They Can Add Me to the List …

… 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.

34 thoughts on “They Can Add Me to the List …”

  1. 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.

    It’s not that the less aggressive people who weren’t really up for OC events were pushed out, it was far, far worse. When the loud counter-protest everything with lots and lots of visible scary rifle with the intent to make people uncomfortable crowd heard that the people who wanted to take a more legislative election-winning path and found out what name they wanted to use, those people took over the web properties like Facebook with that name and then just splashed up OC pictures as a “screw you” message. Keep in mind these aren’t anti-gun enemies they were trying to silence. These were fellow gun owners who want to keep OC legal, but just wanted to try a different path to protecting all of our rights. But that wasn’t acceptable, and the remaining tough guys decided that the others shouldn’t even be allowed to have a voice.

    1. I will speak to the OC issue specifically. I attended my very first pro-gun rally this year in my entire life. I was a little apprehensive about OC, generally because I don’t do it on a daily basis. However, I think for someone like me it was a big step to OC at the event in Harrisburg. I was only carrying a pistol.

      To some extent, I think the collective aspect of our movement has caught up with us as we started building momentum post-Newtown. We are so big that we started appointing “leaders”, some of whom favor OC. For me, it doesn’t matter. It’s all about the gun rights. Unfortunately we’re all accustomed to the fact that if you don’t use the right, you tend to lose it these days. I believe that has led to the increase in OC. I don’t know.

      I am not one to bring a rifle to a rally, and of the people with rifles that I saw, I did not see any aggressive behavior. However, I can understand the other side, and as long as the folks who complain about OC at a rally are on board with the 2A “total package” I’m fine with that too.

      1. The big message the other side tries to sell the public on is that these protesters are bullies who are using the display of firearms in an attempt to intimidate gun control advocates into silence. I think when our side is intent on relatively non-confrontational tactics, the public has an easier time understanding if some people are carrying pistols openly as part of the (counter)protest.

        I think when you pick up a megaphone and try to shout the other folks down, or otherwise engage in boorish behavior, you’re not doing anything except help the other side sell the message that being a gun rights advocate is to be a loudmouth bully. Whether it’s true or not, this is what people will buy into. More importantly, gun owners, who might otherwise be willing to get involved, might be persuaded against it, for fear of being seen as an extremist.

        1. I think counter-protests are a different ball of wax than a pro-gun rally. Pretty much all we need to do is show up for counter-protests, and carrying of weapons may not be the best course while we are actively courting members of the low information crowd in that case. I see your point.

          1. I would agree. The only thing you’re really trying to do in a counter-protest is show that there’s two sides to the issue and show your side gives a shit enough to turn out. If you can outnumber them, that’s great. It also forces the media to pay attention to the other side.

  2. Absolutely agree. I’ve really come around to your way of thinking. I use to be all “no-compromise, destroy them all!” But while I still believe in a very limited restriction regime on guns (ie pretty much anything but nukes), messaging is just as important. We don’t have to win over the likes of Josh Horowitz, but we do have to win over the low information voter. How we get our message out is just as important as our message. I keep pointing to the CCW movement has how to successfully change the culture and the laws. We need to model that going forward. Guys like Kessler and Koresh do not help.

    1. I still want to destroy them politically, but I need at least half the voting population to be willing to go along with me, and we need to keep the number of people willing to oppose us to remain very small. I’m not opposed to our side getting our hands dirty… if you’ve ever read Saul Alinsky’s “Rule for Radicals” you know he was not opposed to impolite tactics if that’s what it took to win, but he was very critical of emotionally satisfying nonsense that didn’t accomplish anything.

    2. Don’t worry, it won’t be long. Kessler is soon going to be in the same place as magic mushroom Adam Koresh.

  3. A perennial problem I have observed — by experience — is that when a political event offers (or demands) an opportunity for RKBA organizing, there are two classes of people who are first out of the gate and into the public limelight. Those are the whack-a-doodles, whose motto (if they took time to think of one) would be, “Don’t THINK — DO!” and, the people with another agenda, who immediately see an opportunity for infiltrating the gun rights movement and using it to leverage their “other” agenda(s). The result in the first case, is that the “movement” is co-opted by whack-a-doodles, so that non-whack-jobs (who could be valuable) steer clear. In the second case, the infiltrators’ hearts aren’t really in the gun rights movement, and they effectively subvert RKBA efforts by always trying to steer things to the advantage of their hidden agendas.

    I was tempted to illustrate the above with a couple of my Old Stories, but thought better of it. But, I think (forgive me if I’m wrong!) we have seen both phenomena at work here in Bucks County since the Sandy Hook tragedy. I’m afraid they will become the New Stories.

  4. The culture worry is a legitiamte one. And for recommendations I’d repeat my suggestion of looking to what the Illinois organizations have done and how they operate.

