Do We Need To Make Common Cause With Non-Activists?

I’ve often said that NRA needs to be a big tent organization.   We have to make common cause with people who are mostly on our side, but might not be willing to take things as far as you or I would.  This would include hunters, many in law enforcement, traditional shooters, and people new to the issue.   We have to reach out to these people and work with them, rather than sizing up their second amendment purity, and choosing to ostracize them if they don’t meet sufficient muster.

It’s no secret that one of my big pet issues is repealing the 1986 Hughes Amendment, and allowing new registration of transferable machine guns under the NFA.   Does this mean I support the NFA?   Well, not entirely.   But it does mean I’m willing to accept it for now because a more realistic goal is getting rid of the Hughes Amendment.   By standing on the NFA, even if I don’t really agree with it, it helps to build a larger coalition against the part you do want to get rid of in the short term.

One of the traps we tend to fall into as gun-rights activists is believing that we are not a very very small minority.   If you’ve ever looked at GOA’s Form 990, based on estimates from income reported from membership dues, they would have, at most, about 30,000 members.  Even, absent NRA’s existence, GOA could pick up another 20,000 member of dedicated, hard-core, no-compromise activists, that’s stil 50,000, and politicians in Washington will safely ignore you.   This is why it is necessary to reach out to less hard-core members of the shooting community; we simply don’t have the numbers in order to be politically successful.

The failure to build a “big tent” is no where more apparent than in the Libertarian Party, where a dedicated group of hard-core activists have worked very hard to build an organization that’s based on strong principles, and fields candidates based on their ideological purity.  The Libertarian Party also can’t win elections, and isn’t building a movement.  Libertarian principles are now safely ignored by politicians.

Let’s not let this happen to the gun-rights movement.

21 thoughts on “Do We Need To Make Common Cause With Non-Activists?”

  1. You are 100% wrong on this and it starts with understanding one of the fundamental rules of all politics: regardless of the political system, they are all run by a very small minority of people. The reason for that is the majority of people in the country and else ware are not in anyway interested in politics and of the minority that are, the most you will likely get out of the majority of them is to vote in the general election.

    If you ever try lobbying, the first thing Mr. Politican is going to ask you is not how many people do you represent, but how much money and how many votes to you have. It doesn’t matter if they are Republican or Democrat, from the north, south, east or west, or what you issue you are pushing. Professional politicians understand this rule. They know that it is not about numbers, it is about leverage.

    Gun owners are a minority in the country and probably always will be. The NRA is a very small minority of gun owners and only a small minority of NRA members are activists. The reason NRA is successful is not because they try to educate the public or politicians, but because they leverage their activist member’s money and votes in certain key areas at election time. Doubling NRA’s membership wouldn’t inherently make them any more effective just as cutting it in half wouldn’t necessarily make them any less effective.

    GOA fails not because they only have 30K members, but because their all or nothing, right here, right now attitude does not work and never will. The Libertarian Party fails partly because they spout all sorts of grandiose ideas and put zero effort in figuring out how to actually implement them and partly because the people who actually run the LP itself are crazy. You could find more qualified people to run the LP on the Gong Show those currently doing it now.

    A “big tent” philosophy sounds all warm and cuddly but it has never worked. Focus needs to be spent on being effective, not just in gaining numbers.

  2. Jacob, size matters.

    If the NRA only had 30,000 members, hardly anyone inside the Beltway would ever pay any attention to them at all, but the financial resources of a four million member organization is hard to ignore. And, with that wide a base, it’s much more difficult to brand the organization and its members as lunatic fringe. If it weren’t for the power base of the NRA, the other RKBA groups would be completely ignored.

    Firearms owners may be a minority, but we are a very large minority, and quite vocal. And, if sometimes some of the more vocal ones want to get together and howl a little louder, someone is listening because the memberships of those organizations and the NRA have some overlap, and they are trading on the established powerbase of the NRA.

    If the NRA is effective with the resources generated by four million members, imagine our increased clout when wielding the resources generated by eight million members. I expect we will meet the new membership goals on schedule. If the NRA is effective now, we can’t help but be more effective when the resource pool is doubled.

  3. No, effectiveness matters. It is better to have a small politically savvy group of people than a large number of unfocused, unmotivated and ineffective groups of people. The former will clean the latter’s clock in every political fight.

  4. But it’s best to have a core politically savvy group of people being supported by a large number of people, unmotivated though they may be.

  5. “Righteous”? No. It shows popular support while still having a clue. Unpopular motions that get pushed by small “politically savvy” groups tend to backfire. Look at the CAWB.

  6. Jacob, you said, “…the first thing Mr. Politican is going to ask you is not how many people do you represent, but how much money and how many votes to you have.”

    Where does that differ with what I said? More members = more votes. More members = more money.

