Gunslinger: Alan Korwin Has Made a Career Pushing Unbridled Gun Rights, But Critics Say He Doesn't Shoot Straight
Among the masses of men in cowboy hats and steely-eyed women in “Babes with Bullets” T-shirts at the Crossroads of the West Gun Show in Glendale, a petite, suburban mom with a blond bob, yoga pants, and a Prada purse wanders from booth to booth picking through rhinestone-studded Glocks, gas masks, and camouflage suits.
Becky Sutton had been thinking about buying a gun for months, ever since her neighbors discovered a stranger in the living room of their Glendale two-story. The guy had scaled the fence, slunk past the dog, and sauntered straight through the back door. It was unlocked because her friends were, she says, eyes wide, dropping each word one at a time like pebbles into a pool, “Right. There. In. The. House.”
When she drove past a billboard advertising the gun show, she figured, what better place to learn about defending her family?
But here now, faced with row upon row of pistols and ammunition, she’s overwhelmed. She texts an in-the-know friend: “Clips? Magazines? Ammo? WTF?”
Alan Korwin, she’s told, is the man to talk to.
The sign on Korwin’s booth says: “Questions Answered.” Behind it, Korwin straightens a display of books with titles like Armed Response, Thank God I Had a Gun and After You Shoot: Your Gun’s Hot. The Perp’s Not. Now What?, his own step-by-step guide to protecting yourself after you’ve shot and killed a home intruder, would-be terrorist, or other crook. To his left, there’s a pile of pamphlets about the Bill of Rights. To his right, a bulk-size roll of red heart-shaped stickers printed with his personal slogan: “Guns Save Lives.”
Korwin, owner of the United States’ largest publisher and distributor of gun-law literature, has written 10 books on firearm code and commissioned or consulted on at least eight others. At 65, he has a lilting walk and a thin face that is, at first impression, gruff behind wire-rimmed spectacles and a well-trimmed silver beard. He has a fair complexion to match his once-upon-a-time red hair, and his cheeks flush berry-bright when he gets upset. His blue-gray eyes, accented by bushy brows, are expressive and lightning-quick, shifting from miffed to mirthful, congenial to cagey.
His debut book, The Arizona Gun Owner’s Guide, nicknamed the “Bible of gun ownership” by gun enthusiasts, was the first in the country to translate firearm regulations into an easy-to-read format for the everyday gunslinger. For decades, he’s doggedly worked toward doing the same for all 50 states.
He fancies himself an educator and gets huffy if you label him a member of the gun lobby (“I am a gun-law expert,” he stresses). But as one of the national media’s go-to guys for insights on legislation, shootings, and self-defense, Korwin’s become a sort of public-relations manager for the gun-rights cause. He passionately and irreverently champions the bearing of arms as a basic human right, comparing those who oppose him to white supremacists “refusing to serve Negroes at the lunch counter,” and he believes the answer to America’s crime problems is a well-armed citizenry.
His fervor has been instrumental in pushing through major pro-firearm legislation in Arizona, including abolishing all training requirements for gun owners. It’s also gotten him booted off the Anti-Defamation League’s civil rights committee and set him head to head with the city of Phoenix in a battle over the First Amendment.
Attorneys on his side say Korwin’s work to inform lay gun owners about federal, state, and local laws is essential in a legislative climate where laws are recast and layered year to year.
Firearm code has become so complex and tangled in rhetoric that the country can’t even agree how many rules are on the books. The Washington-based Brookings Institution estimates the figure — including only what it deems “significant” state laws, or those that control the manufacture, design, sale, purchase, or possession of guns — at about 300. But adding local laws and those dictating where and how firearms can be used, the National Rifle Association argues that the number is closer to 20,000. During the 2015 session alone, state legislatures debated more than 1,500 new gun bills. Arizona introduced 27 and passed five.
In such a climate, it’s easy to become an “accidental felon,” says Chuck Michel, a California-based civil rights attorney. “Your average Joe gun owner doesn’t have a lawyer in his closet standing by to make sure he’s in compliance. Alan’s work helps people protect themselves from making mistakes.”
