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Where Do Gun Nuts Fit in a Right-of-Center Movement?

I read something the other day that just didn’t sit with me very well. I mulled over it a bit, and decided to focus on the one section of a much longer post about building infrastructure for a conservative movement. Patrick Ruffini, while calling on the right to stop popping out new groups all the time and focus on the good ones we have, broke down the grassroots into three segments. The way he worded it was what jumped out at me.

Right now, the balance of power in the conservative movement when it comes to grassroots muscle rests with the economic (AFP, FreedomWorks, Club for Growth, etc.) and social (AFA, Focus, etc.) wings. You also have the NRA.

I agree with Sebastian on coalition building in order to advance our pro-gun efforts. I realize that we are not the only issue the GOP can cling to, and in fact, it’s actually pretty far down the pecking order of day-to-day political issues, even with the most anti-gun leaders in office. (We are lucky to have that be the case. Can you imagine hearings in 6 different committees on a dozen different versions of gun control every few months? I’m exaggerating, but you get the idea.)

However, reading that, I’m curious about the fact that NRA members are singled out. One, we’re last. Two, we don’t even get put into the same sentence. While I’m glad that it’s recognized that among those who commit to grassroots work for gun rights, we may differ on our social and economic views, it’s still troubling to just be casually thrown in like that at the end. (That’s not to nitpick Ruffini’s sentence structure, I’m just explaining my thought process as I read his piece.)

I had to ask, are we the “oh yeah, them, too” members of the movement? Many of us certainly feel that way.

Considering NRA’s membership numbers far out pace all of the other listed groups, we shouldn’t be. When you also consider that most of those other groups define member as anyone added to their email list in the last 5 years, vs. NRA requiring you to fork over $35 every year, it’s even more daunting. By simply having a mandatory paid membership model, NRA members prove every single year that we’re more willing to engage at the grassroots level than any of the other group lists.

So why do so many of our activists feel like when they do engage with others in the movement that we’re taken advantage of? I don’t think it is quite as simple as an attitude of “who else are they going to vote for? Barack Obama?” from the other conservative activists. I think a big part of it is our fault. When I think about events where a standard right-of-center activist might encounter gun nuts, I realize that gun nuts aren’t there. NRA is, and they try to give our issue presence. But we’re not.

For example, in my years of going to CPAC, I was used to seeing people there who spotted the NRA booth and their reactions are generally limited to variations on these themes:

  • Oh look, guns. Sure, gun rights, sounds like part of liberty! I like Liberty! Jerry Falwell gave us Liberty!
  • Gun owners. They like low taxes, too. No one wants to pay high ammo taxes.
  • Cool! It’s the bitter clingers. I wonder if they have any candy or free stuff to fill my backpack.

That’s not the entire crowd by any means, but for most people, the issue is not a serious thought. They don’t know the political battles we’re fighting. They don’t know that beyond NRA, we have even more local communities like our gun clubs and even commercial ranges.

I think there are ways that NRA has successfully managed to rise above getting a pat on the head from the crowd by doing things like having Cam broadcast live from radio row. It reminds folks that there is a real issue to deal with in the political game. It’s not always an every day issue, but when it comes up, it’s usually big one way or the other.

But where are the attendees who make it clear that they are there for the Second Amendment? Where are the folks sitting in the crowd between speakers talking to the people around them about how guns are targeted more often at the state and local level? You don’t find us there.

When going door-to-door for the campaigns this year, the Victory Office gave us a bag full of buttons to choose from in case we needed them to identify us with a volunteer effort. There were no sportsmen buttons in there. There were clipboards with various coalition group bumper stickers plastered on there – not one had sportsmen. (At least until Sebastian got his hands on one with no stickers at all…) People complimented our Sportsmen for McCain t-shirts we created online, and that was the extent to which they saw gun owners involved. We had to create our own visibility.

Now, this doesn’t mean that I think every gun owner needs to go out and make their own “Sportsmen for X-Candidate” gear to make us visible. When I was in the main phone bank room one afternoon and we took a collective breather, I talked to the other volunteers about why I was there – gun rights. Plain and simple. Yes, I liked other issues, but gun rights were the top of my activist agenda. We attended the local GOP volunteer party even though we’re not Republicans. Sebastian talked to a candidate about why he needed to return his NRA questionnaire next time, and we met one of his fellow club members who was brought to the event by a friend – another discussion in front of conservative activists about gun rights as an issue.

There is a lot of work to do to solve this problem. But, if we want more proactive candidates, and we want a hand on the proverbial steering wheel of any political party or social movement, we have to become more visible. For those of us who identify on multiple fronts of the conservative movement, we need to mix it up in those circles a bit. Get in those other circles and talk about guns as an issue we face, and why it is one that inspires your activism.

