Partly out of dissatisfaction with the National Rifle Association, a D.C.-based media consultant is calling for a nationwide celebration of guns -- and despite accusations that he's leading a fringe coalition, Larry Ward says the backers of Gun Appreciation Day aren't extremists.
"If being a constitutionalist is extreme, so be it," said the man who recently told CNN that if blacks had guns, slavery wouldn't have happened.
Political battle lines have already been drawn over Gun Appreciation Day, the brainchild of Ward, a Capitol-Hill-based conservative media operative who confronted gun protesters on the street shorly after the Newtown, Conn., shooting.
Some liberals have taken offense, and a smattering of conservative groups have signed on in support.
He says the point is to make a case that's not being made.
"We want to let people know that there is another side of the argument," Ward told ABC News. "We had a week when it was just one side -- 'We have to have gun control' -- 24/7. People need to understand there's another side, and there is logic to that side. This is not just an emotional, 'Don't take our guns.'"
Ward is calling on sympathizers to visit gun stores and firing ranges and exercise their Second Amendment rights on Saturday, Jan. 19, two days before President Obama's inauguration and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Ward has set up a website, GunAppreciationDay.com, and he's collected an odd mishmash of sponsors, who've all signed on for free, including libertarian PACs, small-time gun-rights groups, ideologically-driven gun-sellers, non-ideologically driven gun-sellers, a family-operated firing range, conservative nonprofits, a small-government-themed rock band, a landscaping company based outside of Pittsbburgh, and, as MSNBC's Zachary Roth has pointed out, at least one group that traffics in one-world-government conspiracy theories.
Ward started concocting Gun Appreciation Day soon after the Newtown school shooting in response to gun protests outside his office two blocks from the Capitol -- or, rather, outside the National Rifle Association's D.C. office, which happens to be next door.
Ward represents conservative clients through his firm, Political Media; Revolution PAC, the libertarian group launched by Ron Paul supporters, is one of his biggest.
When the protesters showed up on the street outside, he leaned out his third-story window and shouted back at them: "Arm the teachers, arm the principals."
The protesters booed.
A local news affiliate spoke with Ward, and he suggested that if a single teacher at Newtown had been armed, dozens of children could have been saved.
He launched Gun Appreciation Day on Jan. 4, and, predictably, it's caused some controversy. It's highlighted some of the confusion in the gun debate right now.
A liberal group called United for Change USA has launched a petition to stop Ward's day, taking particular offense at the MLK/Inauguration Day coincidence.
It reads: "Gun groups are planning to have a National Gun Appreciation Day on January 19th, the same weekend that Americans celebrate the life and service of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., an American leader who was assassinated by a rifle's bullet. This is an outrage and a slap in the face to Americans who value life and freedom!"
The group claims it will deliver its petition to NRA chief Wayne LaPierre -- but the NRA hasn't attached its name to Gun Appreciation Day, and Ward says the NRA has nothing to do with it. When asked about the petition, the NRA's communications office did not comment.
"We're like neighbors that don't even talk to each other," Ward says of the NRA. He's never worked for the group directly, he says, but he has sent emails on the group's behalf, hired through media-firm intermediaries.
In fact, Gun Appreciation Day was partly born of dissatisfaction with the NRA, Ward says -- specifically, with its week of post-Newtown silence.
"I think that the NRA did not do a good job handling this," Ward told ABC News. "I've said before that I think they should have come out immediately and offered their condolences and just expressed that gun control is not going to fix this."
Ward said he would take the NRA's endorsement if offered,"but they haven't called me. Neither has the president, for that matter."
Nor is Ward a fan of gun ranter du jour Alex Jones, the conservative radio host who lashed out in a frenetic burst of pro-gun zeal at CNN host Piers Morgan and "the globalists" in a recent broadcast.
"I think he's spirited, but I don't think he does us any good," Ward said. "Some of what he said, if said in a rational way," would help the pro-gun movement in Ward's opinion.
Ward's coalition is chock full of fringe groups, but he hasn't turned any away. Among his backers, influential blog RedState and the aforementioned Revolution PAC have been joined by non-luminaries like What Bubba Knows, a website featuring (along with general news commentary) some anti-Palestinian .gifs, cartoons, and accusations of jihadism.
MSNBC's Zachary Roth reported that another sponsor, the Social Security Institute, has warned of one-world-government control. Ward defended that group, and its views, in an interview with ABC.
SSI believes "there are bills and there are laws, and the U.N. is moving very aggressively toward consolidating power, and I don't see that as a fringe issue," Ward said, referring to a U.N. arms treaty opposed by gun advocates.
"I don't think anyone's talking about Bildeberg meetings at SSI … I think there are things to be concerned about. .. I don't think there's a conspiracy, I think it's pretty overt," he said.
To gun-control advocates who find it offensive that anyone would celebrate guns in the wake of a mass shooting -- on the anniversary of MLK's shooting, two days before the president is inaugurated -- Ward says: "This wasn't in reaction to the shooting … President Obama, Rahm Emanuel, [New York Mayor Mike] Bloomberg, [California Sen.] Dianne Feinstein have all exploited the tragedy to advance their legislation to infringe upon the Second Amendment. We're reacting to that."
Ward says he intended to hold the day before Feinstein could introduce a gun-control bill, which Ward believed would happen in January.
"It didn't necessarily hurt that it was two days before inauguration. I don't mind poking the bear occasionally," he said.
The Newtown shooting has spurred calls for some kind of action from lawmakers like Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a self-identified gun advocate who nonetheless suggested examining mental health systems in a post-Newtown apearance on ABC's "This Week."
Ward disagrees that mental-health reporting to the national background-check system, one proposal that's been floated, is the answer.
"We should not, at any point in our country, take away someone's constitutional right because they're sick," Ward said. "People go through things all the time -- people have bad marriages, they seek counseling, some people have seasonal affective disorder ... until somebody acts and commits a crime, their Second Amendment rights shouldn't be taken away."
As a libertarian, those kinds of controls seek to irk Ward.
"We don't live in 'Minority Report," he said, referring to the 2002 science fiction film. "There is no 'pre-crime' here."
His main point is that gun-control laws aren't the answer.
"We have 20,000-plus laws on the books right now for guns in this country. Those laws failed in Virginia Tech, they failed in Aurora, they failed in Newtown, and the truth is criminals don't follow laws," Ward said.
His message is the same today as it was when he confronted the anti-NRA protesters soon after Newtown.
"The answer is simple," he said. "For a school, we need to arm the teachers, we need to arm the principals."