Weaponized Social Networks

This scenario is harrowing, and I already see some evidence of it. My mother’s side of my family and some friends on social media have gone commented and shared a lot on social media that aims to socially shame me and other gun people out of shooting and our opinions on the matter. It does not come close to rising to this level, but I see things headed in that direction.

One of the weaponized social networks I’m currently covering is a loosely connected network built on a newly emergent consensus morality (#metoo, etc.).  A consensus that it uses to successfully wield social, and increasingly, political power.

This moral network recently expanded with the addition of the #neveragain movement, after the Parkland shootings.  In the past, a movement like #neveragain would be focused on gun control through changes in government legislation.  Now that it’s part of this weaponized moral network, that focus is going to change.

Why?  This weaponized network isn’t interested in just changing legislation.  It’s far more ambitious than that.  It wants to change everyone‘s behavior and it is building the means to do it.  Here’s how.

Read the whole thing. I agree with Joe Huffman, who brought this piece to my attention:

Gun owners all need to “come out of the closet” and make it clear we are normal people. We do not have blood on our hands from the school shootings.

That really is the best thing we can do.

Likely an Old Debate

Humans are programmed in their brains to apply religious qualities to weapons. We do it, they do it. For many people on our side, it’s a talisman that wards off all evil. The attitude of “it’s just a tool,” is held by a very small group of people. I’ve found the tendency to view it as “just a tool” tends to roughly correlate to one’s level of training and experience. Experience and training demystifies the magic.

I believe this debate probably goes back as far as we do. No doubt Ogg was once pissed off that members of his tribe demanded he burn the shaft of his spear, and smash its point, because while he was out hunting one time, he had to kill Moog from the other tribe with it. The tribe shaman insisted the spear was now possessed of evil. Ogg’s hunting buddies insisted the spear was possessed of good Mammoth killing spirits, and only a fool would insist it be broken. Ogg shrugged it off and thought, “It’s a good mammoth spear, but I can make another.” Chances are if you’re reading this, you’re Ogg, and now that we have the technology, we’ve taken this ridiculous religious argument to the tribe of our entire country, even world. Ogg would probably think: “The more shit changes, the more shit stays the same.”

Walkout Wednesday

Say what you want about the school walkout thing, but it was brilliant. As in, “I wish I had thought of it,” brilliant. It’s times like this I wish I had kids, because I would have had them walk out with pro-gun signs and hand them out to likeminded teens. I’d definitely love teaching them the great pleasure of suing the government for fun and profit if they tried to stop them. The brilliance of it is that kids will take any excuse to get out of school, and these days we don’t really do discipline, so it was kind of inevitable that the schools would accommodate. A bit of ideological sympathy on the part of educators doesn’t hurt either. So you get nice big crowds that are more likely to impress lawmakers, and that can be spun to people who don’t understand activism as a huge generational shift on the issue. See, the future is gun control!

I don’t have kids, but for those of you who do, take a look at what Popehat has to say about the issue, and remember: “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.”

I Think She’s Right

Ashe Schow:

Basically, the left had money and infrastructure ready to go for an all-out assault on guns and the NRA, they just needed the right moment — the right victims.

It’s sickening, when you think about it; they were basically waiting for children to die so that they could swoop in and blame everyone they dislike, instead of the actual shooter. They paraded grieving children in front of cameras without any care for their well-being just to help their cause.

And as much as it pains me to say this, and as much as I think this was a horrible thing for the Left to do; the right should learn from these tactics.

I think the reason for this is most of us really just want to be left alone, and aren’t really the rallying, marching, and organizing types. The reason the religious right was so successful within the right coalition, is they were the ones who really wanted the power to bring about social change that’s more amenable to them. My primary issue with the religious right was their failure to recognize that culture leads to politics. If you’re trying to use government to correct cultural trends you don’t like, you’re fighting a rear guard action, and you’re destined to lose. That’s why I think they will suddenly find themselves out in the cold when the current realignment finishes. If you want political power, you have to get people back in the pews.

