Transparency, Government, and Gun Rights

Thanks to David Post for pointing to these excellent thoughts on the Wikileaks scandal, because I think it has a useful concept that also speaks to some recent happenings in the gun rights movement here in Pennsylvania:

On the other hand, human systems can’t stand pure transparency. For negotiation to work, people’s stated positions have to change, but change is seen, almost universally, as weakness. People trying to come to consensus must be able to privately voice opinions they would publicly abjure, and may later abandon. Wikileaks plainly damages those abilities. (If Aaron Bady’s analysis is correct, it is the damage and not the oversight that Wikileaks is designed to create.*)

And so we have a tension between two requirements for democratic statecraft, one that can’t be resolved, but can be brought to an acceptable equilibrium. Indeed, like the virtues of equality vs. liberty, or popular will vs. fundamental rights, it has to be brought into such an equilibrium for democratic statecraft not to be wrecked either by too much secrecy or too much transparency.

So how does this relate to the gun rights movement? Because it explains why it’s not really possible for NRA, or any other group that may be in a position to know legislatively sensitive information, to share that information with grassroots activists who aren’t made privy to it. I think the root of much of the tension is that negotiation and dealings happen behind closed doors, and there’s not enough trust that the people who are in the smoked filled room will do the right things.

There’s always the argument that perhaps there ought to be more transparency in the process, and I think there is merit to the argument that NRA hasn’t been transparent enough in what it’s doing when lobbying legislatures. But it can’t be perfectly transparent. There will be some point where John Hohenwarter goes into the smoke filled room, and you’re stuck having to live with whatever comes out of that process. There might be times when it’s someone else headed into the smoked filled room to negotiate on our behalf. But it’s going to be someone, and can’t be everyone. And that someone is going to keep his cards very close to his chest, if he or she is a smart negotiator.

That’s one reason I’m not sure what cooperation between pro-gun groups in Pennsylvania is really going to look like. Not all groups are going to be on equal footing in the minds of the elected officials who control access to the smoke filled room, which means not all groups will have the same information. Not all of that information will be of a nature that can be shared broadly without risking compromising the overall legislative agenda. If the first requirement for harmony is for everyone to be on equal footing, information and access wise, that’s a non-starter out of the gate.

So I suppose it comes down to who you trust? Do I trust John Hohenwarter of NRA? Do I trust Kim Stolfer of FOAC? Do I trust Dan Pehrson of PAFOA? I would trust any of them to do the best they could for gun owners behind closed doors, because I think they all sincerely care about the issue, and have the best interests of our movement at heart. That’s really all I can ask for. I don’t expect a poker player to win every hand at poker, and I don’t expect a lobbyist to win every vote in a legislative battle either. Obviously, someone visibly incompetent at playing would be another matter, but I don’t think we have anyone who fits that bill in Pennsylvania.

5 thoughts on “Transparency, Government, and Gun Rights”

  1. You are altogether too trusting.
    Would you trust someone representing a group that tried to kill shall issue gun permits for Philadelphia when the issue was finally on the table?
    Would you trust someone representing a group whose folly of a lawsuit enshrined our de facto gun registry as settled law thereby making it that much harder to get rid of?
    There is a reason that hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians trust the NRA (represented by John Hohenwarter and his predecessor Scott Krug rather than i.e. Kim Stolfer or that other presenceless person you mentioned) and that reason is a satisfying track record of success.
    Just look at the surrounding states and compare our gun laws with theirs. Would you move to NJ or NY? Maryland, etc?
    This didn’t just happen, like apples growing on a tree; this is the result of years of effective work, years of relationship building and the clout that comes only from real numbers of real members.
    BTW, you are absolutely right about “openness” in a political/negotiating context.
    I think all this NRA ankle-biting that is going on is just a bunch of sore losers trying to maintain some support from the naive and ignorant among us!

  2. Well, my point was more than I don’t really have much of a choice. Whoever legislators invite behind those closed doors, I have to trust.

  3. this is not a “business” that is like all others. That being the case, over the last year or so, we have embarked upon working with several members fo the grass roots. they have been invited to the table to negotiate on and write bills. Sometimes I have changed their minds, sometimes they have changed mine.

    But they were told that if the sensitive information we deal in gets out, it’s over. We had that happed 10 years ago and it queered a really decent deal we could have had , becuase someone thought it better to fall on the sword and be pure than to take a deal and win half the loaf, when we were going to loose otherwise.

    I’m quite happy with the way things have been working out and look forward to the continued cooperation in Illinois.

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