    1. They’ve been very effective, but that might be a case of a hotter fire forges a stronger steel. One problem I sometimes think we have in PA is that, generally speaking, we have it pretty good. The trouble is I don’t think people realize how quickly and hard that can turn around on you. As an example, no one would have predicted Colorado would be an early domino to fall after Newtown. That’s how quickly it can happen if you keep losing critical elections. For Pennsylvania, Kane should be a wakeup call to everyone. But how many people even realize?

      1. I think Kane CAN be a good wakeup call. She can do limited damage, but it will show what people like her will do if they get the governorship or the GA.

      2. It could be just that. It also shows that in Colorado the dems got all the levers of power and went hog wild.

        Where in Illinois they’ve got the levers of power, and had been going hog wild. But there were more progun Dems in IL than in CO. So make that what of you will.

        If anything CO is a great example of the risks of complacency, the “it can’t happen here” mentality.

      3. Not enough realise. Ive been to the gun shows and clubs here in western PA… most have no idea. they are so concentrated on the UN and Obama that they cannot see the hurdles and pitfalls in Kane and the Bloomberg machine.

        Not to mention the House leadership who’s mottos is “Do nothing and win!”

  5. Kessler highlights something important. He has no real ideas, plans, or specific course of action. He’s all about being loud, obnoxious, and getting attenion. His messages caters to a rather small group of people, a group that uses the F word in every day conversation, a group that really never gets out much, and a group that thinks every issues is hill to die on. Kessler is of the school that the media is already against us so lets go all in. Here’s the thing. Gun owners 2.0 are young. They grew up playing FPS video games and constantly be harassed by the cops. By the way, the new media reporters are also from the same generation and much more libertarian and pro gun. The media battle is not lost. We need to sell the right narrative, and it’s not the antics of guys like Kessler that will win us followers or sway a single politico.

    Kessler is not helping gun owners or himself. His inability to express his thoughts with anything more than a four letter word speaks volumes about his thought process. There is a reason Kessler is a lowest paid police chief in PA

    1. and a group that thinks every issues is hill to die on

      I think this is probably the biggest issue you run into, generally.

      1. Yeah, these guys want it all and they want it right now. They’re fast with their tongue and they’re equally as fast to file lawsuits that make bad case law. They either don’t get the long game strategy or they just don’t care – they’re into fighting a fight but not knowing the fight to get into for the win. They’re like the hockey goons sent on the ice to throw punches, it’s just too bad Kessler and his boys are not restrained by a coach that has a path to victory on the clipboard.

  6. I agree with much of what is written above w/r/t OC, wack-a-doodles, and four letter words. What turned me was the GRAA rally in Philly this spring. Did the chief really need 5 constitutional security force idiots on stage for his protection?!?! He is out only for publicity and is way too self absorbed. Kessler’s actions, and those of his CSF, just prove they are only for show.

  7. I think something that could be worse than his four-letter words was, his throwing around moronic terms like “libtards,” which IMO amuse only people like him. Despite the convenience of embracing stereotypes as a shorthand, every liberal and every conservative doesn’t embrace 100 percent of the positions assigned to them on their philosophies laundry list. In other public venues, I’m encountering a number of people who say, “I consider myself liberal, BUT I see this and that positive point about gun rights.” They may not be hardline by any of our standards, but they clearly are not hardened enemies.

    If you get jackasses like Kessler and his sidekicks posturing like fascists (Blackshirts, it would seem?) and making noises that imply “We’re coming to get you libtards at the first opportunity” a lot of people on the fence, who may not have given anything else a lot of thought, may decide it is prudent to start limiting “gun owners” access to weapons of threatened aggression.

    1. Exactly. You find sympathies on this issue in very unexpected places. I agree that the “libtard” nonsense was more damaging than the profanity. It assumes all liberals are anti-gun, which just isn’t true.

  8. Profanity-laced tirades do nothing to persuade the uncommitted, in fact the reverse. A pox on the Chief and his lack of self-control and wisdom.

    As for the nervous suburbanites you are worried about, I greatly prefer my approach, which is best described by some lines from Todd Snider’s wonderful “Somebody’s Coming”:

    Somebody’s coming to change your mind
    To sneak up on all you believe from behind

    Unless you’ve been able to do it, you can’t imagine how satisfying it is, and how it turns the undecided person’s perspective from “gun nuts” to serious consideration, to be able to say to someone–perhaps a fellow church musician, or fellow board member of a local arts organization–“Have we ever been together at at K-12 school or the County City Building [i.e. court facility]? I didn’t think so, either. So…. you’ve literally never seen me when I wasn’t armed with at least one handgun.” “But… but… you’re not like….” “Exactly. Effective self-defense is a human right, not some fringe preoccupation.”

  9. All liberals are anti-gun by default because they put people like Obama, Schumer, Pelosi, Hoyer and their ilk in power. Stop giving these phony “pro-gun liberals” a pass!