Ashe Schow is at least as uncomfortable with these tactics as I am, but as we’re observing, they do work — especially when they are well-executed and well-funded. This is a big reason I called on NRA to up their game. Our movement is very good at self-organizing, but it’s exhausting for the people who have to put it together. As a movement, we’re firing on 3 out of 6 cylinders on a good day, because most of us have jobs and families. NRA has a great role to play as facilitator, but as I noted, parts of NRA seem overly focused on using members as passive consumers rather than as active change makers. We’re a lot better at getting people into pews than the religious right is. What we have remaining to do is to get them to do more than just listen to the sermons.

PA-18 Special Election Result

While Connor Lamb’s victory in PA-18 is bad news for the Republican Party, there’s a few takeaways that I think are worth looking at:

  • Both candidates were hand picked by the party. The Dems picked a pro-gun, pro-union Blue Dog who is the kind of candidate that traditionally won in that district when it was a Dem district. The GOP picked Rick Saccone, who ran on a platform of Right-to-Work, practically guaranteeing that unions, who are strong in that district, would spend and organize heavily against him. Candidates matter. We don’t elect parties in our system.
  • If the Dems replicate that strategy, which they will struggle to do where the candidate has to fight an actual primary, we shall be in good shape gun rights wise. Because that sell out by the GOP in Florida? They know all they have to do is be better than the other guy. The reason the Dems are so ra-ra for gun control is because it doesn’t cost them anything. If suddenly they have their majority back on a Blue Dog wave, we’ll be in the situation again where both parties will compete for our vote, as we saw in PA-18. It also gives the leadership something to lose.
  • On the downside, the Dem leadership sacrificed the last Blue Dog wave on the altar of Obamacare. But they got it, and the hapless GOP has so far been unable to undo it. What will the next Blue Dog wave be sacrificed for? Gun Control? It’s happened before, so I would not rule it out. Remember, what brought us to this present situation is that the NRA could not single-handedly save the Blue Dogs from voters angry at the Blue Dogs over Obamacare. That greatly changed the calculus for the Dem leadership, who then had nothing more to lose.

That said, the GOP is almost certainly in trouble for 2018. The Dems have more to defend in the Senate race, so I don’t know what chance I give them of taking the Senate, but I’d say it’s an uphill climb. However, if they can successfully execute a Blue Dog return to power, I’d say the GOP loses the house. That’s going to be hard, because it’s pretty apparent the Dems will celebrate for now, their progressive base isn’t happy they had to win that election with a conservative leaning Democrat.

Maintaining a Big Grassrootsy Garden

Kevin responded to Sebastian’s recent post addressing NRA’s lack of focus on utilizing their grassroots strength with an argument that the first step in building up your grassroots is to get people to the range.

I don’t disagree with his post, but I think we’re talking two different stages of the game. Sebastian’s post focuses on engaging those who are already in the fight, largely with something to lose – gun owners or gun rights supporters who want to keep their rights. Kevin’s is on pulling more people into the game to begin with. Both parts are desperately needed, and current gun owners need to find their comfortable place doing something to advance the cause in at least some area of the issue – recruitment or something else.

I think it gets back to the analogy is that this whole issue – the legislative votes, the shooting sports, the legal arguments, etc. – are all part of a very, very big garden. You can’t get every weed everywhere, but by making the best use of material and gardening assistants, you can strategically target the biggest weedy threats and maintain a healthy landscape.

I’ll be honest, there could be another Dear NRA letter written about their lack of engagement over the last few years with some of the important resources that can help with Kevin’s concerns and the political efforts. I think it’s too easy for workers to fall into their division without looking at how the resources at their disposal can be utilized by another division to promote the cause across the board. It’s hard for someone outside of the organization to even imagine how different divisions can help them. There is much room for improvement in connecting the many resources of the larger gun rights organization to really help the ground level volunteers and sport shooters.

Quote of the Day: On Politicians

From John Richardson:

The one thing to bear in mind right now is that no politician is your friend. It doesn’t matter the party nor their past support for gun rights. They will throw gun rights and gun rights supporters under the bus if they think it could impact their chances of reelection. One merely need look at Florida where many supposed gun rights supporting legislators threw gun rights under the bus in their haste to pass SB 7026.

