The director of the controversial Gun Owners of America organization has advocated that the protestants of South Armagh should be armed. Larry Pratt, who visited South Armagh at the invitation of the victims group, Families Acting for Innocent Relatives (FAIR), said, "I would argue that if people are armed it is a deterrent to criminals and terrorists."
Pratt is well known in the US, where he was forced to stand down as campaign chairman to republican presidential candidate, Pat Buchanan in 1996 because of his links with white supremacist groups. He admitted sharing a platform a with former Ku Klux Klan leader and an Aryan nation official. He has also been associated with the rightwing extremists of the US militia movement.
FAIR spokesman, Willie Frazer, escorted Pratt on his tour of South Armagh. Frazer is a well known Orangeman who has said loyalist paramilitaries "should never have been locked up." He defended members of the security forces who passed information to loyalists. His application for a personal protection weapon was turned down.
Frazer's father was murdered by the IRA.
FAIR believes "the IRA's activities are not a relic of the past but a present reality." As a follow on to Pratt's visit, Frazer and other members of FAIR are this week starting a three week speaking tour of the US, where they will attempt to dissuade Americans from giving money to the Irish republican movement. FAIR also wants to "tell the world about Roman Priests facilitating terrorism."
Pratt is a leading figure in the fundamentalist wing of the Presbyterian church, and uses the Bible to justify the use of guns. "If the thief is found breaking in and he is struck so he dies there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed," reads a favoured passage from the Book of Exodus. Pratt believes that it was gun control which led to the tragedy of 9/11, some of the victims of which, FAIR is to meet while in the US. FAIR will also meet the head of homeland security.
FAIR's website names persons it alleges are republican terrorists, and nationalists and republicans have criticized the fact that the organization has received government funding.
The Reverend David Clements of the victims group WAVE, said that while in general he believed "the fewer guns around the better", in situations where there was a terrorist threat he took a different view. "Carrying a weapon for self defence is a perfectly legitimate position to hold," he said. The DUP's South Armagh MLA, Paul Berry, said he sympathized with FAIR. "But at the end of the day, there's strict control of weapons in NI and there has to be," he said. "It would be a recipe for disaster if everyone was running around with guns."