    1. That’s like saying all conservatives are pro-life. It’s just not true and doesn’t add up.

    2. May I introduce a statement, just to illustrate the faults in your logic?

      “All conservatives are anti-gun by default, because they put fascists like Bush, Ashcroft, Bachmann, and Rand Paul in power; and fascist authoritarians will only tolerate gun rights until the have consolidated their political power.”

      Talk among yourselves…

  10. It’s not just this Kessler guy. It’s the whole image us “gun nuts” put out there. Gadsden flags, Tricorner hats, realtree camo all over everything, fat guys with Marine Corps hats. signs with random quotes (often with spelling errors) from the founding generation taken completely out of context, and attempts to compare our situation to Nazi Germany. Fail!

    We need to impress upon the fence-sitters the terrible injustice of people going to prison for very long periods of time over fairly innocent conduct that harms no one directly.

    1. “attempts to compare our situation to Nazi Germany.”

      Speaking of comparisons to Nazi Germany (with apologies to Godwin’s Law) I was recently reading something that pointed out that in the 1930s, one could have done a pretty good job of predicting what the Nazis would do next, by what the Nazis would claim the Communists were about to do.

    2. Definitely agree about the gun nut image.

      As for your second point- that is one of the tools in my debate arsenal. I say we don’t have a gun problem, we have a drug problem. That most of the gun crime is related to drug crime. And that the best way to stop it is to end the war on drugs, and make them legal. That usually works because they are usually for drug legalization, or at least see the connection.

      1. Yeah, these rally guys really need to work on the image aspect of what they’re doing. They don’t have a clear agenda and voice, then you fill the crowd with a bunch of rather dirty looking people who swear a lot and you see why they call us all a bunch of knuckle dragging mouth breathing gun nuts.

        1. Another factor is, I believe they tend to drive away the “ordinary” people who might otherwise participate.

          I have largely outgrown rallies, but I have completely outgrown any compulsion to go to them in costume.

          1. I avoid the rallies for two reasons. First, they’re disorganized and have no real purpose beyond making some noise. Second, the people who attend these rallies are the very people I’m pretty much tired of (the cigarette smoke stinky tinfoil hat folks – or basically most gun show people.)

            1. I think I really outgrew them as soon as I realized their purpose was to showcase certain politicians, who used them as campaign appearances — that we often traveled miles to attend, on our own dime.

              The annual rally in the Capitol in Harrisburg (PA) is a particularly amusing charade.

  11. I attended the first three meetings of the Concerned Gun Owners of Bucks County group, and at one of those meetings Chief Kessler was an invited speaker. I thought he was a little bit melodramatic at time, but he was nothing like the screaming, profane cartoon character you see in the videos that attracted so much attention recently. At the CGOBC meeting he was intense and forceful, but quite lucid, and overall pretty compelling. His main point was that all of us have to get involved to protect Second Amendment rights, or we will watch them disappear. He got a standing ovation, by the way, from a crowd of more than 300 people. And no, they were not all camo-clothed, Gadsen-flag-waving, tricorn tinfoil hat wearing, cigar-chomping fat guys at this meeting.

    It’s been sad to watch some of Kessler’s antics since then. I wonder to what extent him being around a group of guys who reinforce his worst instincts (I’m thinking his Constitutional Security Force) have led him further and further afield — but then I remember that he’s the one who came up with the CSF to begin with.

    I’ve attended a few gun rallies over the past several months, and while there are a number of oddballs at each one, I saw a lot worse at the Occupy Philly protests back when they were all the rage. But, I hear you that “our” oddballs lose us more support from the fence-sitters than they’ll ever win.

    1. I was at the meeting, and yes, he was indeed better behaved. But I got the impression he enjoyed the limelight. That’s can easily be anyone’s downfall no matter what the issue.

  12. ” I wonder to what extent him being around a group of guys who reinforce his worst instincts (I’m thinking his Constitutional Security Force) have led him further and further afield. . .”

    I had some personal experience with that sort of thing many years ago. It is instructional to experience it, and come out the other side.

    If you allow yourself to be inundated by a “subculture” (for want of a better word) it is unbelievable — until you experience it — how quickly you can lose a grip on reality. It is the principle “cults” operate on. If intelligence is a factor, I suspect the highly intelligent — being rapid learners, and accustomed to being rewarded for it — are more susceptible than those of lower intelligence.

    It is not even necessary that you be physically inundated — it can be purely intellectual, with no one actually having physical contact with you. For example, if you can by suggestion be kept reading all the same literature, from the same milieu, so that you never encounter any counter ideas (other than those selected by the milieu for you to ridicule) you can very quickly be led to an undetected level of self-brainwashing. It is probably the (political) reason behind any number of book lists that suggest you can’t be a “real” [fill-in-the-blank] until you have mastered all of the suggested readings.

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