Great lesson in politics there. If you’re Marion Hammer, what do you do now? The problem is that the other side is crazy. Many Florida Dems actually voted against the Florida gun control package (3 day wait for all guns, GVROs, 18-21 ban on purchase for all guns, meaningless Armed teacher program concession) because the Republicans would go along with outright bans. The Republicans are going to be happy to say, “Your favor was the no on bans after a mass shooting at a school, but we’re going to do something.”

Here’s the problem: once you start losing, it’s hard to stop losing.

“Take no prisoners! Primary them all!” the hardliner would say.

Say you give every one of those A-rated Republicans who voted for this shit (and there were a lot of them) and changed their grades to an F and backed every primary challenger you can find. That might feel good, but do you think it’s likely that politician is going to try to get back in your good graces, or just write you off? Sure, you can back a primary challenger, but in most cases, that challenger is likely to lose. There’s a lot to be said for the phrase, “If you take a shot at the King, you had better not miss.” If you’re not smart about it, you’re just going to piss away all your influence with these people. The purist solution to this problem is just to take your ball and go home. Well, you can do that, and it might feel good. It might also be a lot less work. But that pretty much means everyone elected to office will ignore your interests entirely.

If I were Marion Hammer, I’m not going to forget that vote. I’ll look for targets of opportunity if someone looks vulnerable, and I think I might have a shot. But I’m going to be most concerned about preserving my influence and not losing even more. While I would argue priority number one going forward is ending that waiting period and repealing the 18-20 prohibition on sale, neither is a culture killer. The waiting period is a hassle, and the universe of 18-20 year olds buying guns is pretty small. The ban on 18-20 year olds from purchase is a culture frustrater, but not a killer. Gun bans are culture killers, and at least so far, Florida Republicans have held the line there. In any sell-out like this, there are going to be leaders and followers, and it’s some leader scalps I’m going to want if I’m the lobbyist, but I’m not going to aim recklessly or indiscriminately. I’ll choose my time and opportunity. But taking the occasional scalp is how you build political power, and the lesson isn’t so much for the scalpee — he or she is irrelevant once they are sent packing — it’s the implicit threat to his or her replacement that you can do the same to them, and also to every one of the previous worm’s followers.

Here’s another truth of politics: whether you like it or not, when the political opposition is entirely opposed to your interests, your political allies will start to believe they don’t have to be perfect on the issue, they just have to be a more palpable alternative to the opposition. There’s no getting around this. You can take your ball and go home, but then neither side will care a whit what you think. Influence isn’t a binary proposition. Think of it more as a garden. Marion Hammer now has a weed problem, and it’s threatening the crops. The hard-line approach, such as advocated by GOA, is just to take a flamethrower to the garden. Some weeds are a bigger problem than others. Weed selectively. We can live with some of them and still have a good harvest.

The key right now in Florida is going to be organizing. Marion Hammer has power because ordinary, every day gun owners give it to her. Without organizing at the grassroots level, we are nothing. We have to build. Bloomberg can outspend us all day long, and money can buy awfully impressive astroturf, which we laugh at, but it’s no joke. Look what it just did in Florida.

Talking to Non-Gun People, Redux

Thanks to social media, we can now all see into each other’s minds, so I have an idea of what non-gun people think about the issues of the day. I see consistent themes. Here’s a few facts I see people get wrong a lot:

Rapid Fire: A meaningless term. If you hear this, try to flesh out whether the person is confusing machine guns. If so, relieve that ignorance. It’s OK to say “machine guns are banned.” They effectively are. A lot of gun spergs will get all ACKCHYUALLY, and that’s not the path to take. Your goal as an ambassador to the gun culture is to relieve ignorance, not to impress your opponent with your knowledge of obscure firearms minutia.

Military grade: What does this mean? Almost all firearms have a military pedigree of some sort. Even Grandpa’s deer rifle likely uses the bolt action invented by Paul Mauser in 1898. The M1911 was developed for the military. Again, this could be a symptom of confusion between machine guns and semi-automatics. This is where your typical explanation of the “assault weapons” issue comes in. The war on AR-15s is nothing more than a war on scary looking rifles and ergonomics. It functions no differently than other common rifles.

