Heller speaks to G&P about guns, fame

The successful plaintiff in “Heller 1,” the most important gun case in the last seven decades was interviewed Feb. 11 at the Nation’s Gun Show in Chantilly, Va.

“When I go to the Nation’s Gun Show, I usually focus on the antique guns,” said Dick Heller, who in 2003 sued the District of Columbia, when the municipal government of the federal city denied his request to register a gun.

In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment’s preamble, which discussed the value of a well-equipped militia, did not restrict the right to keep and bear arms. The court further ruled for the first time that the Second Amendment applied to the individual states, not just the federal government and federal territories.

Heller said because he grew up an Army brat in Europe soon after the Second World War surrounded by castles and living in chateaus his family rented, antique guns and swords have always captured his fancy.

“In those days, my version of a video game was a book called ‘Treasure Island,’ so you can see how it fed my imagination,” he said.

“We had a landlord of one chateau we were living in and he would not allow me to go into the attic. Well, that made me want to go to the attic and there I found an amazing sword,” he said.

While Americans were living well, the native French and Germans were suffering economically, which led them to put heirlooms on the market to survive, he said.

“The stuff just poured out of their attics,” he said. “Back then, you could buy a beautiful silver-wire inlaid pistol for $5, which is next to nothing. Today, the same pistol would cost you $500, $800, maybe $1,000.”

The special police officer, who at the time of his suit carried a pistol at his job at the Supreme Court building, but could not have one in his home, said he has attended this show five or six times, sometimes as a regular customer, but other times as an exhibitor to raise money and awareness for the Heller Foundation.

Either walking around or working the booth, Heller said he often meets star struck fans approaching him.

“You get used to it and you learn to appreciate their appreciation,” he said.

“It is like being a rock star without the money,” he said.

“They come up to you, thank you and say: ‘I never thought I would meet you.’”

One man at the gun show came up to him and bowed before him, Heller said. “It happens a lot.”

The Nation’s Gun Show is the largest in the Washington-area and one of the largest in the country with more than 1,000 exhibitors, said R. Steven Elliot, who with his wife Annette run gun show through their company C & E Gun Shows.

“My wife’s family has been in the gun business for more than 40 years and I have been doing this for 27 years,” Elliot said.

The show started in 2004, he said. “We had some laws change and we got rid of Fairfax County’s three-day wait.” Ever since then, C & E has held the show in Chantilly at least four or five times a year.

Elliot said he has seen the business change depending on the season, but also in the economy.

“You know, in a bad economy a lot of people turn to gold, guns and other hedges,” he said.
Another change is the number of women buying guns, he said. “Back then, you would never see women looking at guns by themselves, now it is really very common.”

Heller said he agrees with Elliot: “There are more young people and families, too.”