David I. Caplan, Dead at 77, Leaves behind National Legacy
May 20, 2006
by Joseph P. Tartaro
Dr. David I. Caplan, PhD, left the “Second Amendment friendship” to which he had been so devoted for more than 40 years at age 77 on Apr. 24. He died at his Delray Beach, FL, home. He is survived by his wife, Sue Wimmershoff Caplan, and a sister, Abigail Bentley of New Hampshire.
Caplan was a slight man, about 5-foot, 7 inches tall, but he was a giant in the firearms civil rights movement for which he had coined the term “Second Amendment friendship” to include everyone, in or out of organized gun groups, who was devoted to preserving this vitally important individual right.
Caplan was not born to the cause of lawful gun ownership. A native of Boston, MA, he was living in New York City, and had been a member of the American Civil Liberties Union, when he had a significant personal awakening in the 1960s to the individual right guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the Constitution.
At a time when the anti-gun movement had reached its zenith in politics, academia and the media, Caplan researched and wrote a landmark paperRestoring the Balance: The Second Amendment Revisitedwhich was published in the Fordham Law Review in 1976. That paper caught the attention of many academics, researchers and attorneys and helped inspire a long series of pro-individual rights scholarship and publications by constitutional scholars, historians and law professors which continued for the balance of the century.
This cross-pollination of pro-gun scholarship was aided by the 1976 and 1977 Scholars and Writers Conferences hosted by the Second Amendment Foundation in Denver, CO, and St. Louis, MO, at which Caplan was a featured speaker.
Many of the thoughtful and talented people active in firearms civil rights scholarshipDon B. Kates, David Kopel, David Hardy, Joyce Lee Malcolm to name a fewbecame friends and frequent correspondents with Caplan over the years. They consulted by phone, e-mail and at various symposia and conferences. He was also a mentor to many in the firearms movement.
He co-authored or edited several books and monographs on the issue and wrote commentaries for magazines, including the NRA’s official journals and Gun Week. Caplan has eight entries in Guns in American Society: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics, Culture and the Law (2002).
Caplan’s leadership in the cause did not stop with his writings. He continued his work and at the time of his death he was awaiting publication of “Post Modernism and the Model Penal Code . . .”, which he had written jointly with his wife Sue, that is being published by the University of Missouri Kansas City School of Law. (It will be Vol. 73, dated Summer 2005, although it has not yet been released. David and Sue were not happy that some errors had crept into the footnotes for the article, due to outside researchers.)
Based on conversations with Caplan in recent months, I expect this latest paper to be as far reaching as his Fordham Law Review article. Among other ideas, it should link aspects of the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments with individual right to anonymous gun ownership.
David and Sue Caplan were long-time family friends. They had stayed at our house jointly or individually, including when David was a candidate for New York State attorney general in the Conservative Party Primary. I had been their overnight quest as well.
Most of our meetings during the past 40-odd years were intertwined with firearms issues and gatherings or politics. In place of face-to-face meetings, there were frequent discussions by phone. I agree with Alan Gottlieb’s comment when he heard of David’s passing that “we have lost a friend and a major intellect in the movement, someone who was often the conscience of that movement.”
How does one measure a giant? Let me try.
David earned a bachelor’s degree in physics in Massachusetts, then a master’s degree and doctorate in math and physics from Perdue University, and later a doctor of law degree from New York University (NYU) School of Law. It was while attending NYU that he met Sue, whom he would frequently refer to as “my legal counsel.”
They shared many interests besides the law. They were legal counsel to the Federation for NRA which brought about the Cincinnati reforms at the 1977 annual members meeting of the National Rifle Association and set it firmly vigorously defending the Second Amendment. David and Sue contributed much to the crafting of the bylaws offered by the reform movement at that meeting.
David was first elected to the NRA board of directors in 1982. His was a voice to which people of diverse views paid attention. I remember the late Harlon B. Carter consulting David on various issues. David had been reelected by the members in every subsequent election, and he was on this year’s ballot again. Sue also was elected to the board and served for some 20 years before retiring. They were the only married couple in anyone’s memory that served on the NRA board concurrently.
At the time of his death, David was a member of the NRA’s Legal Affairs and the Bylaws & Resolutions Committees, and served as a board member of the NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund.
He lived for some 30 years in New York City and 10 in New Jersey while as a patent attorney for Bell Telephone Company (now Lucent Technologies) before he retired and moved to Florida. While in New York and New Jersey, he served as counsel for the Federation of New York State Rifle & Pistol Clubs and the Coalition of New York State Sportsmen, and was active in the Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs. In addition, he acted as a pro bono legal advisor to the Shooters Committee on Political Education (SCOPE Inc.) and other pro-gun organizations.
During his New York years, Caplan successfully represented dozens of the state and city’s firearms owners, without charge, in defense of their right to own and possess handguns and other firearms in their homes or businesses, creating case law on such licensing regulations that continue to the present time.
While he was frequently a speaker or debater on TV, radio and in congressional hearings on firearms issues, Caplan also had many other interests. He was a student and practitioner of tai chi and an accomplished concert pianist. In fact, people who attended the annual Gun Rights Policy Conferences at which he spoke might find themselves marveling at his impromptu performances of classical music whenever a piano was available.
A gentle man of good humor, David Caplan was a giant who did great things for all Americans. I’m richer for having been a friend. He will be greatly missed by thousands of people whose lives he touched, but he leaves behind a rich legacy of rights for future generations.
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