Other policy experts, though, scoff at Korwin as a self-taught and self-published “quasi-scientist,” accusing him of spreading dangerous ideas that contradict a wide swath of research suggesting a strong correlation between lax gun laws and increased homicide, suicide, and accidental shooting deaths.
“I would hate for people to go to him thinking they’re going to be educated about smart gun laws,” says Allison Anderman, a staff attorney at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “What he’s doing is advocacy. He may want it to be true that guns improve public safety, but there are no credible studies that show this is the case.”
Regardless, following a slew of mass shootings, a new study from the Pew Research Center suggests that Korwin and his pro-gun cronies may be winning over the public.
For the first time in more than two decades, the majority of Americans believe it’s more important to protect the right to bear arms than to control gun ownership. Between 2012 and 2014, researchers found, the percentage of Americans who say firearms protect people from crime — rather than lead to it — increased from 48 percent to 57 percent. Now, nearly half of gun owners cite protection as their main reason for owning a gun, up from 26 percent in 1999, when most said they used guns for hunting.
At the gun show, Sutton twists her keychain around and around her finger as she tells Korwin about her neighborhood break-in: “It’s just me and my daughter in our house. I just want to be prepared to shoot — for protection, you know?”
He narrows his eyes. Has she “hardened” her house? he asks. Window locks? Better door locks? Lights? Security cameras? “Simply getting a gun is not the answer,” he says. “That’s at the end of what we call a ‘continuum of force.’”
Sutton volunteers, “I have four yipping wiener dogs.”
Korwin laughs. Head to Shooter’s World, a Phoenix firing range that rents guns to newbies, he tells her. He knows a guy there who can show her the ropes, he says, morphing his voice into his best movie gangster imitation, “Have your people talk to my people.” Then, more seriously, he adds, “Don’t just buy a Ruger 9mm because somebody says you need a Ruger 9mm. You have to see how the gun fits in your hand. Some guns just point better for you.”
He plucks two books from his display: Your First Gun: Should You Buy One and Join 60 Million Safely Armed American Homes? and The Arizona Gun Owner’s Guide.
The first, a slim blue volume with a photo of a smiling couple giving piggyback rides to two small children on the front cover, will answer all of Sutton’s questions about “Why do I want it? Where would I put it? What about my kids?” Korwin tells her, “All those social and cultural questions that you don’t even know you have.” The second describes all the state’s gun laws in plain English, he says. “At $20, it’s cheaper than a lawyer, and better than most of them.”
Chuckling at his own joke, he folds open the book’s cover and poises his pen over the title page, assuming the sale. “I’ll autograph them,” he says.
“Perfect,” Sutton says, patting a “Guns Save Lives” sticker onto her lime green Lululemon workout jacket. “I’m in.”
Alan Korwin shows a local photographer how to fire a gun during a media event designed to promote his book The Arizona Gun Owner’s Guide.
Korwin’s scheduled to give a lecture about self-defense laws at the gun show at noon. When the announcer comes over the loudspeaker to tease the performance, though, his voice is garbled and impossible to understand. Organizers had set up about 50 folding metal chairs in the corner of the stadium. They are empty.
Unruffled, Korwin strides over to the food court and, waving both hands above his head, hollers, “Hi! My name is Alan Korwin! I’m the author of 14 books — 10 of them on gun laws! I’m going to be giving a seminar right over there! Bring your pizza and come learn something!”
As people trickle over, he quizzes them about what to do “if, God forbid, you have to use your gun.”
“Call 911,” someone suggests.
“No! Don’t do it!” interjects another, adding that he’s read Korwin’s book, which suggests that you call your lawyer — not the cops — and recite what he calls an “Adnarim Statement” (Miranda spelled backwards) when law enforcement arrives to invoke your constitutional rights.
“Get a shovel?” Korwin jokes. “No, no, no. That’s not the right answer. Shoot ’em again? That’s not the right answer. Make sure he’s dead? Reload? That’s not a bad answer.”
When he’s not working on his next book, Korwin fills his schedule giving speeches, sending out e-mail blasts about breaking news related to gun rights, and writing blog posts, magazine columns, and newspaper editorials. A few times a year, he’ll put on a show with his band the Cartridge Family, which operates under the motto “spreading peace and freedom through music — and threats if necessary,” and specializes in classic songs re-imagined with lyrics about guns, including “The Little Armed Lady from Pasadena” and “Wake Up, Little Uzi.”