Magazines: Most people have no idea it takes only a few seconds to change a magazine. It’s also not completely apparent to someone who hasn’t taken any kind of firearm self-defense course that magazine restrictions benefit attackers over defenders. The attacker has planning on his side, and he can plan around the restriction. As a defender, I’m not going to carry a gym bag full of 10 round magazines around with me all day (as the attacker in Parkland did for the shooting). I’m going to carry what’s in my gun, and I want it to hold what it’s designed to hold. Police feel the same way, which is why they’d fight tooth-and-nail if the restriction applied to them. Your average cop is more likely to need his gun than I am, but the vast majority of police shootings don’t exceed ten rounds.

Firearms are Deadly: We shouldn’t mince words. The AR-15 platform is not designed to wound. That’s one of the biggest pieces of gun lore out there, and it’s not true. The reason the .223 Remington was adopted by the military as the 5.56x45mm because a solider can carry a lot more rounds of it than the .308 and .30-06 ammunition it replaced, and it does the job adequately enough. Yes, as rifles go, the AR is not particularly powerful shot-for-shot. Yes, in many states, you can’t hunt medium sized game like deer with it because it’s not powerful enough. What makes it popular among shooters is also what makes it a choice for some mass killers: it’s an open-source, accessorizable platform with good ergonomics, manageable recoil, and a quick learning curve. There’s nothing remarkable about the AR-15s function that sets it apart from any other magazine fed semi-automatic rifle. I think it’s important for people to understand why it’s a popular platform. While I’ve always thought the term “Modern Sporting Rifle” was a transparent euphemism, the war on so-called assault weapons is a war on modern ergonomics and usability.

Yes, We Care About Children: How many of us have heard this one over the past few weeks? I don’t really take kindly to the use of emotional blackmail, so usually if someone engages in it, I will cut off discussion. But yes, we care about kids. We just don’t agree on solutions.

Arming Teachers: Be realistic about arming teachers. The caricature pushed by the media and gun control proponents is that we want to hand out guns to school staff. No proposal by the NRA or anyone else even comes close to this. My actual opinion on this is that there should be no legal penalties for a person to carry in a school if they are licensed to carry everywhere else. I think local schools should have the option to adopt state prescribed training standards for allowing select personnel to carry. Could be a resource officer, could be retired veterans, could be teachers who are inclined. I don’t really care either way. It should be up to the school district how they want to go about it, or if they want to allow it at all. If a teacher has a license to carry and wants to carry regardless of district policy, they risk their jobs. I don’t see any public benefit to putting them in prison for it.

It’s Just a Hobby: If it was just a hobby, we wouldn’t be at each other’s throats. Skiing is just a hobby, and even though people die skiing, no one argues over it. The fundamental argument at work in the gun issue is what the proper distribution of power in society should be. That’s not a simple topic where there are easy answers. Unfortunately, people very strongly want to believe there are easy answers to complex social problems. I don’t believe popular sovereignty really has any meaning if those in power disarm those without it. Without arms in the hands of the people, it’s a fiction. Also, non-shooters tend to be unaware of the interdependency between the civilian shooting culture and the police and military shooting culture. The truth is when you destroy your civilian gun culture, shit like this is what happens. Many of the training options police and military now have are courtesy of the civilian culture, and vice versa. You can’t destroy one without damaging the others.

Also, I would encourage you to check out Tam’s post on this subject, and add that to your quiver.

Dear NRA

It’s time to sit down and have a little talk. There’s a few things that are becoming apparent as I’ve watched the reaction to Parkland. One is that Bloomberg’s game has been much better organized and more focused than it was after Sandy Hook. My impression then was that the gun control movement was poorly prepared and organized. Bloomberg was still mucking about with Illegal Mayors, and the Brady organization was flat broke and not really ready. The White House hadn’t yet spent much time on gun control, and Sandy Hook was the pretext that got them started. That has not been the case this time. They’ve learned a lot, they were much better prepared, and they executed on their strategy very effectively.