We can’t keep making excuses that our guys would rather just be at the range instead of out talking to the other members of the movement. Every issue has that problem. We just need to get over it if we want that position of “you also have the NRA” to change. If we don’t, then we can keep on being keyboard warriors and resign ourselves to sitting in the back seat instead of with a hand on the wheel.

Just to note, this is an even bigger problem in the Democratic circles since gun rights are marginalized within their activist base. But everyone here is pro-gun and can at least acknowledge that many of our political friends (though by no means all) are on the right side of the aisle – especially at the federal level. I definitely don’t have any special solutions there, but I’d love to hear ideas from those who lean left on other issues

11 Responses to “Where Do Gun Nuts Fit in a Right-of-Center Movement?”

  1. Wolfwood says:

    Respectfully, I don’t read it the same way you do. At least in modern American politics, the two axes have been economic and social issues. Putting the NRA in a follow-up sentence does several things: it recognizes that they’re not one of the traditional categories, it notes that it doesn’t neatly fit with either of the other two, and it distinguishes the NRA from the overall RKBA and/or hunting movements.

    As mentioned before, the NRA’s members aren’t all completely economically or socially conservative (and are sometimes neither). I’ve seen plenty of gun-bloggers willing to throw some of the issues I care most about under the bus so long as it means pro-RKBA politicians are in office.

    The NRA encompasses both the RKBA and hunting sides of guns; those are themselves often two very different constituencies, each of which is sometimes willing to sell the other out to get what it wants. Ruffini also said “the NRA;” he didn’t say “gun owners” because GOA, IDPA, Ducks Unlimited, etc. don’t have any political clout. If, say, a major scandal rocks the NRA then gun owners are in serious trouble, whereas either social conservatism or economic conservatism could stand the loss of several major lobbying groups each and still remain powerful.

    I guess in short, I see NRA as being treated as a non-traditional and unique player. This being the case, writers will usually place such “miscellaneous” items at the end of a list.

  2. Bitter says:

    Except I did mention that as one reason he might have worded it the way he did. I did say that I was happy to see that it’s recognized that “among those who commit to grassroots work for gun rights, we may differ on our social and economic views.”

    Like I said, this post wasn’t really about nitpicking his sentence structure, I just made a mention of it to a) let people know some of the interesting things I’ve been reading about how gun owners might fit within a conservative movement, b) to let people know how I started thinking about this issue, and c) to use it as a somewhat related written example that could potentially be related to an attitude that I have definitely seen at conferences and with other activists in a volunteer capacity.

    As for those other groups you mention, I actually disagree. First, since when does IDPA do any political organization? You could ask the same thing of GOA, but they at least pretend. (Nevermind that no one on the Hill seems to have heard of them.) But DU is very involved and often deliveries testimony. In fact, they often partner with many other conservation and hunting organizations – including NRA – in their Hill work. However, I wouldn’t say that DU is the only one because the hunting groups are actually pretty good at working the Hill together.

    I would also argue that one reason that the movement isn’t aware of the other groups we have in our cause isn’t simply because the NRA is the 800 lb. gorilla – though that is in large part why. It’s also because they don’t see our issues as complicated issues that really need any more recognition than a simple mention in an NRA alert. Most of the folks I know in the fiscal conservative side were shocked to learn about the various issues that the gun and hunting communities worked on day-to-day.

  3. Micheal says:

    You are right, we as gun owners, regardless of party, are not taken seriously in either of them. My personal frustrations is, the only time the GOP talks about gun rights is during an election, when they need our vote. Kind of irrates me a little.

  4. Bitter says:

    I also think that’s far too simplistic of a view, Scalawag.

    The fact is that we aren’t a day-to-day issue. (See above about why that’s a good thing!) Of course the most frequent time it will come up is during an election – that’s when all of the issues that aren’t discussed most of the rest of the year get mentioned. They want to pull together their coalitions. It’s why you really don’t hear them talk about abortion except around election time. In most areas, there’s simply nothing on the table about the issue. But that doesn’t mean that the pro-lifers and pro-choicers shouldn’t be encouraged during election season.

    It’s unreasonable that serious lawmakers would make an effort to talk about guns when they aren’t an issue at hand. Yes, it would be nice if they would sometimes, but it’s just not a political reality. Federally, we aren’t in a position to advance the cause very much – if at all. Let’s use National Park Carry as a recent issue. There were letters sent to DOI from members of Congress, constituents who called or wrote heard back from many members, what else did you expect them to do? Parade down C Street with banners screaming for repeal?

    Hell, let’s take the DC gun policy. They wrote a bill, got tons of co-sponsors, did a discharge petition, wrote a second bill, got tons of co-sponsors, got it past committee and on to a floor vote with lots of debate. Oh yeah, and that was after lawmakers rallied and sent the amicus brief with the most Congressional signatures ever over to the Court for Heller. What else do you want them to do to talk about the issue? Instead of a parade, would you rather they plan a public rumble out on the Mall with the Senate to get a vote?