On his websites, gunlaws.com and pagenine.com, he pontificates on a broad range of topics, from the threat of “communist red China” to his suspicions about President Barack Obama’s heritage.
He passionately defends Israel and frequently rails on illegal immigration. He was a staunch supporter of Arizona Senate Bill 1070 and, after taking a trip to the Arizona-Mexico border to observe pedophilia suspect Chris Simcox’s Minutemen Civil Defense Corps in action in 2005, he noted that he saw no evidence of racism.
“I half-expected to find a bunch of gun-toting bubbas milling around hoping to hunt down Mexicans — the news media perspective,” he wrote on his blog. “Instead, I found a highly organized quasi-military sense of command, control, and communication.”
On the topic of guns, he’s most thorough, of course, tracking bills as they wend their way through legislatures, compiling talking points for representatives, and giving commentary to the press.
Already, Arizona is one of the most gun-loving states in the nation. In its annual ranking, Guns and Ammo Magazine named Arizona the number-one state for gun owners because it doesn’t require citizens to get permits to carry guns and has strong stand-your-ground self-defense laws.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Violence, a national nonprofit that seeks to reduce shooting deaths through gun control, also ranked the state’s gun laws the friendliest (for criminals), giving Arizona a score of minus 36 out of 100 in its annual report. Korwin takes the dig as a compliment.
Still, he manages to keep busy fighting for Second Amendment rights.
When some questioned the wisdom of allowing easy access to high-capacity magazines, which can hold up to 100 rounds of ammunition, following the 2011 Tucson shooting that killed six and put U.S. Congresswoman
Gabrielle Giffords in a coma, for example, Korwin hit the media circuit hard, arguing for an individual’s right to unleash a high volume of ammo without reloading.
It’s “perfectly normal,” he told New Times at the time, to expend 800 rounds of ammo in less than three hours at the shooting range. In fact, he said, he and a couple friends had done it just the day before. The actual “travesty,” he said in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, was not that shooter Jared Loughner easily purchased the ammo but that “there was nobody else there with a Glock 19” to stop him.
“More guns, less crime,” he said. “When the citizens are armed, they are a deterrent to crime. When the citizens are disarmed, the criminals have no controls of any practical nature.”
Similarly, in 2012, after 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed 26 people at a Connecticut elementary school with a semiautomatic rifle, Korwin lobbied to arm teachers in Arizona.
“We trust teachers with our children,” he told the Arizona Capitol Times. “Certainly they should be qualified [to have guns].” Korwin, who along with ultra-conservative state Senator Karen Johnson pushed through a law creating a high school gun-safety elective in 2005, also argues that teaching kids to shoot is as essential as sex education.
“If you stick your head in the sand, you’re not giving your offspring the tools they need to survive,” he wrote in a blog post on www.gunlaws.com. “You may wish that guns (and sexuality!) would just go away — but they won’t.”
To bolster his argument that guns save lives, Korwin frequently cites research from Florida State University criminologist Gary Kleck, who, using self-reported survey data, estimated that Americans wield guns in self-defense about 2.5 million times each year.
Kleck’s poll never won peer review in the academic community, however, and has been debunked by a number of subsequent studies, which put the number closer to 100,000 to 370,000, says Ted Alcorn, research director of Everytown for Gun Safety, a national coalition of political and community leaders founded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Alcorn calls Korwin’s guns-save-lives argument a “profoundly dishonest” red herring that distracts from the facts: Every day across the country, firearms are instrumental in an average of 140 emergency room visits, 32 murders, 51 suicides, and 45 accidental deaths. According to research published in the Journal of Trauma, Injury, Infection, and Critical Care, a gun in the home is 22 times more likely to be used in a domestic homicide, suicide, or unintentional shooting than for self-defense.
“Anyone who is engaging in this debate and wants to have a meaningful impact has to share the same facts with the rest of the universe,” Alcorn says. “The facts are that the United States has an elevated rate of gun violence compared to any other country in the world. There are evidence-based laws that can have an impact on gun violence and we have a responsibility to improve those and save thousands and thousands of lives.”
Korwin sells books at his booth at the Crossroads of the West Gun Show in Glendale.
