by John Naese
Paul Vallandigham was an officer and director of Guns Save Life, but he was more than that – he was one of the original founding members.
The first meeting of what eventually became Guns Save Life was in the basement of a restaurant in Rantoul in 1995. Paul, I, and five other people showed up after receiving postcards from the Illinois State Rifle Association, which were sent out to all 160 or so ISRA members in Champaign County. We formed the Champaign County Grassroots Committee of the ISRA, and proceeded to brainstorm how to get more than 7 out of 160 to show up. It was Paul’s idea to divide up the membership list between us, and call each and every member and find out what it would take to get them to show up. We found that nearly half the members on that list had either moved, died, or were no longer members or no longer interested. When we started sending out newsletters, we concentrated on the 88 or so actual living members we had found.
Paul also came up with the idea, only recently discontinued, to put the names of the people who attended the monthly meetings in the newsletter. His theory was that people would see the names of other people they knew who attended, talk to them, and then decide to attend the meetings. Anecdotal evidence suggests he was right. Along with all the other modifications we made to our meetings over the years, the list of names helped grow the meetings from a dozen people to over 150 each month. The main reason it has been discontinued now is that the list of names is so long, it takes a significant amount of space in the newspaper, and not everyone has an opportunity to sign in.
Paul and I served together on the ISRA board of directors in the late 1990’s. Their monthly board meeting was near Joliet, about a three-hour drive from Urbana. Once a month, Paul and I would carpool up there, three hours each way. You could learn a lot from Paul, if you were willing to listen, and I was. For six hours a month, I got a PHD level education in a variety of subjects – and none of it was inconsequential. We bounced ideas around and presented them with vigor before the ISRA board. While few of our ideas were adopted while we served on the Board, we noticed that later on some of them were adopted. I guess we were just a little ahead of our time.
When the Champaign County Grassroots Committee and the ISRA grew apart in goals and tactics, Paul was instrumental in forming first the Champaign County Rifle Association, and later adopting the name Guns Save Life.
Paul also saved the Burma-style sign campaign from ruin when it first started. Shortly after our first few sets of signs were erected, one of our landowners got a nasty letter from the Illinois Department of Transportation, ordering him to take down the signs or IDOT would do it for him and send him the bill. Paul immediately responded with a well reasoned, legally sound, and hard-hitting letter back to IDOT, showing that the signs were political speech on private property, and thus exempt from commercial billboard or sign regulations. After that and since then, IDOT has left us and our landowners alone.
On the subject of Burma-style signs, I credit Paul with authorship of one of the slogans that got us on the central Illinois gun-rights map. Paul told us the history of the racist roots of gun control, and came up with the slogan “Gun control – is race control – not crime control – and it’s un-American – Gunssavelife.com”. While that slogan didn’t have rhyme, or even humor, it did have impact – shortly after we erected it, the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette ran a front page story, with pictures, about the signs, the slogan, and the organization behind them.
Over the years that John Boch and I have edited GunNews, Paul has been a regular contributor, writing on rules for gunfighting, flintlock rifles, black powder shooting tricks, legal issues, and other subjects. The bad thing about his articles was that they usually needed editing down, or each one would have run several pages. But that’s not a bad thing – it was all good information, well-researched and authoritative, and as an editor, I was glad to get them.
While no one in an organization is indispensable, Paul will surely be missed. We are thankful to have had his acquaintance, and for his many years of dedicated service to the gun rights – civil rights movement.
A memorial service is being planned for Tuesday, October 9th at the Knights of Columbus, 1001 N. Ohio Street in Rantoul at 5:00 p.m.
Please stop by and join Paul’s friends and family for a celebration of his life and accomplishments.
Dinner will be available around 6:00pm.
Those wishing to stay for the regular monthly meeting of the organization that was so much a part of Paul’s life are encouraged to do so.