    When we’re on the defense, we simply don’t want the issue to come up much. I would expect my lawmakers to be talking about it unless they are fighting against a bad bill that’s actually on the move. Oh, yeah, and at at the next election so that I know if they are on board with my rights.

    I think that you’re expecting way too much out of politicians if you want them talking guns all the time. We’ve seen lots of pro-gun talk and action this year. I don’t know what your complaint on that front is all about.

    Of course, you’re also focusing on the politicians. If you go back and re-read my post, it’s about being recognized in the movement. These are two different things. I’m looking at why the activists that also make up the coalition don’t know we’re around. Most of that is because we aren’t around. We show up to vote, and that’s it. Granted, that helps, but it deservedly makes us deserving of just the “pat on the head” treatment.

  5. >So why do so many of our activists feel like when they do
    >engage with others in the movement that we’re taken
    >advantage of?

    Because nearly all of them will vote for the R whether he’s good or bad on guns or whether the D is good or bad on guns. If you can’t be counted on as a reliable vote no matter what the GOP does, it doesn’t make sense for them to waste resources thinking about you and what you want.

  6. Bitter says:

    You’re not making any sense.

    First, you quote my comment that focuses on interacting with other activists and assume I mean politicians. Again, movement here people, not party politics.

    Second, your first sentence says that we are apparently good little Republican voters no matter what. Yet then your second sentence talks about being unreliable voters. So are we reliable or not? Or are you talking about other activists? If so, are they reliable or not. If you stop and re-read your comment as someone who isn’t in your head, you’ll find it makes absolutely no sense.

  7. Alan says:

    I think the problem is that gun owners are, for the most part, in the closet still. That makes us easy to ignore, even though there are 80 some odd million, or more.

    We’re not vocal, in your face people. That makes us easy to ignore.

    We just want to be left alone. That makes us easy to ignore.

    We’re rugged individualists. Which makes us easy to ignore.

    I see signs that that’s starting to change. More gun owners are becoming politically active, and more politically active people have become gun owners. Now that self defense in cities is a problem, guns are no longer an urban vs rural issue. (Although I’d be very worried if I was a hunter.) I think it’s a good sign that gun control was a non-issue in the recent election. Even Obama claimed to be pro 2nd amendment. That virtually no candidate for national office has run on gun control for the last fourteen years is amazing. The ones that ARE in favor of it have to lie and sneak around, hiding anti gun language in bills and midnight amendments. I think that’s a good sign that we’re winning the fight.

  8. That was a typo, it should say ‘If you can be counted on’…

  9. Tom says:

    Don’t gun rights pretty much cut to the heart of the republican party’s alleged position of smaller government? (Gun)Rights mean less laws which mean less enforcers and less gubmint.

    It seems to be more, just read the stuff here so far, a question about how a party that’s been moving left can justify letting the traditionally “right” groups have much sway. The whole concept of group identity is more of a problem than anything else. It forces a fight to control the agenda with whichever group’s opinion has the most vocal support and in the end just ticks off all those who “hold their nose and vote”

  10. Bitter says:

    There are more than a few leftists who would disagree that gun rights mean a smaller government. They might support something like socialized healthcare, but they believe the people can be armed.

    But, since we’re focusing on the right, I can see your point in a limited way. Yes, gun rights generally lines up with other things that the rest of the coalition supports. But the idea here is that because they actually generally agree with us, we’re taken advantage of in the movement. It’s just presumed. Or at least, from my involvement, that’s how I believe quite a few potential gun owner activists feel.

    I actually don’t think the issues with the GOP specifically can all be summed up as they moved left. I think any shift that has taken place can be put partially on our shoulders. If we weren’t involved and visible, then they had no reason to stay with us. That’s why I like the Ruffini’s basic idea of creating an infrastructure for the movement. Then the party can’t say they didn’t see us, and better candidates will piggy back on the movement instead of the party.

    We actually sort of saw a local version of this in our state rep race. The GOP candidate – from everything we saw – relied almost solely upon his local support. Only at the very end did we start getting mailers from the state party. The guy didn’t come to the county volunteer event, and I don’t recall any of the local GOP outfits pushing volunteers his way.

    Alan,

    I would generally agree that we’re overall winning the fight. But what I would like is to make us visible enough so that we don’t have to deal with surprises. We can concentrate our force on the gun issue to a few bad states and keep the Brady machine locked up in their previously safe states.

    From a politics perspective, that’s something like what Obama did. We actually had to put more resources than expected into some states that should have been locked up.