Alan Korwin was born in 1949 in the Bronx to Jewish parents: Shirley, a substitute teacher, and Irving, an entrepreneur who crafted diamond-studded jewelry from ancient coins.
His first experiment in publishing, as a freckle-faced 5-year-old, was playing with his parents’ bicolor ink ribbon typewriter. He spent hours with the machine, typing out rows of stars and other characters.
At 11, he started writing comic books. His African-American friend, Carl Kirkland, drew the pictures. They called the construction paper and crayon creations, passed around primary school when the teacher wasn’t looking, “Korwin Kirkland Komics,” or “KKK.”
“We thought it was funny,” Korwin says. “Ahh, the innocence of youth.”
He studied English in college, then kicked off his writing career pounding out technical manuals for IBM.
Korwin met his wife, Cheryl, at a tenants association meeting. He lived on the 10th floor of their Manhattan apartment building; she lived on the third. After a year of courting via elevator, he proposed and they eloped to a courthouse in Flagstaff during a Reader’s Digest conference for writers. They didn’t tell their friends or family “just in case we changed our minds,” Cheryl recalls, so the judge recruited two policemen to witness the ceremony. Alan wore a white shirt and shorts. Cheryl wore khaki shorts with a Hawaiian print shirt and pair of pearl earrings. They tied empty soda cans to the back of their blue rental car to celebrate. He was 38. She was 36.
The couple was enchanted by Arizona’s saguaros and endless azure sky. During their trip, they filled two duffel bags with pretty rocks from the desert — doubly terminated quartz crystals, fossils of brachiopods, and crinoids.
“Even the dirt glitters in Arizona,” Cheryl says.
Within six months, the two had packed up their apartments in the Big Apple and moved to Scottsdale.
In 1989, Cheryl gave birth to the couple’s only child: daughter Tyler Brittany. Alan, Cheryl jokes, gave birth to The Arizona Gun Owner’s Guide.
Alan never had owned a firearm before his move west. New York has some of the country’s most restrictive gun-control laws. To purchase a handgun, you must obtain a state permit and pass a background check, a process that can take up to six months. Firearms dealers must be licensed to sell, and it’s illegal to openly carry a gun in public. So when Alan stumbled across a case of firearms in the back of a Scottsdale grocery store, he was shocked.
He hailed a nearby sales associate. “What do you need to buy a gun?” he asked.
The man laughed, Alan recalls, and quipped, “How much money you got?”
No permits or background checks are required to holster up in Arizona, he soon discovered and open carry is A-OK. He remained puzzled, though, even after he’d purchased a gun and started taking it out to the desert to practice his aim. There were no signs prohibiting trespassing or shooting. Could he shoot wherever he pleased? Or was he accidentally breaking the law? He talked to police, gun-shop owners. “Nobody could answer my questions,” he says. “So I decided to write a book.”
Korwin’s legal education started with a basic eight-hour gun-safety course called “A Gun in the Home,” developed by Terry Allison, who headed the Arizona State Rifle and Pistol Association from 1987 to 2006. The class was the first in the nation to address using a gun for protection — rather than target shooting — Allison says, and it was the only place in town where firearm owners could get briefed not only on how to use and care for a gun, but also on etiquette and the law.
Decades later, Allison still remembers the way Korwin pestered his instructor with questions: “He was just hungry.”
Korwin went on to interview experts from dozens of federal and state agencies, gathering statutes and breaking down the legalese until he had typed 235 pages. The resulting manuscript addressed, in a lively conversational tone, heavy questions like “When can you shoot?” (“You never know beforehand,” Korwin explains. “You are only justified when the authorities or a jury determine — after the fact — that your actions were justified.”) and “If you shoot a crook outside your house, do you have to drag him inside?” (Korwin’s answer: “No! Acting on this widespread myth is a completely terrible idea.”)
Phoenix-based Golden West Publishers offered Korwin a contract for The Arizona Gun Owner’s Guide, but he says the two couldn’t agree on terms. So he withdrew $7,000 from his bank account, founded a publishing company, and printed it himself. They called it Bloomfield Press after Bloomfield Road, the street where Alan and Cheryl purchased their home in Arizona. They marketed the book to shooting ranges and gun shops. The first 3,000 copies sold out in a year.
