A straight shooter on gun-owner rights Inverness attorney Cliff Travis combines his work and his passion for guns to help local firearms owners. By CARRIE JOHNSON, Times Staff Writer Â© St. Petersburg Times published June 9, 2002 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- INVERNESS -- In addition to the undergraduate diploma and law degree, there is a large, framed certificate identifying Cliff Travis as a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association hanging on the wall of his downtown Inverness office. Travis received the certificate four days before he graduated from high school in 1976. "I've been an NRA member a lot longer than I've been a lawyer," Travis said, chuckling. Now the 47-year-old defense attorney has found a way to combine his knowledge of guns and the law. Travis is one of the only local lawyers who specializes in the law relating to guns and gun ownership. In fact, Travis recently attended the National Firearms Law Seminar in Reno, Nev., where lawyers throughout the country gathered to discuss topics ranging from constitutional rights for gun owners, product liability and legal ethics. The seminar, which is sponsored by the NRA, is designed for attorneys who represent clients who own, collect, sell, manufacture or import firearms, and those who wish to broaden their knowledge of the law as it relates to guns. Travis attended the seminar as part of his continuing legal education, which is required by the Florida Bar. "If you have to take time out of your office, would you rather sit through some sort of boring seminar on wills or trusts or something of interest?" Travis said. The conference in April was the second firearms seminar Travis attended. The first was held in Charlotte, N.C., in 2000. He said the training has earned him some clients, including one man charged in federal court for owning an illegal machine gun. "We've got some lawyers who would have to get up to speed on which end the bullet comes out of," Travis said. Travis helped his client beat the illegal machine gun rap, but the man still was sent to prison on other charges. Travis has been a gun enthusiast since he was a small boy growing up in Zephyrhills, where he used to hunt woodchucks with his .22-caliber rifle. He would also practice target shooting by setting up tin cans. But it wasn't until a stint in the U.S. Army that Travis became involved in competitive shooting. Stationed in Germany, Travis began competing in .22-caliber rifle competitions. "It was much more popular over there as a sport," he said. When he was discharged after 21/2 years, Travis enrolled in Florida State University and joined the school's rifle team. Travis said he has always believed very strongly in the right of all citizens to own guns. While he agrees convicted felons should be banned from owning firearms, "With the rest, what's the big deal?" he asked. "A gun is just another mechanical object. The tool itself is blameless." The meaning of the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects the right to bear arms, is still hotly debated by lawyers, judges and legal scholars, mostly due to its ambiguous wording: "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." Some argue the amendment refers to the right of the people to rise up against an autocratic government and was not meant to protect individual gun-owners. But Travis said he's always believed the amendment was an individual protection, not a collective right. In fact, he believes the Second Amendment is the most important included in the Bill of Rights. "It's the ultimate foundation of individual freedom," he said. "None of your other freedoms in the Bill of Rights are worth a lot if you're not allowed to protect yourself." Travis remains an avid sportsman and takes frequent trips to North Dakota to hunt pheasant and deer. A large picture of a Labrador retriever fetching a duck adorns the wall behind his desk, and a cork board is littered with pictures taken on recent hunting expeditions. Travis said he will continue his study of firearms law and is already planning to attend next year's seminar, which is scheduled to be held in Orlando. "It's something I believe in very strongly, not just as a lawyer, but also as a citizen," he said. -- Carrie Johnson can be reached at 860-7309 or [email protected].