Grassroots Are a Blunt Instrument

I mentioned in the previous post that I would speak a little more about why NAGR does not have a workable strategy for the movement, even if “NAGR had the resources of the NRA (literally hundreds of millions of dollars).” To understand why, you have to think a bit about human nature, and go back to the root definition of politics, which my dictionary says is:

The activities associated with the governance of a country or other area, especially the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power.

Power for what? To make policy. Politics, at least in a republic such as ours, acts as an alternative to achieving power by waging war and violence against those you resist your policies. Our alternative is our ability to elect those who make policy on our behalf, and to force them, from time to time, to stand in judgement of the people through regular elections.

So what are grassroots? They are groups of voters who act either independently, or through some sort of organization, either formal (NRA, AFP, ACU, etc) or spontaneous (Tea Party), to channel their votes toward making certain policy in an area of concern. Because we are not a direct democracy, grassroots only have an opportunity to exercise their power every few years.

During the periods between elections, policy is made without the chance for voters to stand in judgement of the people who make it. In that period, you need negotiators, called lobbyists in our system. What gives a negotiator the power to negotiate is what resources that person can bring to bear. In violent politics, it would be the ability to wage war. In republican politics, it’s the number of votes that can be marshaled either for, or against a policy maker, or proxies for votes such as money.

Grassroots are a blunt instrument of power. They are a club a lobbyist wields when in negotiation with policy makers, threatening to either to protect that policy maker, or knock him off his seat. When a grassroots organization asks you to call contact a policy maker, what they are essentially doing is helping negotiators (i.e. lobbyists) raise the club, to show the policy maker how large it is, and how well the negotiator’s organization wields it. The message intended to be delivered is “You really don’t want us to hit you over the head with this, do you? Now, let’s talk about what you are going to do for us (not going to do against us) shall we?”

The problem is, a policy maker sees a lot of clubs, and survives quite a lot of clubbing each election. He may not be very scared of yours. He may negotiate with other people who have bigger clubs, and want him to do something else. He might think you make your club seem much bigger than it really is, and doubts you can actually wield it that effectively in combat. “Sure,” he might say, “that thing looks like it would hurt, but I’ve survived worse. I’ve even survived being hit by your club before many years ago. Take your best shot.” In this context, you are going to do a lot of posturing, and let’s be honest, bluffing. The policymaker might want to do X, which you oppose. He offers to do Y, which isn’t as bad, but you still oppose. He does not understand why. The negotiator explains, and holds up the club again. “OK, so lets talk about Z then, and you’re going to want to take Z, because I can tell that club is heavy, and you’re getting tired of wielding it over my head,” says the policymaker, “I continue to have my doubts you’ll be able to knock me off my seat.”

The club is heavy, and obviously the bigger it is, the harder it is to wield.  Every time and organization threatens it, it doesn’t look quite as frightening as it did the first time. Groups like NAGR and GOA seem to want to wave it around based on half baked rumors. NAGR seems to even doubt the benefit of having a lobbyist, which means even if you could muster your grassroots to oppose X, when the politician moves on Y, you’re probably going to get that shoved down your throat, due to policymakers not understanding your issue, and not being able to react fast enough. These things happen too quickly to be able to get the right amount of information to large number of people, in the hopes they can and will coherently communicate the problem to lawmakers.

A pure grassroots strategy could work, but only if your grassroots is large and motivated enough to be able to knock policymakers out of their offices in election, after election, after election, in a majority of districts around the country, and in a super majority of states. In order to accomplish that, we’d need every gun owner being a single issue voter, not just a motivated minority of a few million people. A pure grassroots strategy is fantasy land in our current situation. When your core base is composed of only a few million people, you have to negotiate, you have to posture, you have to bluff, and yes, sometimes you have to cut deals and compromise when the choice is between bad and worse.

Groups like NAGR and GOA sell us on a world where if we’re pure enough, we’ll never lose, or will at least lose being able to revel in our own purity, knowing we did not “sell out.” This is not the real world. It’s an emotionally appealing delusion that comforts people with notions that there is an easy, satisfying way out. Winning takes hard work and dedication, and a willingness to set aside your own wants and desires for the greater progress of the movement; something our founding fathers would have called civic virtue.