After reading the original edition, then-Attorney General Bob Corbin raved: “It is an excellent book — comprehensive, accurate. In my opinion, every gun owner in the state should have a copy.”
Arizona Highways called it “indispensable.”
Korwin was thrilled with the book’s success, but he never intended to center his writing career on firearms. “It was just a subject I had to learn to do my job,” he says.
For his next book, he wrote about the founding of Wickenburg, a small mining town with a grisly history of conflict with the Yavapai tribe that nearly became the state's capitol. Korwin never found a market for Wickenburg outside the local museum gift shop, though, so, he decided to “follow the money.” In 1995, he formed a partnership with Richard Shaw, owner of the Pensus Group, and outlined a plan to research, write, and publish a gun owner’s guide for each of the 50 states, beginning with a volume on federal gun laws.
Over the next year, the two churned out legal manuals for firearm owners in Texas, Virginia, Florida, and California. By the time the partnership crumbled in 1996, Korwin was so converted to the cause that he started recruiting friends from the pro-gun community to write and publish their own state guides with no connection to Bloomfield Press.
Gary Marbut, president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association, says Korwin persuaded him to write The Montana Gun Owner’s Guide, then “did a lot of hand holding” while the lobbyist, who has written 64 bills for the Montana Legislature, figured out such essentials as what goes on a title page, how to find an editor, how to convert a Microsoft Word document into a fully formatted book, and how to manage distribution.
Lawyer Chuck Michel, based in Long Beach, California, told a similar story, adding that, without Korwin’s enthusiasm and moral support, he probably wouldn’t have made it through the years of research necessary to write The California Gun Owner’s Guide.
“Every time I saw Alan, he reminded me, ‘This is important work,’” Michel says. “And he was absolutely right.”
Of course, all the feedback on Korwin’s growing book empire hasn’t been so glowing.
“He is not giving legal advice so he is legally within his rights,” says Anderman of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “But, as an educated consumer, if you’re looking for the truth about gun laws, I’d hope you would turn to people who have a professional license to write about them.”
Thirty-four percent of the Amazon reader reviews of Korwin’s self-defense how-to, After You Shoot: Your Gun’s Hot. The Perp’s Not. Now What?, are critical:
“I bought this book expecting it to be actual legal advice on the topic of defensive shootings,” and “I was under the impression that after reading this book I would have some understanding of law” are oft-repeated sentiments — as are complaints that Korwin merely is putting forth his own controversial ideas.
One unimpressed reader ominously wrote: “This book WILL get you convicted if you follow the author’s advice after you are involved in a self-defense shooting.”
Left: Korwin has loved to write since he was a child. Right: Alan and Cheryl Korwin on their wedding day.
Courtesy of Alan Korwin
In a gray back room of Shooter’s World a few weeks after the gun show, Alan Korwin places his feet shoulder width apart, stretches his arms in front of him, clasps his hands in the shape of a gun, and points with exaggerated concentration at Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts.
He’s wearing jeans, suede slip-ons, and a chestnut-colored leather vest. One of his trademark “Guns Save Lives” buttons is pinned to the breast of his khaki button-down.
“This is called the isosceles position,” he says, rocking back and forth from foot to foot. “It gives you stability when you shoot.”
Roberts, in a black sleeveless dress and sunglasses, blond hair loosely brushed back from her face, gives it a try. She squints, pretending to aim with her finger gun.
Korwin had invited Roberts and a handful of other reporters to the range to learn to shoot, using the newly released and redesigned 26th edition of The Arizona Gun Owner’s Guide as a target. Aside from promoting his book, Korwin had promised in a press release distributed before the event to prove to the media that “shooting is fun, and shooting stuff is funner.”
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to plug the First Amendment, using the Second Amendment as a tool,” he wrote. “If you hate the gun laws, get even. If you love ’em, use ’em.”
Korwin, though, has to keep reminding his guests that this is supposed to be a lighthearted occasion.
While he’s explaining why shooting — the country’s second most popular participatory sport, he says — deserves at least as much press time as golf, a peppy reporter from Channel 5 interrupts to ask about a new analysis by the Violence Policy Center that shows Arizona firearm fatalities outpaced motor-vehicle deaths 941 to 863 in 2013.
