits descended on the crossroads, intent on sanctifying the death scene — a New Orleans tradition. Sprays of autumn flowers and a teddy bear were near the wild morning glories that had cradled Myles' head. At daybreak, a group of the mourners joined hands and, moving slowly, sang Baptist hymns. Soon, New Orleans commuters were awakening to hymns, too. Myles' voice was being played on Top 40 stations as well as the more arcane FM channels.

Morial, son of New Orleans' first African-American mayor, Ernest (Dutch) Morial, vetoed a quick burial. Instead, he arranged for Myles' body to lie in state under the dome of the New Orleans Municipal Auditorium. More than 10,000 people filed slowly by the gardenia-draped casket the first day.

Next Saturday morning, representatives from every church in the city crowded into St. Stephen's Baptist Church, Myles' own, where a five-hundred-voice choir performed solemn anthems. Morial sat with the family, yards from another longtime friend, famed attorney Wendell Gauthier, who would soon become entangled in the ugly political fallout of Myles' murder. Morial obsessed about the murder long after witnessing his friend's casket being lowered into the earth. He thought about the handgun that Myles had purchased because "the streets had become too dangerous."

New Orleans police said that Myles kept the handgun in the well between the Navigator's front seats so he could grab it if he felt threatened. But the gun was also an eye-catcher, its gleaming steel finish reflecting every streetlight. Morial learned that Myles' weapon ended Myles' life quickly: "Dead in thirty seconds," said coroner Frank Minyards. And it had offered no protection at all against his executioner. The killer had been so close when he pumped bullets into the singer that he left powder burns on Myles' chest.

Myles' death was not unique. A high percentage of handgun victims are shot with their own guns. Policemen, truckers, and liquor store owners are particularly vulnerable.

Myles remained in Morial's thoughts as he continued his antigun lobbying. He was now second vice president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and waist-deep in violence statistics and crime reports. Gunmakers were continuing to resist producing "smart guns," claiming "they cost too much." Meanwhile, death tolls from accidental handgun deaths and handgun homicides mounted. Gang members roaming New Orleans' streets had more guns and firepower than the city's police force. The New Orleans mayor was aware that at least twenty cities were planning to sue firearms manufacturers — a wave of litigation inspired by ideas that had been formulated in Philadelphia beginning in late 1996 and had since become a topic of national discussion. But Morial remained undecided. The murder pushed him forward, and he quickly summoned Wendell Gauthier to his office.

Lawyer Gauthier, unlike Morial, had already battled a Goliath industry and won. Gauthier had headed the famous tobacco litigation and had extracted more than $340 billion from their coffers. He told Morial that a similar victory over gunmakers was conceivable.

Gauthier was a credible — albeit colorful — resource. "He is a veritable Zelig of mass-disaster litigation," the Weekly Standard wrote of the barrister. "He has twice ranked as one of the National Law Journal's '100 Most Powerful Lawyers.'"

On October 21, 1998, only ten days after Raymond Myles' murder, Gauthier, toting an "Italian brown" umbrella that matched his $2,000 "Milan Mogul" suit, walked into Morial's office, carrying a sheaf of papers under his arm.

Gauthier slapped the paper pile onto the mayor's desk: "Here's an outline for your lawsuit, Marc. Do you want to file this quickly? Aren't you worried that people might believe you are using Raymond's death for political gain?"

"Wendell, as saddened as I am because of Raymond's death, I see it as a catalyst for moving against the handgun industry. It is considered invulnerable, but I'm not so sure. With the legislature in the National Rifle Association's pocket, isn't this the only way we can go after them?"

Gauthier answered cautiously: "It will attract their attention, but can we hurt them financially? That is the only way they'll agree to these changes. They won't volunteer."

The New Orleans mayor was well aware that his enemies would accuse him of "going through the back door" to achieve his political goals. Using litigation rather than legislation would likely bring the furies of the United States Congress and the Louisiana State Legislature upon him. While he was a state senator, his proposals had been defeated again and again by legislators who had caved in to the demands of NRA lobbyists. By going to court, he surmised he might bypass those fabled lobbyists — or so he hoped.

Gauthier picked up his Via Veneto umbrella and headed back out into the storm.

Back in his office in the suburb of Metairie, the lawyer found his law partner, Daniel G. Abel, waiting for him. Knowing Gauthier's addiction to rich settlements, Abel warned him: "This suit might bring you a lot of attention, Wendell, but it won't bring you a lot of money."

"Maybe not," Gauthier had answered him. "But I promised the mayor I would do it. So get me the numbers and a battle plan, and we'll meet in a couple of days."

Though Gauthier was becoming more convinced of the lawsuit's "winnability," he was slowly accepting a bitter reality: the gun industry was no "deep pocket" defendant. Total earnings for the industry were about $1.9 billion to $3 billion annually. In contrast, the tobacco industry earned $1 billion a day.

Undeterred, Gauthier consulted a forensic accountant. Maybe the gun industry's insurance companies could be forced to proffer large sums if Gauthier's litigation proved successful. But again, he was disappointed. They would pay damages to gun manufacturers but, in their policies, waived coverage of litigation awards.

Abel soberly confronted Wendell about the dismal financial report. "If the numbers are correct, this will be an idealistic endeavor," he told Gauthier. "It will cost you as much as half a million dollars to prosecute the New Orleans suit alone, and there's a good chance you will never recoup the money. If you call in the armada of attorneys you used in the tobacco lawsuits, you could lose millions."

Gauthier chose to persevere.

That was how New Orleans' legal assault on handguns began. Within six months, thirty-three other cities would follow New Orleans' example.

Charlton Heston, the aging poster boy for the National Rifle Association, would later characterize Gauthier, the spark for this national revolution, "a traitor to the United States."

This revolution would sweep up President William Clinton, President George W. Bush, the mayors of thirty-three cities, New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Tom Selleck, Rosie O'Donnell, Barbra Streisand, and Sharon Stone.

The sixteen gun companies named in the suit were almost lost in the shuffle. But they were like sleeping bears about to awaken.

Copyright © 2003 by Peter Harry Brown

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Outgunned: Up Against the NRA-- The First Complete Insider Account of the Battle Over Gun Control 1.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Only an uninformed person would believe that guns aren't regulated beyond reason. Just try buying one. Just work to get a right to carry permit. You guys need to get your facts straight, begore you dump this "stuff" on anyone who knows the trurh. First heck wiyh the FBI. They have stats that prove the most regulated cities and states have the highest crime rates. People, don't be fooled.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author is extremely bias and ignorant.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Bad guys will get guns no matter what you do
guitaoist3 More than 1 year ago
its the second amendment, not the 300th, for a reason
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
...this book is for you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago