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Circular Firing Squad: Perhaps The Best We Can Do

John Richardson covers a bit of what’s been going on in North Carolina. This is one area I’m not sure there’s any solution other than the circular firing squad, because what you have is a state group, in this case, Grassroots North Carolina, actively trying to undermine an NRA endorsement over issues that have absolutely nothing to do with gun rights. This particularly annoys me because in the DISCLOSE battle, Schuler was the one Democrat who tried to do the right thing, and get every pro-gun group exempted from the requirement. Not only just every gun rights group, but virtually every political advocacy group.

GRNC is not only wrong on Schuler, they are supremely wrong. They are lambasting the one Democrat who tried to solve this problem in favor of all 501(c)(4) non-profits, including GOA, including CCRKBA, and including GRNC. I will back GRNC to the hilt when they do good work like participate in lawsuits to try to get North Carolina’s emergency powers laws tossed out, but they are wrong to attack Schuler on this issue, and I believe they are shooting the rest of us in the foot in their attempts to smear him on an issue totally unrelated to gun rights.

So what obligation do we have to not return fire when other groups actively being a circular firing squad? I think the answer is we shouldn’t have much. The great trick is not to let it get personal. Argue on the facts, and may the best set of facts win the day.

UPDATE: This is really a collective action problem. NRA promises pro-2A supporting politicians they can deliver the gun vote on election day. To the extent NRA can actually do that, we win. If public infighting draws into question whether NRA can actually deliver the vote, it hurts the organization as a whole electorally, and thus the cause. I will never tell an NRA member not to vote their individual conscience as a citizen. I would be lying to you if I told you that when I got into the voting booth, I’ve never bucked an NRA endorsement. Most certainly I have, because as a citizen, the Second Amendment is important to me, but I weigh that among a number of issues that are important to me.

NRA risks creating a perception that when it comes to supporting Democrats, even liberal Democrats, who support the Second Amendment, they can’t deliver the goods. If that perception takes hold, and you can bet our enemies will do everything they can to push that perception after Tuesday, the whole bipartisan coalition we’re creating falls apart, and we go back to the Republicans treating us like the crazy uncle. Because where else do we have to go?

Collective action is a tough thing for gun owners. It’s always felt like herding cats, and to be honest, I’d probably get worried if it ever wasn’t like that. But ultimately, you have to take collective action to protect individual rights, because politics is a collective action sort of institution. That necessarily has to mean putting some of yourself aside to accomplish goals. Not all of yourself, but it requires a bit of being able to subordinate your own desires for the sake of the greater good. It requires not making the perfect the enemy of good.

The left is very good at this, for obvious reasons. It’s in their blood. It’s not in ours. I wouldn’t want us to be like the left. Not by a long shot. But I think we need to figure out a way to disagree, and to express disagreement, that doesn’t undermine the cause as a whole. We need to be able to speak collectively as a close to a single voice as we can manage, but still have room within the framework for disagreement without seriously undermining the single voice. I’m not going to absolve NRA, and suggest they aren’t part of this problem, because I think they are. But to be honest, I won’t pretend to have a solution. I’m not sure there is a solution. But the fact that the left is very good at collective action, while we’re very bad at it, mostly due to our respective natures, is another one of the reasons liberty loses. Liberty is an individual benefit, but to preserve it you need collective action within a political framework. This is a paradox I’m not sure how to resolve.

27 Responses to “Circular Firing Squad: Perhaps The Best We Can Do”

  1. Being the North Carolinian who originally posted that, I must respectfully disagree.

    The bad blood between the NRA and Grass Roots North Carolina has existed since at least the late 1990s.The anti-Shuler ad is only a.30 second spot on one conservative radio station a few times a day plus a mailing to their members. I’m sure the number of NRA members who got the bumperstickers, postcards, and letters endorsing Heath overwhelms the number that could be sent out by GRNC. How much of a threat to the NRA is that?

    No, someone in the NRA bureaucracry wanted to stick it to GRNC and that’s why the email went out. The very act of lashing out at a weaker opponent like the NRA did serves to strengthen and legitimize the smaller organization. It was a stupid move on the NRA-ILA’s part if they wanted to diminish the impact of GRNC’s ads and mailings.

  2. Sebastian says:

    It’s a good point John, in terms of strengthening and legitimatizing the smaller organization. In that respect it might be a stupid move. But NRA is going to have to defend their endorsements to a large degree, especially if the endorsee’s campaign is worried about the attack, and the impact it’s going to have. I’m not saying that’s what happened here, because I’m not closely following Schuler’s campaign… but whether you can ignore an attack depends largely on how successful it is.

  3. One correction I need to make. Shuler doesn’t have a “C” in his name. After the German settlers came to western North Carolina back in the 1700s/1800s the spellings of their names over time have become corrupted. Shuler probably should be Schuler but it isn’t.

  4. alan says:

    No, the “right thing” would have been to oppose the DISCLOSE Act for everyone, not just nonprofits. Shuler was just trying to make it easier for the Democrats to pass the act and for that he needs to be tossed out like the rest of the elitist garbage infesting DC.