19 thoughts on “Grassroots Are a Blunt Instrument”

  1. Never heard of this “organization” or the guy talking about it. He obiously got it wrong. Is this just another false flag operation that was designed to guage the response to such a possibility?

  2. Idealogical purity will get you a solid base of maybe 20% of the overall electorate, which might translate to [maybe] 10% by the time you factor in the electoral college and related stuff like district boundaries.

    The trick is to use code words to indicate to that 20% that “I’m on your side” without being too obvious about it.

  3. I obvious agree and will add that when these groups of idealist raise their head, it often proves that their knowledge of how the system works is very limited to those of us who have worked in the system. It is important that we attempt to educate the disciples of these false gods. They preach crazy illusions and lead by using magicians tricks. Sorry for the religious references, but I see parallels.

  4. I think your definition of grassroots is a little generous to say the least.

    “groups of voters who act either independently, or through some sort of organization, either formal (NRA, AFP, ACU, etc) or spontaneous (Tea Party), to channel their votes toward making certain policy in an area of concern”

    The vast majority of the named groups are bandwagon supporters and do very little besides donate membership money. This is not activism, not really tangible support because at best that person is paying for perhaps a few minutes of work on one issue. Realizing that you’re not going to get 100% participating in fighting for any one given issue, there is still a higher degree of motivation and involvement among true grassroots supporters.

    As an example, the NRA(-ILA)’s club isn’t particularly big for as large as NRA is. But, they have someone wielding it constantly. NRA-ILA is kind of like Fonzie. Their street cred gets them out of a lot of fights and they actively try to stay out of fights. Fonzie never had throw down on TV, except for that one time with Mork from Ork, but that’s another story. Sometimes you need another end of the issue spectrum to step up and whack the elected officials with the proverbial club and make it politically hurt in order to show the flag.

    Maybe there was or was not a credible threat here. But if enough numbers were generated in opposition and it stymies the magazine ban progress, great. I know you don’t want to ‘cry wolf’ but we can’t just pay dues to someone and expect them to do all of our work for us.

  5. “Idealism is fine, but as it approaches reality the cost becomes prohibitive.”
    William F. Buckley

  6. A lot of NRA members are willing to show up and vote at least, with their orange cards. Plus, NRA’s reach is larger than its membership. An NRA mailing that went out for Toomey and Corbett in Pennsylvania hit over 700,000 households, and I’m pretty sure they don’t have that many members here.

  7. They may well be willing to show up and vote but the NRA-ILA practices incumbent protection as a primary factor in determining endorsements. This leads to NRA-ILA endorsements of politicians who haven’t necessarily toed the political line. In fact, it gives cover to weak kneed allies. It also divides the gun community even further.

    But what about Ohio? Endorsing Kasich over Strickland? Really? or VA gov. McDonnell not getting the endorsement over Creigh Deeds. Deeds was on the record opposing lifting the ban on guns on school property, McDonnell on record as supporting lifting the ban. However, in years past McDonnell voted for 1 handgun per month, so NRA-ILA declined to endorse him. He had since renounced that vote.

    For the grassroots, Kasich & Deeds were non starters. These are 2 examples, there are more out there – on both sides. The point is that just because NRA-ILA does it, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good. Or bad. In fact, it’s growing increasingly irrelevant as independent grassroots groups pop up across the country. Some have been more effective than others but they are finding success for a reason. One of them is the NRA state affiliate clubs in some instances have made not just questionable, but outright detrimental political moves to the RKBA cause. RIght now, the Texas State Rifle Association is trying actively to tank a bill for open carry in Texas. has emails from NRA-ILA —opposing— the Coburn amendment which ended the National Parks & Wildlife refuges ban on firearms because of open carry. I can understand that you don’t want to keep alerting grassroots for a perceived threat that may or may not materialize but I don’t see NAGR’s alert as anywhere near as destructive as TSRA’s JIHAD against open carry, or NRA-ILA’s opposing the Coburn amendment, among others.

  8. I have doubts as to whether NAGR has much of any “grassroots.” They seem to be a largely internet-only operation.

  9. My bad on Kasich… I thought I read they did endorse him (and now I’m wondering where I’m thinking I got this)

    They did however endorse Deeds over McDonnell for AG (years back) not for .gov. Before the 2 faced off for VA governor they faced off for attorney general. McDonnell won by only a couple/few hundred votes.