Roberts jumps in: “How much training is actually required to get a concealed-carry permit?”
In a column published a week earlier, while the Arizona Legislature debated a bill that would have enabled people to conceal-carry guns into libraries, recreation centers, and other public buildings, Roberts described the state’s certification process, which is optional, as “a few minutes of training,” adding, with a literary eye roll, “which totally qualifies them to pull out their gun and start shooting in a tense situation.”
Perhaps allowing concealed weapons could make public buildings safer if shooters had “the training to ensure that they don’t shoot themselves or the kids nearby, who are attending Storytime,” she wrote, but Arizona’s requirements are so lax that Nevada stopped recognizing the state’s permits in 2013.
Even trained law enforcement officials struggle to shoot straight in the field. The New York City Police Department’s average hit rate during a gunfight, for example, is just 18 percent, according to a 2008 Rand Corporation study.
Korwin plasters on a fake smile and adopts a sugary sweet tone, telling Roberts: “That’s not the subject for today.”
Roberts is undeterred: “Say your average gun owner is in a high-stress situation, with lots of people around. Somebody’s threatening people with a gun, and they want to take the shooter out. How likely is it that they could actually do that?”
Korwin picks up a plastic gun. The barrel is neon orange to identify it as a training piece. He shows Roberts how to hold it: both thumbs wrapped to one side of the grip, hand pressed firmly against the grip safety, index finger resting alongside the barrel — not on the trigger.
“The good thing about a firearm is that with no experience whatsoever, it can save your life,” Korwin says. But, he notes sarcastically in his singsong way, “guns aren’t for everyone.” In fact, he says, he might consider supporting a law that specifically bans Roberts from having a gun because “no amount of training can make you safe enough.”
“You’re very good at avoiding questions,” Roberts says.
Korwin invited members of the media to learn to shoot, using his book as a target.
Korwin describes his first interview as a gun-law expert as a nerve-inducing, pop-quiz-like affair. “I was sweating,” he says.
But more than 1,000 interviews with CNN, FOX News, the Washington Post, and the Christian Science Monitor have hardened him, he says. Now he approaches the press like an animal-control officer trying to bring in a rabid dog.
When it comes to gun issues, he claims inaccuracy and distortion are “the name of the game.” “As a veteran of this field for more than 20 years, the amount of accurate reporting I’ve seen in any mainstream outlets is nearly zero,” he claims. “Reporters as a body hate guns, gun owners, gun rights, pro-rights gun laws — and it shows in everything they do.”
It irks him so much that he started purchasing advertising space last year in USA Today so he could publish a regular column about gun owners who prevent crime. He calls it “The First Responder’s Report.” (Police, he says, are second responders.) Recent headlines include: “Black Mom with Assault Weapon Stops Attack, Saves Children,” “Robber Picks the Wrong Store, Brings Knife to a Gun Fight,” and “Homeowner Slashed in the Throat Fights Back, Shoots Attacker, Lives.”
To protect himself — and his cause — during media appearances, he’s developed a few rules of engagement:
1. “Do everything politely and with a big smile. Hostility will make it into print. Especially the photo.”
2. “Don’t be afraid to ask them questions. In fact, make sure you do. They hate that.”
3. “You must control the dialogue to accomplish your goal. You must do this respectfully and tactfully so they don’t know that you’re in charge, leaving them thinking they are.”
Convinced that most reporters don’t want to hear from people they write about (because, obviously, they have screwed something up), he always asks for a business card before conducting an interview to “level the playing field.” If a reporter can’t produce one, he demands contact information — even if he already has it. He records his conversations with an old-school mini-tape recorder, dramatically pausing the interview each time he needs to flip or switch the tape. He answers questions with questions and redirects the conversation deftly.
“What you really ought to ask me is . . .”
“I’ll get back to you on that.”
“I’m not sure I understand, are you saying that . . .?”
After such a chat, he passes out a press kit that includes, for reference, a “Politically Corrected Glossary” of gun-related terms. His stance is not “pro gun,” Korwin says; it’s “pro rights.” His opponents are not the “anti-gun movement” but the “anti-self-defense movement.” Don’t call them assault weapons; they are “household firearms.” Saturday Night Specials are “affordable firearms.”
