… of people who are not fans of Chief Kessler. I think his being the public image of this issue in Pennsylvania is more harmful than helpful. In the past few years, I’ve I haven’t been talking as much about what I think is smart activism, versus what I think is just clownish behavior can actually hurt the cause. I’ve heard Chief Kessler speak, and heard what he has to say, and I did not walk away with a favorable impression of him as someone who can carry our message effectively. The news stories since then have not dissuaded me from that view.
In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, we had a strong, local upwelling of pro-gun sentiment that happened relatively spontaneously. After years of trying and failing to organize in various contexts, it was something to feel optimistic about. But as time wore on, the sensible folks who wanted to do real political engagement were pushed out by the clowns and whack-a-doodles, and the crowds aren’t turning out anymore. The potential is there, but it’s not surprising to discover most gun owners don’t really want to engage in loud and aggressive open carry protests and counter-protests all of the time. Every tactic has its limits.
After this groundswell got started, the local politicians were paying attention. Even politicians we never figured would touch the gun issue with a 20 foot pole were at least willing to come see what the buzz was about. Now I’d be surprised if they want to touch the gun issue with a 50 foot pole, especially if they think it’ll mean having to explain their involvement with a group allied with Chief Kessler’s CSF to their largely suburban constituents.
Only about half of households are gun owning, and many of them are completely unfamiliar with the gun culture. They have a difficult time even putting something like IPSC or IDPA into context, let alone something like a Constitutional Security Force. Additionally, it’s always a good rule of thumb is that when even fellow gun owners are put off by your tactics, it’s a signal you might want to rethink what you’re doing. You can hew and haw all you want about how wrong they are, and you might have a point, but at the end of the day you need to bring those people along with whatever you want to accomplish.
There is a very strong strain in the pro-gun community that seems to believe only good intentions matter, and arguing over what makes for effective tactics amounts to a form of elitism. I’ve resisted these conversations in recent years, because to be honest, I haven’t had the time or energy to deal with it. But I’ve watched too much opportunity here in Pennsylvania get sacrificed to clownish behavior in the past few months to keep completely silent about it.
Here’s the cold, hard truth: if we do not manage to keep suburban legislators and suburban voters on the side of, or at the least acquiesced to the idea of civilian gun ownership, Pennsylvania will slowly begin transforming into New Jersey and New York. Attitudes might be a bit different in places like Gilberton, but because of migration patterns in Pennsylvania, it’s increasingly suburban Philadelphia voters who call the shots in state elections. You can’t avoid having to consider what those voters think of you.
And it’s not just suburban voters; suburban gun owners have to feel comfortable being involved. Tactics that alienate and keep them on the sofa are cutting off your nose to spite your face. It takes more than a couple dozen activists with megaphones, banners, flags, and ARs and AKs strung across their chests to defeat a gun control bill, to push a pro-gun bill, or to successfully swing elections. Whether you want to accept it or not, those three things are the meat and potatoes of political action. Anything that doesn’t involve supporting those processes is window dressing.
As a movement, we seem to enjoy window dressing a bit too much these days, and my fear is that’s going to kill us if we’re not careful.