by Paul Vallandigham
(GunNews) – We can all agree that we lost a fine friend, and colleague on a cold and dreary Monday morning in January 2011, but we lost much more.
Gene Martin did tremendous work in his spare time fighting for civil rights for all Illinoisans and frankly, one of the reasons various civil rights groups throughout Illinois are working together so well today is a direct result of Mr. Martin’s good work bringing leaders and key people together on our shared goals.
IGOLD – Illinois Gun Owner Lobby Day – was Gene’s idea.
The Illinois State Rifle Association had sponsored its own lobby day for years. It usually turned out a couple of hundred participants in an somewhat impressive show that didn’t involve busing in disinterested people from outside of Springfield attending for their free meals and some spending money – or courtesy of the Chicago Public School system.
Mr. Martin suggested organizing all of the gun rights groups, internet forums, manufacturers, retailers and others in the industry to into a “super lobby day” under the ISRA’s direction.
The annual IGOLD event has grown to include upwards of 7,000 participants marching through the streets of Springfield to the capitol building, descending to flood the halls and offices of the Illinois General Assembly with goldenrod IGOLD t-shirts.
Mr. Martin’s efforts crafting the IGOLD event each year would make him a remarkable man, but he didn’t stop there.
Martin’s selfless and tireless work on Illinois’ “Second Amendment Resolution” was where still more gun owners around Illinois came to know Gene. The Second Amendment Resolution project reaffirmed each county’s belief in the Second Amendment protection of an individual right to keep and bear arms, and demanded the Illinois legislature stop passing gun control laws.
Gene came the Guns Save Life board of directors and asked us to lobby the Champaign County Board to pass the resolution.
We turned Gene down, not because we were not, to a person, enthusiastic about the idea, but because we had been beating our heads against the brick wall that is the anti-gun Champaign County Board led by a very anti-Second Amendment Democrat leader.
We wished him well, and Gene left and a couple of months later he had single-handedly cobbled together enough votes to pass the resolution with the implacable Champaign County Board. It was later blocked on a procedural ruling by the virulently anti-gun Board Chairman, but we were impressed.
We assisted where we could and in the subsequent months, Martin and others had gotten the resolution passed in over ninety of Illinois’ 102 counties. Some of those counties went on to host ballot initiatives, albeit advisory, on right-to-carry.
A direct result of the county resolutions was that county sheriffs in Illinois became involved in their support of a carry law.
In 2009, the Illinois Sheriff’s Association, voted unanimously in support of its own resolution supporting a right-to-carry law in Illinois. (The Cook County sheriff was absent.)
Give credit to Gene for this extraordinary change of affairs. The political clout of the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association has contributed to still more people supporting right-to-carry. Of all fifty states, only Illinois and Wisconsin lack some provision for carry licenses.
I know from talking to Gene this past year that he was very pleased with the real momentum building in Illinois to pass a carry bill. He didn’t take credit for any of it. But, I think he knew.
Illinois will be the last state in the nation to pass right to carry, but it will happen someday. And we’ll all owe Gene Martin a debt of gratitude.
So, Thank you Gene. Not only for your work on the Board of Directors of Guns Save Life, and in your leadership role with IllinoisCarry.com, but also for being such a fine gentleman, the great coach, a terrific father and husband, and even grandfather, to set an example for us all.
I don’t believe I have ever heard of anyone who didn’t like Gene. He was admired and respected for holding to his basic principles and values. He has left his mark among us, and we are all better for him passing this way. Gene will be missed by both his family and all his many friends.
It is with Gene Martin in mind we will encourage all of our Guns Save life families, friends, neighbors and co-workers to attend this year’s IGOLD event. It won’t be the same without bumping into Gene Martin, but in these increasingly turbulent times, we need right-to-carry in Illinois more than ever.
See you at IGOLD.
Originally published in the March 2011 issue of GunNews.