(GSL) – Guns Save Life started almost thirty years ago. Since then, GSL has accomplished a great many things thanks to our incredible pool of talented, creative and successful members and supporters.
Back in early 1994, the Illinois State Rifle Association sought to launch county-level grassroots gun rights groups to help in that year’s elections and to work locally to advance gun rights. Within a few years, most of those county groups withered, but under John Naese’s leadership, the group in Champaign County grew and prospered.
Nourished by tangible successes we grew. We pushed back on ISP redefining “loaded” guns and upended an anti-gun local politician’s planned photo op attacking our then Congressman for his pro-gun votes.
Also at that time, we launched our incredibly successful highway sign messaging program after a sign company rejected a pro-gun message for a local billboard. They said the message was too inflammatory. So, we planted the first set of highway signs just east of Urbana on I-74 with this message:
IS RACE CONTROL
NOT CRIME CONTROL
AND IT’S UN-AMERICAN
That garnered front-page coverage in newspaper. Soon additional landowners demanded more sign sets on their property.
At the same time, the ISRA board was appalled by our “Gun control is race control” sign slogan. We soon parted ways with ISRA to become the Champaign County Rifle Association, and not long after that, we adopted the name “Guns Save Life.”
We came up with additional effective messages that vandals didn’t like. After repeated spray paint attacks, we erected our first and only double-decker set over a vandalized set of panels.
AS YOU CAN SEE
THUGS SPRAY LIES
HARD AS THEY TRY
FREEDOM WON’T DIE.
Suddenly, the attacks on our signs stopped.
All the while, we continued to bask in more mainstream media coverage of our messages. The 911 people got all worked up about this one:
AND I’M ON HOLD
SURE WISH I HAD
THAT GUN I SOLD
Then near Pontiac, about a mile north of the Rest Area there on I-55, we planted a set of signs that read:
A THUG MENACING?
A LADY ALONE?
THAT RABBIT’S FOOT
WON’T SAVE NO BUNNY
A flight attendant on her way home from O’Hare was murdered in that rest area late at night. The reporter saw the sign set, did some research and suddenly we were on the front page of the Chicago Tribune.
Of course, the government got involved, trying to intimidate landowners to remove the signs. Or else. So our attorney sent the Illinois DOT (and later the federal DOT) cease and desist letters, citing a 9-0 US Supreme Court decision in LaDue v. Gilleo that political and religious signage on private property is exempt from government regulation.
Meanwhile, we started partaking in the “Gun Buyback” game. Our first was in Joliet where they offered $50 bills for guns, no questions asked. We turned in 16 non-functioning clunkers and thought we were big stuff. “Fistfuls of Dollars” we touted.
A year or two later, John Boch took up 23 broken-down guns (one cop asked if he got them from the bottom of Lake Michigan) to Chicago and brought home $2300 in pre-paid MasterCards for GSL. A year later, we did it again bringing home $2800.
Fast forward a few more years and a few more buyback adventures when we took up our biggest haul: Nearly 70 rusty clunkers netted us $6250. This time the media caught up with our bragging, with photos of the junk we took and of the pre-paid credit cards we brought home.
“Pro-gun group uses Chicago gun buyback program to send kids to gun camp” screamed the FoxNews headline.
We garnered a week of international publicity with headlines in the USA, Europe, and Canada. The public humiliation caused Chicago to stop the program for three years.
Suddenly we had reporters wanting to know more about this crazy, uniquely American group in Illinois where gun owners meet and celebrate America’s gun culture at regular meetings. With tables chock full of guns. And doing things like highway signs and gun buybacks. They found it bizarre. Russian media even sent a film crew from Moscow.
At the same time our GunNews became a professional journal with a circulation of 20,000+. We generated buzz in the mainstream media with it, too, including the time when we likened a proposal to make FOID cardholder information public sort of like how the Nazi’s publicly identified Jews ahead of World War II.
Using information from GunNews and our meetings, our members worked behind the scenes to score victories at local businesses and to push back on gun control proposals at the local level. They also helped educate their local and state-level elected officials.
Another reason we’ve grown is that our members see tangible results with their membership. What’s more, they rightfully take ownership of our endeavors. When you join GSL, you see leadership locally at our monthly meetings and you see the results of your own efforts, large and small, advancing gun rights and the right to self-defense.
For example, we distribute GunNews in countless locations – including the State Capitol building. We work at gun shows, conventions and other events getting the word out too.
One of our board members at the time, Gene Martin, is credited as the father of the Illinois Gun Owners Lobby Day – or IGOLD. Within a couple of years, thousands turned out and participated. It proved quite effective.
Our members also turned out at numerous counter-demonstrations, thwarting the anti-gun message with powerful messaging of our own at gun shops, public parks and other locations including downtown Chicago.
GSL’s terrific members have also appeared at countless parades, promoting patriotism and pro-gun messages.
The GSL organization and its members also have supported worthy groups that help our veterans like Honor Flight and HOOAH Deer Hunt For Heroes.
Great meetings with great speakers kept people coming back. Oftentimes, history came to life as real-life heroes from historical events gave first-hand accounts.
These were truly incredible presentations by exceptional men.
Those spurred interest and bigger and bigger crowds, approaching 240 people in Rantoul. Then some people from Pontiac inquired about launching a chapter there. And then Effingham. And Peoria.
In 2012, a UI professor interviewed John Boch and learned how Boch had a small chrome pistol as an ornament on his Christmas tree at home. At first, the professor didn’t believe it, but he followed John home and that led to a video documentary of GSL in The Atlantic titled Nothing Says Peace on Earth Like a Handgun for a Christmas Ornament.
Once again, another round of international publicity.
The professor eventually did other documentaries on GSL and our activities, including the one that’s on our website today (under “About”).
Our sign program grew.
And so did our number of meeting locations.
Along the way we faced challenges and attacks from the anti-gun crowd. In Pontiac, a reporter profiled our meeting as a bunch of raving drunks waving guns around. After a massive backlash, the editor came out and did a bang-up job more accurately reporting on our great people and our organization. We’re a great ally, and we can be fearsome enemies.
We launched Chicagoland. Effingham moved to Charleston, and then Springfield rolled into our family from the Sangamon County Rifle Association. Then we launched Decatur. And now LaSalle County.
And we started filing lawsuits. At the Illinois Supreme Court, we won on the Chicago Gun and Ammo tax and we won on half of our Deerfield lawsuit.We’re pending on the FOID challenge and we’re going to win there. In fact, we haven’t lost a suit yet.
We’re also becoming increasingly active in elections, helping our allies while hammering those who are squishy on guns or opposed to guns. We can’t make endorsements, but we can educate people and ridicule those who stab gun owners in the back.
We’ve also helped lots of good people win acquittal against bad arrests and prosecutions in cases up to and including murder.
We advocate for training, too. Guns Save Life brought Project Appleseed to Illinois with over fifty shooters at the first event at Darnall’s in Bloomington.
GSL has donated to countless youth shooting programs and provided volunteer shooting coaches and instructors as well.
GSL even wrote a check for over $10,000 for construction of the Central Illinois Precision Shooters Range in Bloomington – a designated US Olympic Training facility for shooting.
Our affiliated training organization, GSL Defense Training, has provided some of the very best training for over twenty years to thousands of people. Our team there has also volunteered to teach now two generations at the nation’s longest-running NRA Youth Shooting camp in Bloomington.
We’ve positively touched the lives of tens if not hundreds of thousands of good people in one way or another over the years. And we continue to help make our state safer for everyone. That’s a legacy we can all be proud of – and that our members can rightfully call their own.