    The schools property issue was from 2005. Later the NRA-ILA did endorse McDonnell over Deeds for governor

  10. Yes, I know they endorsed Deeds for AG. I lived there and gladly pulled the ballot for him – as did all of the other gun owners in the area I knew (at least those of whom discussed their votes). At the time, Deeds was a pro-gun leader. He introduced or co-sponsored many of our bills and he worked against anti-gun bills. McDonnell didn’t have a perfect record, and he hadn’t really reached out to our community in any way that I saw at the time. That endorsement appears to have been the wake-up call for McDonnell. He became pro-active as AG, and NRA appropriately awarded him for it. His endorsement was sealed up when Deeds started going against us. Nothing about the actual turn of events was wrong. Except maybe in your “version” of history where the gun ban-supporting Kasich got the endorsement, too.

  11. Consider this from a point of view of marketing.

    The GOA and its compatriots sell the more radical gun rights advocate… an illusion. An illusion at best, a sham at worst.

    The NRA has… nothing to offer the radical. Guy like me (I know I’m not yet an American, but I’m sure there are many like me who ARE Americans, so please do consider what I have to say) Guy like me – not clear what NRA has to offer him.

  12. I’m not sure looking at it from the perspective of what the group has to offer you is there right one.

    Ask not what your cause can do for you, ask what you can do for your cause, or something like that.

  13. If you do a thorough search of NAGR you’ll find it apparently focuses on one man who does extensive fund-raising, frequently using emotional appeal and whipping up the more radical element into a frenzy–even spotlighting events that may even be outdated to get the hormones flowing so you’ll write that check to his organization. Then he writes one big check to politicians of his choice who share his ideology.

  14. I think the NRA has plenty to offer the radical, if he wants to do more than be loud.

    The NRA conducts a lot of research they share in their publications, sends reporters to every major domestic and international event where gun rights are discussed, has a long reputation as a premier firearms safety trainer, has been led by a president of the US and viewed positively by many others, and actively uses lawsuits and lobbying in key situations where there is a good chance of forwarding or regaining 2nd amendment rights.

    They inform local activists on the ground through newsfeeds, video coverage, and other technologies and publications so they have the information they need to act. They don’t always use emotional appeal or the heat of the moment the way an org like NAGR or GAO might, since they pick and choose their battles carefully. They are selective in their lawsuits and don’t waste their members’ money.

    The gun-control crowd loves all the criticism the NRA receives from “radicals”, because they can watch the pro-2A crowd limit its own power or waste its own resources through insider criticism of its own allies.

    We don’t have uber-rich bullies like Michael Bloomberg or George Soros footing the bill, or grants from huge foundations like Joyce or MacArthur, so we have to depend on orgs that collect money in small amounts and then aggregate it to gain spending power. In my view, that IS the grassroots, and the NRA is truly representative.

  15. >Ask not what your cause can do for you, ask what you can do >for your cause, or something like that.

    I think the very issue is that radicals and moderates don’t have the same cause.

    You’re risking to have people react in the same way Fudds would. Fudds say: “Screw you, I have mine.”

    Radicals might say: “Screw you, I don’t have mine, why should you have yours?”

  16. It has to be stressed I don’t BELIEVE that, nor do I think people will overtly make statements like that. What I mean is that people like that will have no reason to be enthusiastic about your cause. And you do need these people.

  17. Politically, I tend to think of myself as a “conservative libertarian”.

    Conservative, in part, because I believe that individuals need to learn right and wrong, and do good–even if the evil they can do is legal.

    Conservative, in part, because I don’t think we can create a perfect so-called “anarcho-capitalist” government overnight. Too many people depend on government. Too many people think our byzantine, bureaucratic rules makes life better.

    Thus, I support a two-pronged attack: try to teach people good principles, while trying to chip away at the stupid laws we currently have.

    In terms of gun rights, for example, I’m going to support “Permit-carry”, even though I feel it is unconstitutional, if it increases our rights. Hopefully, we’ll be able to move there to Constitutional Carry.

    We might not get all we want, but if we could inch towards our goal, that’s a good thing! (It also means our enemies have to do the same thing–and it’s easier to turn back, if our enemies don’t get what they want all at once!)

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