    Thirdpower, I’d change that to a savvy core, a large group of donors, and a mass ofpeople who only pay for a magazine subscription but will, pretty dependably, go out and vote.

  7. It differs because all members are not activists, don’t contribute to political causes like NRA-PVF and do not vote. I know NRA members who do not vote and even worse, some who very happily *campaigned* for Chuck Schumer and other openly antigun politicians. Do you want these people around? No. This is why you need to concentrate on effectiveness, not numbers.

  8. CAWB didn’t backfire. The goal of the antis is a total gun ban and CAWB advanced the agenda. It may have expired federally, but it inspired local versions which didn’t. They took two steps forward and one step back.

    Shall-issue was pushed by a very small number of people and only around 5-6% of the population take advantage of it in states which have it. Did this backfire?

  9. The CAWB gave the Repub.s control of congress for over ten years, stopped the anti’s in their tracks, and provided the motivation for all those shall issue and castle doctrine laws. The local versions have only passed in heavily anti states. They’ve actually hurt them more that helped because nearly every one involved registrations and confiscations which we can and do use as a propaganda point. They can’t even get them passed in MD or IL now. Every time CA passes a new anti-gun law that fails, it helps us. That sounds more like one step forward, tripping, and falling down the stairs.

    Most of the shall issue laws that have passed were supported by the large nationals in populations that were generally firearm friendly. It’s not heavily supported in places like Illinois because the nationals know it won’t pass. There’s only a small groups that actively push for it.

  10. You may also note that what was classified as “assault weapons” were little more than a cottage industry before ’94. Now, they one of the highest sellers thanks to the notoriety.

  11. You’re kidding yourself. The antis were hardly stopped in their tracks. They deal with 10-20 year time frames. Once the seed has been planted, they don’t mind waiting a decade for it to germinate. What were you doing 10 years ago and where do you plan on being 5-10-20 years from now?

  12. I find it ironic that Sebastian writes about gun rights activists needing to have a “big tent” and then people start bickering among themselves.

    I’m in full agreement with the “big tent” philosophy and have been actively pursuing that for years:

    I think the next group to include in our big tent should be young women. But that could just be a bias of mine because of my concern for my daughters ages 19 and 21.

  13. Well, ideally, I agree that every member should be an activist. Every time someone in Congress introduces a restrictive firearms or related bill, every member of Congress should receive a call, letter, and fax from every member of the NRA and every other pro civil rights gun group, followed up by 4 million member rally on the Mall and steps of the Capitol. However, that will never happen. You know, quite a few people agree with us enough to be a member, but by situation and/or temperament aren’t going to be activists. Not everyone that should/could shows up. That’s a fact of life.

    Until they do, I’m glad that when our lobbyists meet with members of Congress or state legislators they have at least the tacit backing of 4 million NRA members. In the mean time, we should encourage as many people to participate at whatever level they are comfortable, and see if we can’t grow more activists along the way. We should be active in and recruiting for state and local groups. We should understand that everyone who is in this fight with us, whatever their personal reason for joining, is in this fight with us.

    Now I’d be among the first to admit our organization is not perfect. It has dropped the ball on more than one occasion, often in a manner that infuriated me. However, until something better comes along, I’m sticking with it and doing as much as I am able to make it successful. I also believe you can be an activist with your wallet. Don’t agree? When was the last time you saw George Soros on the street carrying a sign in a demonstration?

    It isn’t good strategy to shoot your wing man. Internecine disputes are, by definition, mutually destructive. I prefer to expend my energy toward those who are trying to hurt me, not toward those who would otherwise be helping.

  14. I gues I’m joining this a little late. I don’t think that trying to hone the efficacy of your org of choice is a bad idea (per Jacob’s comment), but the NRA is fairly efficient for an interest group.

    My vote: that the NRA should be as inclusive as can be – including the “Fudd” types (Zumbo & Joaquin Jackson come to mind)- those who’d say “just so long as you don’t take my hunting rifle away, I’m happy”. By bringing them into the fold, and continuing to publish The American Rifleman, which I believe is an outstanding publication, it’s easier to expose them to the FACT that the anti-gunners are not out just for the high-capacity magazines, they’re out for a ban on civilian firearm ownership.

    By enhancing the NRA membership as much as possible, you have more opportunity to sow the seeds to cultivate more Second Amendment “purists”.

  15. gun rights = abortion rights.
    best political analysis i’ve ever heard linked these two issues.
    here’s how: average Joe doesn’t want a gun…but just in case he
    should ever Really Need one, he wants it available and legal to
    buy one. same for his daughter’s abortion. the NRA implies
    this desire, but never actually and clearly says so. although
    the two political stances attract opposites, the preparation
    for an unknown future is a basic human motive.

  16. Good idea. the Hughes Amendment is a good place to start the Gun Control Rollback.

    We didn’t get here all at once, and we won’t fix it all at once. Its a good place to start.

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