    The NRA’s rollover on DISCLOSE was just as reprehensible.

    Collective action is for collectivists.

  5. Sebastian says:

    So NRA is now a first amendment group. That’s what you’re saying?

  6. alan says:

    No, the NRA is a shopping channel. They’re trying to sell me NASCAR tickets now. (way to perpetuate the stereotype there guys!)

    They SHOULD be supporting the first amendment since their existence depends on it.

    The NRA screwed the pooch on DISCLOSE and no amount of ex post spin can make that into a good thing.

  7. Sebastian says:

    I don’t think there was a good choice when it came to DISCLOSE. The political process doesn’t always give you a choice between a good path, and a bad path. It quite often gives you a choice between a bad path and worse path.

    NRA’s position on DISCLOSE was quite clear… if it was affected by it, it would oppose it. Schuler floated the proposal to exempt 501(c)(4)s. The leadership rejected that, and proposed just cutting out NRA. The backlash that created is largely what killed it, because no one was paying attention to DISCLOSE before the leadership floated the NRA exemption.

  8. bob r says:

    What Alan said @5.

    As to the NRA being a “first amendment group.” I don’t expect the NRA to *actively* pursue/comment on first amendment issues. However, if they *do* comment on them I expect them to so with (at least) as much vigor as they put into 2nd amendment issues. Effectively saying: “Since they’ve said they won’t throw us under the bus, we’ll just shut up and stay on the sidelines” is not an acceptable position to take on any issue.

  9. dustydog says:

    NRA has a “What’s good for General Motors is good for America” attitude. Further, the NRA is essentially criticizing another organization for not being wholly focused on the second amendment, a criticism they bristle at when the reverse is applied to them .

    Analogous to PETA euthanizing tens of thousands of pets without trying to get them adopted.

  10. Carl from Chicago says:

    Gun rights advocates are gun rights advocates’ worst enemy.

    I suggest everyone think about that for a little while.

  11. mikee says:

    The problem I have with NRA endorsements of liberal Democrat candidates who supposedly support gun rights is that those same gun-rights-supporting Democrats support nominations like Sotomayor and Kagan to the Supreme Court, and all the other judicial, executive, and regulatory positions that seek or exercise authority to roll back gun rights.

    What good does it do gun rights to have someone vote against a bill that won’t pass anyway, like assault weapons v.2011, when that same person will tip the courts anti-gun over time through their support of anti-rights nominees?

    Gun rights covers much more than just a list of votes on selected pieces of legislation these days. If the NRA can’t understand that, they have a very serious problem.

  12. Peter says:

    “I would be lying to you if I told you that when I got into the voting booth, I’ve never bucked an NRA endorsement. Most certainly I have, because as a citizen, the Second Amendment is important to me, but I weigh that among a number of issues that are important to me.”

    In other words, you’re not a “single-issue” voter. Interesting.

  13. Sebastian says:

    I never claimed to be one, Peter. The gun issue is what motivates me to get up and do something. When I go into the voting booth, the 2A weighs very highly, but it is not the only thing, no. There are plenty of endorsed Democrats I’d have a hard time punching the ballot for this election. I’m not blasting anyone for voting their own consciences, even if that means voting for the Republican challenger of an endorsed Democrat. But there’s a difference between what you do yourself in the voting booth, and what you advocate in public as a voice in the gun issue.

  14. Sebastian says:

    mikee:

    A lot of Senate Dems aren’t getting endorsements this year because of Kagan and Sotomayor. In fact, I think only a few Dem Senators got the nod.

  15. Carl from Chicago says:

    mikee Said,
    November 1st, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    Gun rights covers much more than just a list of votes on selected pieces of legislation these days. If the NRA can’t understand that, they have a very serious problem.

    After 140 years of existence, I suspect they’re still a little green behind the ears.

  16. Doble Troble says:

    “But ultimately, you have to take collective action to protect individual rights, because politics is a collective action sort of institution. That necessarily has to mean putting some of yourself aside to accomplish goals. Not all of yourself, but it requires a bit of being able to subordinate your own desires for the sake of the greater good. It requires not making the perfect the enemy of good.”

    Sebastian – this sounds really nice and sociable, but has a serious problem: The right to keep and bear arms is already one that “shall not be infringed”. The cats were herded long ago to agree on this right, and wars have been fought to make and keep it the law of the land. If we let politicians get away with making an issue out of a settled matter, we only risk having the right eroded. And this has happend time-and-time again until it became illegal to possess a handgun in the nation’s capital. There’s nothing good that can come by willingness to compromise on a right that “shall not be infringed” (unless maybe you’re making seven figures like Wayne LaPierre and are worried about job security).

  17. Sebastian says:

    Saying “shall not be infringed” doesn’t accomplish anything. If you want the politicians to not infringe you have to make them not infringe. That requires collective action, which was my point. We do not have the political power at this point in time to make them not infringe at all, because we just don’t have the numbers on the ground to make it happen. We don’t have the numbers in terms of the “gun vote” and we certainly don’t have the numbers when it comes to regular liberty.