NRA used to be an organization that was good at grass roots organizing. I have participated in some of those efforts as a volunteer coordinator over several campaigns. I stopped in frustration, because we could never recruit any volunteers to coordinate. It was always just Bitter and me. Back then, I thought they were my deficiencies; maybe I didn’t have the touch. There were some volunteer coordinators who are pretty successful. But since then, I’ve learned I can be an effective organizer of volunteers. The chief problem was that I didn’t have enough local connections to be effective. The other thing I learned is that people did not recognize NRA as an organization that they are or should be directly involved with. We might like to say “I’m the NRA,” but I’m not sure that’s really ringing true for a lot of people these days. NRA is an organization that sends them a magazine and asks them for money. A lot of members might agree that NRA is important, and that why they maintain their memberships, but they are more in the role of passive consumers of what NRA is offering.

That has to change. We must turn them into active participants. NRA will not accomplish that by continuing to encourage members to passively consume more Ack-Mac-generated Angry Dana videos. I worry that in another few years of planning and learning from prior mistakes, when Bloomberg et al get their next pretext, the dam is going to break. It may have broken already; this is all still playing out. We can lament that Bloomberg has been more effective this time because he’s hiring professional organizers who know how to work with a small number of dedicated activists, or we can beat him at this game by upping our game.

This past weekend, I organized a mailing of more than 200 letters to local lawmakers from members of my club. We came up with templates people could start with. We were ready to look up lawmakers for members, and had a bunch of envelopes, pre-printed address labels, and stamps. I offered work time (which applies against dues) to members who participated. The response was pretty good. We are an NRA Gold Star club. How many other clubs out there would like to do something, but don’t quite know what to do? How many other clubs or shooting outfits view NRA as some far off organization they don’t really know or interact with?

Grassroots activism is hard. It’s a lot harder than paying Ack-Mac to make another series of angry videos. But effective organizing takes more than feeding people’s anger. You have to effectively turn that anger into something useful and positive. For that, there is no substitute for face-to-face local contact. NRA doesn’t seem to do a whole hell of a lot of that outside the Friends of NRA program.

I would strongly encourage NRA to focus on a few areas:

  1. More outreach to NRA affiliated organizations, specifically for the purpose of training people how to be effective. But less specifically to get face time with members. Doesn’t have to be top people. Could be Board members. Could be local volunteers.
  2. A lot of clubs and shooting organizations need help with technology. NRA could be a lot of help with this. Technology facilitates communication. I could never have organized the letter writing campaign with the technology we had even two years ago. I was only able to do that because I put a framework in place to facilitate it. It was a lot of work, but paid off. What I’m lacking is the ability to communicate with other area clubs. I’m slowly building that, but that’s a harder problem. Again, NRA could do a lot to be a facilitator to get local organizations talking to each other. Sometimes being an outside organization can be an advantage, and this is one of those times.
  3. People need to have politics explained to them. Most people don’t understand the political process. They need to see and understand how their action fits in. I was recently reminded of a passage from a leftist organizer: “Power tends to appear magical to those who have less of it, and mechanical to those who are accustomed to wielding it instrumentally.” The article continues: “It’s not magical kids, and it’s not George Soros sprinkling money around. It’s hard work by people who’ve trained to do it.” When the balloon goes up, our people have to know what to expect, and be able to spring into action. We’re very good at self-organizing, but some people will need it spelled out a bit more than others. You don’t want to lose because you’re only depending on self-starters. In my experience, self-starters are rare, and they are getting rarer in the younger generations.

We have a lot more people at our disposal, and unlike their people, ours have a lot to lose. They will have to pay people to organize their small cadre. We should require far fewer paid professionals. But the work nevertheless has to be done, and it’s something that can’t be accomplished with a membership accustomed to passively consuming content. NRA needs to spend more time getting out there among the people, and most importantly educating them, and offering the tools they need to be successful.

