The Story of Our Burma Signs
Many Americans of the “older generation” are indeed familiar with Verse by the Roadside — the Burma-Shave slogans which dotted American roadsides between the period 1927 to 1963. The CCRA has spearheaded the “Return of the Burma’s” as a means of providing information and even entertainment for those plying the highways and by-ways of Illinois and beyond. The objective of each sign set is to proclaim a basic truth, and to provide the viewing public the means to find out more, such as by contacting our web site.
Dr. Richard Klein, past Chairman of the CCRA, is photographed in 1999 with one of our original sets of signs. Since that time, we have changed to Arial font for much-improved visibility.
Our First Signs
The first set of signs erected by the CCRA went up on I-74 east of Urbana, Illinois in the spring of 1998. The first set, consisting of three signs, proclaimed the simple truth, GUN CONTROL — DISARMS VICTIMS — NOT CRIMINALS. Based upon positive public reaction received, our group expanded the concept to a basic four-line message followed by a fifth, “tag line” sign. In our case, the tag line makes a summary statement as well as provides a web site address — “GUNS SAVE LIFE.COM” It also provides legal protection from the Illinois Department of Transportation (more on that later).
Following the appearance of our first sign set on I-74 east of Urbana in 1998, other area land owners interested in American ideals noticed the signs and approached us through word-of-mouth inquiring how they might get a set of signs on their property. The result has been a systematic sign building and placement effort. The signs are now seen along various area interstates (and soon on major state highways). In general, the CCRA orchestrates the erection of new signs. A number of different tasks are involved, these being; site procurement, slogan authorship/creation, construction and printing of panels, on-site erection, fund raising to cover expenses, and web site support.
1. Site Procurement: The task of site procurement is complex, but it does happen. Friends of the Second Amendment (meaning patriotic Americans who believe in the Constitution) are referred to us or contact us. One of our members visits with the local landowner and inspects the site for suitability and contacts “JULIE” to survey the area for buried cables, pipelines and other infrastructure items. Once the “go-ahead” is agreed upon, the materials are ordered and a work-day is scheduled.
2. Slogan Authorship/Creation: Interestingly, we get candidate slogans from many different sources. Those with ideas for slogans e-mail them to the Board of Directors. Normally, if the Board members really likes a particular slogan, it submits it to the general membership for approval. In many other cases, we undertake surveys of non-gun enthusiasts for their opinions. In these “focus groups,” we look for sign slogans that do not necessarily appeal to gun owners, but may have unique appeal to the general public.
At the regular meetings, the slogans are given a pass/fail vote. To be approved, the vote has to be nearly unanimously in favor of the candidate slogan. If the majority approve of the slogan, but some have reservations, it is sent back for “tweaking.”
If you have an idea for a Burma-style slogan, please e-mail us.
3. Construction: As much as possible of the panel construction is done off-site and in a shop environment. This includes plywood cutting, installation of trim, and mounting of stiffeners. The construction of the signs has evolved considerably since our first set.
Originally, we used all donated materials, including oak timbers and untreated plywood. This kept the costs to a minimum, but the quality (and the life) left a bit to be desired.
Today, we use vandal resistant hardware on all of our new sets. We are nearly finished retrofitting many of our first sets of signs as the oak timbers began failing after three years in the ground. Today’s sign sets have an expected life of approximately twenty years.
The printed messages are ordered from an area print shop. The sign panels themselves have an expected life of about five years.
4. Erecting the Signs: Most sets of slogans consist of five sign sets. A desired spacing of about 200 feet between signs is maintained on most highways, and this permits a comfortable two-second read time per sign for passing motorists. Construction and erection amounts to setting in place ten posts and attachment of backing panels that carry the printed slogans. A three person work crew can generally install a set of sign panels in about two hours with the right tools. Once in place, the condition of the signs is monitored by area members. Regular maintenance involves trimming grass, weeds, and brush, and repairing damage by vandalism, storms, or farm equipment.
5. Fundraising: Today, the cost per set for materials is right at $600. The extra money we now spend on each set saves us hours on installation and maintenance time. It also nearly eliminates the ability of vandals to tear down the signs. Lastly, it doubles the life of the signs. The necessary funds are raised by a variety of means such as: donations, group fund-raising activities, drawings, and other special events. Because of requests for sign panel sets in more distant areas, the CCRA/GSL will assist other groups and individuals with the slogan and sign placement, but we generally ask that each area generate its own funding support and labor assistance. If it is not too far away, we will help them install their first set. This way, we can boost them along the learning curve.