Sometimes Korwin shares links to his media appearances with fans with commentary on how they went.
Following a tense dialogue with CNN International’s Christiane Amanpour about a man who killed 12 people in a Colorado movie theater in 2012, for example, Korwin wrote: “Amanpour does her best to get me to accept her boldly biased anti-rights position, but it doesn’t work, and she gets a face full of rational, factual material about guns.”
During the news segment, which Amanpour titled “Gun Crazy,” she called on Korwin to explain why the U.S. government would not immediately move to tighten gun control when someone could so “deliberately and easily buy four guns — including one that is the civilian version of an M16 — and then buy 6,000 rounds of ammunition, and then spray the inside of a movie theater.”
While such mass shootings are a “tragic aberration” in Europe, she noted, they are “almost routine in America.” Between 2000 and 2013, the FBI identified 160 incidents in which shooters actively were engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in public places.
Slowly clenching her fist for drama, Amanpour demanded: “Mr. Korwin, is it not time to have some shame about this?”
Posture ramrod-straight and looking the part of an even-keeled Harvard professor in a crisp suit and tie, Korwin said the question shouldn’t be, why is it so easy to purchase an assault weapon? but rather, why was there not somebody in the audience armed and trained to stop them?
“There’s only one thing that can stop a madman with a gun,” he told Amanpour. “That is another person with a gun . . . a piece of paper and a law book won’t stop him.”
She pressed: Is there really a legitimate reason a person should need an assault rifle or 6,000 rounds of ammo?
Employing one of his favorite redirect techniques, he told her about a less-publicized shooting in Aurora a few months before the movie-theater incident, one in which a convicted felon, just out of jail, walked into a church and shot and killed a member of the congregation.
Who knows what else could have happened, he said, if a parishioner hadn’t whipped out a gun and killed the assailant?
A billboard from the campaign Korwin designed to motivate people to sign up for gun-safety courses after the Legislature passed a law in 2010 giving citizens the right to carry a gun without a permit.
Courtesy of Alan Korwin
When Roberts and the other reporters depart with their notebooks, Korwin and his friends Bob Blackmer and Jeff Knox are left with a pile of leftover ammunition and a floor littered with bits and pieces of shot-up legal code from The Arizona Gun Owner’s Guide.
Blackmer, a deputy marshal in Tombstone, and Knox, head of the Firearms Coalition, had helped Korwin train the journalists. Now, they’re standing back on their heels, arms folded across their chests.
“You want to do some shooting?” Blackmer suggests.
“I’m always game to shoot,” Knox says.
Korwin balks. “Uh. I don’t know,” he says. “I can’t shoot as well as I used to.”
Korwin’s obsession with the Second Amendment isn’t really as much about guns, he says, as it is about freedom.
In 2010, when Arizona passed SB 1108, which threw out permit and training requirements for concealed weapons, Korwin worked with self-defense activist Charles Heller to coin the term “constitutional carry” to describe the legal carrying of handguns — a neologism that highlights Korwin’s argument that packing heat has been a fundamental freedom from the formation of the 13 original states.
Arizona was the second, after Alaska, to enact such a law.
The measure, which took 16 years to get a governor’s signature, had many opponents, but the most unlikely, at first glance, were shooting ranges and instructors who made their living for years off of government-mandated gun-safety courses.
The ranges and instructors were worried about losing their “government rice bowl,” Korwin says.
As a solution, Korwin rallied all stakeholders, raised money, and launched a public-information campaign pushing gun owners to voluntarily register for safety courses. The ads, placed on bus shelters around Phoenix, featured Alan’s heart-shaped “Guns Save Lives” logo and declared that Arizona “knows that a nation trained to arms is an American linchpin of freedom.” Strategically placed billboards read: “Guns Save Lives: Teach Your Children Well,” and “Welcome to Arizona! Learn to Shoot Straight.”
The campaign had run several weeks when a tipster called Korwin to let him know the ads were missing from bus stops. Alan jumped in his gold Toyota Camry and drove to the bus shelter he’d commissioned on Tatum Boulevard. No ad. He drove to Cactus Road. No ad.