Monday News Round Up

I haven’t really had enough material to continue with the regular news link post for some time. It’s not that the media isn’t writing about guns, it’s that so much of it is dreck it’s not even worth a link. It used to be, I’d ignore a lot of the local papers, and focus on big, reputable national papers writing stupid and ignorant things about guns. Of course, they still do that, but are there still people who aren’t committed lefties who don’t realize the New York Times is, for the most part, full of shit? So I’ll do these kinds of posts when I have material, and dispense with the notion that it is a regular feature.

The sky is, in fact, falling in Illinois. They only need to get lucky once. We have to be repeatedly lucky. If they can get assault weapons bans in just a few more states, that makes our fight against them that much more difficult. Right now those laws are outliers. We want them to stay that way.

Also, Florida is in big heap trouble, and Florida WILL be a bellwether for the nation, unlike some of the other states.

Dave Kopel is starting a multi-part series on the history of the assault weapons issue. He starts with the Stockton murderer, whose story will sound eerily familiar. Worth keeping an eye on.

Axios has a story about NRA’s digital game. I’m working up an article in my head about NRA’s ground game in general, and how it’s going to need to improve. This incident should be a wake up call. But more on that later.

Salena Zito: By ditching the NRA, companies are dividing Americans. They had all this planned out and ready to execute at the first viable pretext. You should be very worried, because they have been executing this strategy very well. I have in my time in this issue never seen the gun control movement so well-organized. We will need to up our game. Doesn’t matter that billionaire money is the only reason they can afford all this. Doesn’t matter that it’s unfair. It is, and we have to be prepared ourselves. I can say personally, I was not prepared for the Republicans to cave as quickly as they did.

I haven’t done any posts people about Trump’s gun control comments with Democrats. One, because Trump has a habit of saying whatever crazy shit comes into his head and then changing his mind later. Two, because my preferred candidate in 2016, Marco Rubio, folded like a cheap deck of cards under pressure, so it’s not like my preferred option was any better, and three, NRA has met with Trump and said everything is fine. All I have to say is I would not count on Trump with a Democratic Congress, so don’t any of you Trump voters even think about saying home in 2018.

School shootings spread like a virus. The article points out the media has managed to maintain an unwritten rule about not covering field rushers. Well, field rushers don’t earn the media great ratings. School shootings do. The media aren’t going to stop glorifying the mass murderers until there’s real social shame in it. But until then, the drive for ratings will dominate.

The Federalist: “Why Did It Take Two Weeks To Discover Parkland Students’ Astroturfing?

Tam on “Playing Hooky For Gun Control

Let the age giscrimination suits begin! Delta has already been made to pay. Others should follow. They need to be convinced that Bloomberg’s people mislead them. They must pay a terrible price for working with him.

Shocker: Membership in pro-gun groups surging. I’m at the highest level of life membership, so I can’t join any more, but despite the fact that my finances have been tight for some time, I’m going to find some money for a donation.

Kevin Creighton: “How do we flip that into a message of hope?” One word: community. As civil society and civic culture in this country implode, it’s what a lot of people need. It’s also something we can offer if we develop it. Churches were more successful when they were community institutions, but we’ve spent a lot of time in the past 40 years trying to tear it down. I’d also note: online communities are no substitute for real ones.

USA Today: “School shootings are not the new normal, despite statistics that stretch the truth.” More on that theme here as well.

Reason: “The jumping-off point of the story is that millennials (variously defined as those between the ages of 18 to 29, or people under 40-years old) seem to be left-wing on such issues as marriage equality, more-open immigration, drug legalization, for instance. But they also seem to be pretty right-wing on guns, despite having come on age in the post-Columbine era of semi-regular school shootings.” I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. None of this will matter if they don’t actually give a shit about the issue. Because if they elect a fanatic anti-gun big city Democrats, our gooses are cooked.

Remember, no one wants to take your guns. Though, personally, I agree that they should call for that. It would at least be a more honest debate. I’ll likewise do the favor of admitting that I think machine guns should be legal.

LA Times: “Actually, there is a clear link between mass shootings and mental illness.

Analysis True: “Attacking the NRA is really attacking everyday Americans.

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