6. Legal Considerations: In most states laws prohibit digging (especially with powered equipment) without first getting a dig-permit from the state or other agency. In Illinois, for example, a dig permit can be obtained by marking the site and then by calling J-U-L-I-E several days prior to digging. There is no cost for obtaining a dig permit.
Any group, or individual, contemplating erection of signs along a public roadway should be aware that regulations exist concerning “commercial advertising.” However, as these signs are posted on private property and they are political in nature, they are protected by the Constitution, as affirmed by the 9-0 1994 Supreme Court decision City of LaDue vs. Gilleo. In 1999, the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) sent threatening letters to nearly all of the landowners displaying our Burma-style signs. Paul Vallandigham, our attorney, sent IDOT a letter citing the LaDue vs. Gilleo decision and explaining how the CCRA would respond if additional letters were sent to the landowners or if IDOT removed the signs as threatened. A friend at the state headquarters of IDOT told us that the chief legal counsel (at the time) told his district offices to “not give Mr. Vallandigham any reason to send me further correspondence.” To this day, no additional letters have ever been received from IDOT regarding the our Burma-style signage.
Web Site Support
Our goal is to provide meaningful information to the public, as well as a means for the public to access supporting documentation on the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. We also strive to give credit to organizations sponsoring highway signs in their area.
Gun Owner Response
The CCRA/GSL has been pleased (even overwhelmed) by the response to our sign slogans. Response has come from many quarters of society. Americans who respect the Second Amendment have been very supportive. This support manifests itself in many ways: e-mail responses from around the nation, telephone calls, support and donations at area gun shows, CB chatter along the highway (which we monitor from time to time), and verbal feedback. In short, the area pro-gun community is proud of these signs and doesn’t hesitate to tell us so.
The media has also noticed — to the point that The Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette wrote the first feature article about the signs on February 19, 1999. The story also included color photographs on the front page. A few months later, the Monticello newspaper had a front page story about the signs as well. The Oliver North radio show even discussed our Burma-Shave signs one day in the Spring of 1999. Since that time, we have received additional newspaper articles about the signs and our group’s activities.
In 2000, one sign set was posted on I-55 within sight of the rest area (near Pontiac, IL) where a flight attendant named Heather Tomich was brutally murdered one night on her way home. That set read CRIMINALS MENACING? A LADY ALONE? DETERRENCE REQUIRES – MORE THAN A PHONE. Sadly, Heather Tomich only had a cell phone in her purse that night. The newspapers in that area published articles about the relationship between the crime and the signs nearby.
Also in 2000, Dr. Richard Klein and John Boch were published in a color photo on the front page of the Decatur Herald and Review in a story about the signs. Other stories have detailed (some with photos) vandalism done to the signs. Letters-to-the-editor in area newspapers have also promoted or criticized the signs. Local 9-1-1 coordinators hate our “DIALED 9-1-1 – AND I’M ON HOLD – SURE WISH I HAD – THAT GUN I SOLD” slogan and are quite vocal in their opinions. Other pro-gun groups in the State of Illinois are organizing so as to get signs in their areas. We’ve even had pro-gun groups in other states (as distant as Florida and as close as Missouri) express an interest in adopting the roadside sign slogans.
Of course, the anti-gun community has noticed these signs. We hope to educate the entire community as to one basic and undeniable fact — Guns Save Life. We say that because in virtually all responsible and scholarly studies that examine the facts, society is safer when citizens have the right to keep and bear arms. Yes, the opposition can cite isolated instances (anecdotal in nature) of some unfortunate situation where an innocent person was injured or killed by a gun, and it’s a tragedy when that happens. But the truth is that anecdotal information fails to look at the society as a whole, and it fails to measure the good which a gun in the hands of an honest citizens can do.
The most zealous anti-gunner is invited, for example, to read the book More Guns, Less Crime by University of Chicago Professor John Lott. After reading his book, anti-gunners are challenged to find a flaw in Lott’s logic or in his findings. The critic is challenged to present an acceptable scholarly rebuttal — “acceptable” means one which will stand up to scholarly peer review. The point is that Lott’s work has, to date, withstood all attempts by the (anti-gun) critics to discredit his work in a scholarly forum.
An Invitation: If you feel that American freedoms are at risk, and you would like to join or assist in our efforts, you are cordially invited to join, to respond, or to even help support our work through a donation of time, materials, land site acquisition, or even dollars. Please contact John Boch.
REWARD – $500 reward for information leading to the arrest
and conviction of individuals who vandalized any GunsSaveLife.com signs.
Contact us with any information you may have.