    Maybe that will change, and I hope it does, but I’m not seeing any indications on the ground that there’s a groundswell of political engagement with lawmakers on this issue from gun owners.

  18. RT says:

    The idea is to elect the right people so that stupid stuff like DISCLOSE never even gets seriously considered in the first place. Getting rid of Shuler helps that.

  19. blindside says:

    “The problem I have with NRA endorsements of liberal Democrat candidates who supposedly support gun rights is that those same gun-rights-supporting Democrats support nominations like Sotomayor and Kagan to the Supreme Court, and all the other judicial, executive, and regulatory positions that seek or exercise authority to roll back gun rights.”

    ^^This.

    I’ll add that if a representative doesn’t respect the entire Constitution, I don’t believe they will truly respect any of it, nor really be a defender of our rights when the chips are down. People like that are simply opportunists, and not to be trusted.

    The votes on judges is another critical point. What good is a pro-gun representative that consistently votes for anti-gun leaders (like Pelosi) and anti-gun judges that will work to undermine the pro-gun legislation they attempt to introduce or that actually is passed.

    While I wonder if the NRA purposely did what it did on the DISCLOSE act in order to kill it (knowing that people like Boxer and other virulent ant-gunners would never allow it to pass), it is impossible to prove that. I know those kinds of ‘reverse psychology’ tactics occur. I thought it interesting how we ended up with liberal groups threatening a fight with the Democrats.

  20. Sebastian says:

    I’m pretty sure that the NRA carveout wasn’t part of an evil plot to kill the bill. That was floated by the House leadership, after Shuler’s offer was rejected by them. In the end it was the leadership’s bumbling around NRA’s pronouncement they’d oppose DISCLOSE if they were affected by it that killed it. If they had taken Schuler’s offer, it’s something that might have passed… the problem… from the leadership’s perspective… is that it would have eliminated the purpose of the bill.

    The leadership point is a reasonable one, but the vote for Speaker is generally the only vote you get. Most of the other positions are decided by seniority. And the vote for speaker is a tricky thing. The current Congress, you have a minority of liberals, a minority of conservatives, and a majority of moderates. You’d think the moderates could get together and vote for a moderate speaker, but that’s something that works very much along party lines. In short, there’s not a whole lot of room for a Blue Dog newcomer to buck leadership. Leadership has a lot of things they can hold over a relatively newcomer. Especially on leadership votes.

    Now on Court nominations, I agree there can be no forgiving for party, just because of how important that is right now, but the speaker can be worked around. We’ve actually done a very good job of working around Pelosi this Congress. Leadership votes are important, but Pelosi didn’t touch the gun issue, and even let a few pro-gun things get through without using ever trick she had at her disposal to prevent it.

  21. Doble Troble says:

    “…you want the politicians to not infringe you have to make them not infringe.”

    Sebastian: that’s EXACTLY what the 2A was designed for. Why did we The People make it negotiable and essentially lose it?

  22. Doble Troble says:

    We’re not the one’s saying “shall not be infringed.” It’s the Constitution that says it. Who are we to contradict it (or pretend it doesn’t say or mean what it says)?

  23. Sebastian says:

    It’s just fading ink on parchment if you don’t do the work to make the politicians heed what’s written there. My point is just saying the meaning is clear doesn’t actually accomplish much. Politicians are going to pass laws, and judges are going to review and pass judgement on those laws, with what they think those words mean.

    You have to make a case for what you think they mean in a manner that they are likely to be persuaded. The law also says “Congress shall make no law,” but we all know Congress makes laws that impact the First Amendment on a regular basis. Make no law, unless it involves revealing national secrets, or make no law unless it says you can’t associate with a terrorist group, or make no law unless it says you can’t grow pot just because your religion says it’s OK to get high. All rights have contours, so by that definition there have to be some regulations on arms that pass constitutional muster.

  24. Doble Troble says:

    “…there have to be some regulations on arms that pass constitutional muster.”

    Yes, I completely agree. Nukes are out. Artillary, RPGs…? where to draw the line?

    Here’s where I think the line belongs: What weapons does the government give GIs to fight our wars. I’m not talking squads of GIs, I’m talking each standard infantry man. Those are the arms that the Second was designed to protect.

  25. Sebastian says:

    I don’t know… I didn’t do it :) Ask the folks back in 1934 when they opened this door by letting the feds, for all intents and purposes, ban machine guns, among other things.

  26. Sebastian says:

    DT:

    I think that’s a reasonable line to draw. I think pretty much all personal weapons should be covered by the Second Amendment, including submachine guns and assault rifles. But you have to convince politicians and judges of that. Most of them think the line should be drawn somewhere else, and leaves a lot more room for government meddling than I think is keeping with the spirit of “shall not be infringed.”

  27. Alpheus says:

    When talking about “where to draw the line”, I would like to point out two things:

    1. At the founding of our country, it wasn’t unheard-of for individuals to own cannons.

    2. It’s silly to say that individuals can’t own nuclear weapons or fighter jets: it’s a moot point. Do you have any idea how expensive these things are? If a civilian was determined enough to acquire one of these things secretly, and had the wealth to do it, do you really think that any law would be sufficient to stop him?

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