The city of Phoenix had removed the ads, arguing that only commercial speech is allowed on city bus shelters and “Guns Save Lives” is a political statement.
Korwin, with the help of the Goldwater Institute and the ACLU, sued the city for violating his right to free speech.
Constitutional lawyer Clint Bolick, the libertarian-leaning institute’s vice president for litigation, says he never before had a plaintiff quite as involved or in the know. Though it’s traditional for an attorney to work with a client to build a case, Korwin “literally wanted to know every single legal argument, why we were making it, or why we weren’t making it.”
Korwin’s passion for the Constitution doesn’t always serve him well.
His press releases reach about a quarter-million people daily. At the top of each article, he writes “permission to circulate gladly granted.” As a result, his byline shows up everywhere from conservative news websites like the Washington-based Daily Caller to fringe websites run by white supremacists. A conspiracy theory that Korwin promulgated in 2009, accusing Obama of scheming to ban a long list of guns, for example, went viral on stormfront.org, the country’s most popular neo-Nazi message board. Stormfront.org also reprinted, in full, a number of Korwin’s articles.
When the Arizona Anti-Defamation League, where he once served on the civil rights board, found out that Korwin’s ideas were mashed up with anti-Semitic propaganda, Bill Straus, who headed the ADL at the time, asked him to step down.
“We just couldn’t be associated with these organizations,” Straus says.
Korwin naturally cried: “Free speech!”
He doesn’t much care where his writing is published: “I stand behind my stuff 100 percent because I wrote it. Whether Obama or New Times or God himself runs my articles, I stand by my words.”
He isn’t much for self-censorship, either. On his blog, for example, he accuses Obama of deception about “what’s going on with the worldwide radical Muslim jihad.”
He writes, “Everyone else knows the Muslims, a few hundred million give or take, support violent Quran-based Jihad. They’re conducting it, we’re facing it.” Failing to admit it, he adds in another post, is caving to a “debilitating left-wing program of political correctness.”
He’s posted on his YouTube channel a blues song he wrote about the topic. He struggles to keep a straight face as he strums his acoustic guitar and sings:
Goin’ to the Jihad so don’t be late
Gonna’ make ourselves a terrorist state
Find some infidels and do them harm
Gonna’ strap on my suicide bomb
Jihad, baby, baby, baby, Jihad
Now maybe we hate something that you said
Put you on TV and chop off your head
We bomb the Christian and we bomb the Jew
We bomb ourselves because that’s what we do.
Jihad, baby, baby, baby, Jihad
Korwin can’t say which is his favorite — the First Amendment or the Second.
“It’s like the heart and the stomach are having a fight,” he says. “The heart says, ‘I’m the most important because I pump the blood.’ The stomach says, ‘I’m the most important because I digest the food.' Then the butt shuts up and they all die.’”
The point is, he continues, “You need all of them.”
He emphasizes this philosophy as Blackmer and Knox razz him to engage in a friendly shooting contest at Shooter’s World.
“You guys are gun experts,” he says. “I’m a gun-law expert. I’m a writer.”
He caves, though, when someone makes a joke about his macho status.
“Okay. C’mon,” he says, snatching up a big paper target on the ground and stomping across the room to clip it up to a wire stretching lengthwise across the ceiling.
“You shoot the revolver,” he orders his friends.
He picks a .22 pistol, by all accounts the easier gun to aim.
“I have to give them some kind of a handicap,” he says, laughing.
Target set. Shooting range earmuffs on. Protective eyewear lowered.
Bam! Bam! Bam!
Bam! Bam! Bam!
Bam! Bam! Bam!
The target’s retrieved and analyzed. Korwin’s not bad — but he’s not great.
“My eyesight’s not as good as it used to be,” he says with a halfhearted shrug. “My hands aren’t as steady.”
He doesn’t address the obvious question.
If Alan Korwin, who advocates unbridled gun rights for every American citizen, was in a high-stress situation and a bad guy whipped out a gun — like at the deadly Giffords incident in Tucson — could he make the shot?
CORRECTION: New Times incorrectly described the formation of gun-rights author Alan Korwin's publishing company. Korwin founded the firm in 1988, and Richard Shaw, of the Pensus Group, joined in 1995. The text above has been altered to include the correct information.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Phoenix, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.