    I guess my idea is to use a two movement strategy. Make us visible enough in the conservative movement so that there’s never any desire for them to throw us under the bus. Make us relevant enough in the other movement (or, sadly, more likely just their political machine instead of their movement) that we pick up a few pro-gun votes there and keep the ones we can’t convert annoyed as hell.

  11. RAH says:

    I think that just being a gun owner does not mean that that voter is either a conservative (GOP) or a liberal (Democrat). Gun owners own an object, just like car owners. If car owners were facing a restriction on their right or ability to own an drive cars there would be a huge political group that would arise to protect what most people are used to having. There is no movement to ban cars or get rid of the ability to drive, so there is no pro car movement. Car owners are not conservative or liberal, they are just car owners.

    Basically guns are part of an American cultural tradition. That is why hunting is a rural tradition and not an urban tradition. Hunting requires large tracks of land and a knowledge and enjoyment of the outdoors. Urban life does not use large parts of land and knowledge of seasons and wildlife so hunting is alien to urban folks.

    The NRA basically appealed to the rural hunting culture and only recently has appealed to the RKBA culture. Many RKBA activists have a dislike of the NRA as evidence by their comments on many posts.

    RKBA political movement encompasses both urban and rural people. Maybe even more urban since it is the urban environment that RKBA has been in danger. Rural folks never had to worry about their long arms and a few pistols. They were not into guns for self defense and to carry, they just liked their shooting sports and hunting.

    So in the pro gun groups, there are the rural hunters and shooters who may be Democrat or Republican and the suburban and urban RKBA groups who want to carry in car or person in order to defend against criminals. The rural folks do not face the criminal problem of the cities. The city folk do and they are more persuaded by the RKBA argument than the rural shooting sports.

    The NRA rightly understand that their core groups are neither GOP or Democrat but both. Gun sports and rights are a bipartisan issue. The pro gun ban folks are generally liberal so they side with the Democrats. But liberals are not necessarily anti gun. There are a lot of those who indicate they are liberal and pro gun in liberal forums. This is a political plus in the last ten years. The RKBA argument persuades many more classically liberal to be pro gun.

    Now I am a conservative, small government, low taxes, less regulation on federal and local level. Conservative fiscal programs. Keep government out of education, welfare or social programs. I believe charity is an individual or private function, not a government function. I believe less government means produces a more independent populace who are used to doing for themselves than being the child to daddy government.

    The conservatives joined mostly the GOP since the GOP was for less government programs than the Democrats. Religious conservatives wanted freedom from government interference in their faith. They find that the pro gay movements a direct affront against their beliefs and a threat to their children education since pro gay curriculums have been pushed in public schools. Hate speech has been directed against the religious faithful who have been an in active fights against the restriction of their first amendment rights to speak against homosexuality since that is a threat to their social and religious identity.
    The religious right has been in a culture war against promiscuity, gay promotion, atheists and abortion. This is evident is the present controversy of the Capitol visitor center which has an anti religion presence. The religious right is even now under attack within the GOP from the libertarian, pro gay, fiscal conservatives, and more socially liberal wing.

    Many on the religious right are also pro RKBA and pro hunting, but that is a lesser issue that the social and culture war with liberals who want the religious to be shamed out of American society.

    There are few single-issue voters and no single-issue politicians. Politicians that are single issue cannot get voted in, since there is not a majority for any single issue. RKBA and abortion are the few issues that voters will base their vote.

    Most voters are not single issue and base their support on a variety or the hot issues of the day. That may be health care or the war or protect America from terrorists or protect the definition of marriage issues.

    What is important to a voter changes according to the voters circumstances. The object to excite voters from minimum civic duty to vote to be active and volunteer often take an issue that they can be passionate about. RKBA has been one of those passionate issues that attract young voters. Most of the RKBA folks are younger and not in their 60’s or older.

    So we have an exciting issue that attracts rural and urban voters, RKBA. This issue is not going away since the urban cities keep attacking it. The RKBA folks have to be educated and joined to the rural hunting folks. The NRA has attempted that in more recent years. But that effort has to be done locally by gun clubs that attract younger shooter with fun stuff like zombie shoots and then the older hunters should introduce the shooters to hunting. This is an effort that can join both types and make both appreciate and support the others issues. This is one way to enlarge the gun owners and gun rights population. This effort must actively try to include females who have been generally left out of the shooting and hunting groups. Classes that teach CCW should offer reduce gun clubs memberships to get women to the clubs and active. Women want active social groups and clubs can grant that. The hunters should be proactive and invite women, self-defense shooters and juniors to go hunting and get them introduced to another sport. Sarah Palin being a role model will help attract women.

    The gun clubs should also develop a political unit to target members and family members to be more pro active for gun and hunting rights.

    Sebastian has been on target this political season going to gun clubs and acquainting them with the issues and candidates. Most voters have no idea of candidates and politicians position on issues that are important to them.

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