I’m writing this shortly after returning from the Texas Firearms Law Seminar hosted annually by the State Bar of Texas. It’s a CLE (Continuing Legal Education) credit program for practicing attorneys. However, the three-digit attendance wasn’t limited to lawyers as top-flight firearms instructors like Karl Rehn (http://krtraining.com) and Col. Eric Lamberson (http://sensibleselfdefense.com) were in the audience along with some law-savvy FFL holders.

This wasn’t just because some of the speakers were rock stars of the gun world. Among the latter group: Steve Halbrook, the lawyer who helped bring us the critical U.S. Supreme Court decision in Heller vs. District of Columbia and the author of several scholarly books anyone fighting for gun owners’ civil rights should read. There was also gun rights warrior David Kopel and Clayton Cramer, the brilliant researcher who has been credited with originating the term “shall issue” (Albany Law Review, Vol. 68 No. 2). Clayton authoritatively explained why FBI homicide stats significantly understate the percentage of justifiable shootings.

handgun manual

If you carry a gun, a working knowledge of relevant laws is critical!

Dealers, Defendants

The speakers’ list also included experienced voices from law enforcement. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Director of Industry Operations for the agency’s Houston Field Division, Tanarra James, explained how FFL dealers can avoid common mistakes. She and other experts present endorsed electronic Form 4473s. Why? For one thing they flag the dealer automatically to any spaces left blank.

On the self-defense side, the seminar spent an hour on the Terry Graham case. District Attorney Matt Bingham explained why he brought me in as expert witness for a grand jury and how the group exonerated the homeowner for the shooting death of an armed burglar. Greg Smith, who assisted lead defense counsel Tracy Crawford in the subsequent lawsuit by the family of the deceased, explained how they won for the homeowner.

Ace Dallas gun lawyer Sabrina Karels explained why, in Graham vs. Texas Farm Bureau, it was ruled the homeowner could not recover the $130,000 he’d spent in legal fees and costs from his homeowner’s insurance company. Like most such policies, it exempted them from having to pay for a “willful tort,” which is a deliberate act of harm to another person.

Handguns Halbrook

Pro-gun “Rock Star” Steve Halbrook gave the opening address on the state of national gun laws.

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Gun-free zones were — and are — a constant topic of legal discussion.

Pot Problems, Gun Trusts

Several states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes and some even for recreational purposes. However, its use still violates Federal law. The attorneys at the seminar were virtually unanimous in agreement a legal state marijuana prescription gave no protection against Federal law — which essentially prohibits regular users of controlled substances from owning firearms.

Suppressors, full auto, and other hardware covered under the National Firearms Act always require our sharpest attention in terms of legality. Attorney Sabrina Karels reminded us if the item in question is out of the safe and accessible to members of the family who aren’t expressly licensed to possess and you are not present to supervise, those loved ones technically have “constructive possession” and are vulnerable to very serious Federal charges. Make sure such items are locked in the safe and you can prove you’re the only one who has the key or knows the combination.

The attorneys who lectured us agreed on two points: Gun Trusts are A Good Thing, and they need to be written up by (a) attorneys who (b) specialize and have a lot of experience in this sort of thing. You will spend a whole lot less on lawyers’ billable hours getting the gun trust ducks in a row than you will later after criminal charges are filed because you missed one of the many fine points.

Include family members in your Gun Trust. It makes even their inadvertent possession legal. It will also greatly expedite their ability to receive the guns you have bequeathed to them after you’ve gone to The Great Shooting Range in the Sky. Texas attorney Sean Healy, a master of this sub-specialty, warns drawing up your own Gun Trust by downloading boilerplate forms from the Internet can lead you into quicksand.

Ever take a gun in trade for work, rent, etc.? Ex-cop, now attorney, Larry McDougall reminded us barter is income and has to be reported. To stay completely out of trouble with the IRS, he suggests having any bartered gun appraised for purposes of declaring its value.

Attorney Karels informed us selling our own reloads to a buddy, even if we’re doing so at cost, means we might need a license to manufacture ammunition.

The above merely scratches the surface of the two-day gold mine of knowledge nuggets found at the Texas Bar CLE Firearms Law Seminar. It’s worth the time for any gun owner to check with their state bar association to see if they have similar offerings and if, as in Texas, they are open to non-lawyers.

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