A recognized giant in the firearms media and a leader in the Second Amendment movement has died.
Joseph Tartaro, who retired last year as executive editor of TheGunMag.com—formerly Gun Week—and still served as president of the Second Amendment Foundation, died June 13 following a brief bout with cancer. He was 89.
As news of his passing spread, tributes began appearing all over social media. Those who knew him are offering recollections of his activism and leadership.
Alan Gottlieb, SAF founder and executive vice president, is recalling Mr. Tartaro as “a very great man and mentor.” Gottlieb worked with Tartaro for decades, and continued to co-author the monthly Gottlieb-Tartaro Report, a newsletter discussing current events in the firearms community.
Massad Ayoob, who serves on the SAF Board of Trustees, recalled Mr. Tartaro as a man who “stood in the top tier of the leaders of the gun owners’ civil rights movement.”
“Joe was a walking encyclopedia of gun legislation knowledge and strategic political savvy,” Ayoob wrote at Backwoods Home Magazine. “He was among the first to cultivate women and minorities into the movement.”
Fredy Riehl, editor-in-Chief at AmmoLand, stated, “I cannot say enough good things about Joe Tartaro. From the first day, we met Joe was kind, thoughtful, and most of all, a happy warrior in our fight for the right to keep and bear arms. His groundbreaking work decades before the existence of AmmoLand News lead the way and lay down a blueprint for platforms like ours. Joe was always available to answer the dumb questions from me and follow up with wise words of encouragement. Rest in peace warrior you made a difference in the fight for freedom.”
Mr. Tartaro is remembered as an architect of what has come to be known as “The Cincinnati Revolt” in 1977, when gun rights activists calling themselves the Federation for NRA transformed the National Rifle Association from a traditional hunting and shooting organization into a political powerhouse defending and advancing the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
Working with like-minded fellow members from throughout the country—in the pre-technology age–the reformers forced leadership change in NRA, prevented the group’s planned move from the DC area, and helped solidify and shape its political agenda. He served on NRA’s Public Affairs Committee, which helped craft the “I’m the NRA” campaign.
Mr. Tartaro authored “Revolt in Cincinnati,” and even now, four decades later, people still seek copies of the book, which has been out of print for many years. It was an expanded collection of his writings about the members’ movement, in 1989.
He also authored “The Great Assault Weapon Hoax,” published in the University of Dayton Law Review, later reprinted as a monograph by SAF. Mr. Tartaro also wrote several articles and commentaries for trade and consumer publications over the years.
In 1979, he and his brother, Vincent, together with a group of investors, formed Hawkeye Publishing, in order to buy Gun Week newspaper from Amos Pres of Ohio, who planned to fold the publication, and became its third editor. The newspaper had an enormous influence in the gun rights community, despite its relatively small circulation.
In 1985 Gun Week was sold to the Second Amendment Foundation, and continued publication as a bi-weekly. At Mr. Tartaro’s urging, the Foundation also bought Women & Guns magazine in 1989, the first monthly magazine for women gun owners. His daughter, Patricia “Peggy” Tartaro was editor until the publication went online in 2019. In 2016, Gun Week became The Gun Mag.com—a monthly print edition continued until 2019, under his editorship.
His “Hindsight” columns in Gun Week and TheGunMag.com were perhaps the most popular section of each weekly newspaper, and then monthly print edition of TGM. Even after TGM moved entirely to online publication in July 2019, the Hindsight column continued informing readers.
“I don’t know of anyone who did more than Joe to promote grass-roots activism at the state and community level on gun owner’s rights and self-defense issues,” Ayoob wrote. “We have lost one of our strongest voices.”
Mr. Tartaro and Mr. Gottlieb created the annual Gun Rights Policy Conference, a joint event sponsored by SAF and its sister organization, the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.
In addition to his journalism background, Mr. Tartaro was president of Tartaro Advertising in Buffalo, NY. He was in business more than 60 years, and was well-known in the firearms industry and Second Amendment community. With that in his background, along with gun rights activism, Mr. Tartaro was a recognized authority on gun legislation, and one of his chief roles during the annual gun conferences was to provide a brief history of the gun rights movement, explaining how it got started and how that movement evolved and grew to what it is today.
Born March 17, 1931, Mr. Tartaro was the fifth child of Dr. Giuseppe Tartaro and Marguerite Natale Tartaro. His parents were prominent in Buffalo social circles in the early 20th century, especially in the Italian-American community, and lived on Buffalo’s West Side.
He attended Canisius High School, and was a member of the first class to graduate from the school’s then-new Delaware Avenue location in 1948. He also attended the University of Buffalo.
In 1951, he married the former Patricia Burke and the couple moved to the New York City area, where he worked in advertising in New York City and she taught at the Elmsford School for the Deaf.
He was drafted in 1952, and did his basic training at Indiantown Gap, PA, a facility he told many humorous stories about throughout his life. He attended the Army’s Information School at Ft. Slocum, NH, and was eventually assigned to Pacific Stars & Stripes in Tokyo, during the Korean War, where he held a number of positions, including assignment editor. He remained active in the Stripes Alumni Association throughout his life, contributing to that group’s newsletter and attending reunions, including the one in Niagara Falls which he and his wife hosted.
After discharge, he returned to Buffalo and started Tartaro Advertising with his late brother, Vincent.
A competitive pistol shooter, in the 1970s, at the urging of his cousin, the late Frank Martino, he joined the Shooter’s Committee on Political Education (SCOPE), and became active in the emerging gun rights debate. He served in leadership roles in SCOPE, including its presidency.
Writing about her father, Peggy Tartaro noted, “He was proud of the Foundation’s leadership with disparate groups of gun owners—and non-gun-owners. In addition to academic and legal conferences, the Foundation hosted a writer’s conference for published authors and screenwriters he devised, to give hands-on experience with firearms. Many of the attendees reached out to him for technical advice over the years, and he even appeared as a character, in one such work. He served as the Foundation’s President until his death.
“Inclusivity was a hallmark of his decades in the gun rights movement. Following the Oklahoma City bombing, he went to Washington to stand with representatives of the ACLU, National Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, and Arab-American groups, at a Press Club event, to urge caution in blaming groups or individuals in the days before Timothy McVeigh was identified and captured.
“He was a supporter of LGBQT firearms groups like the Pink Pistols and Black and Brown cohorts, insuring representation for these groups at the Foundation’s annual Gun Rights Policy Conference, which always began with his “look back” address. He missed only two of the Conferences in its 35 years, both times due to ill health.
“He was also a key player in decisions on lawsuits by the Foundation, including the landmark McDonald v. Chicago Supreme Court case which upheld an individual’s right to bear arms.
He was described by the sociologist Bryan Anse Patrick as a “Patriarch of the gun rights movement,” in Patrick’s book on the NRA.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Pat, in April 2014.
Survivors include his son, Mark (Delores), Patricia “Peggy”, and Bridget (Laura Gorman) of Connecticut; Grandchildren Marc (Anne) of Georgia, Deanna Gioli Keane (Michael) and Joseph as well as Great Grandchildren Kyle Keane, Kiki Keane and Hailey Tartaro.
Funeral arrangements were handled by Amigone on Delaware. A brief graveside service was scheduled for Tuesday, June 16, and the family hopes to have a more comprehensive memorial event at a later date.