I should preface this by noting that over the past two years, I’ve focused on things other than keeping up with internal NRA gossip and goings on. We still know people there, and still can give some Board members a call to find out what’s going on, but for the most part, I’ve been focused on other things. So people who ask me what’s going on in Fairfax, I don’t likely know more than you do at this point.
That said, I’ve noticed a few things going on at NRA over the past several months. One is that The Trace is actually doing some quality reporting on NRA’s internal issues. Granted, you have to understand the lens through which they want to present things, which is to make NRA look bad generally, but they are doing interesting work if you read it with a critical eye.
Second, whatever is going on at NRA, there are people willing to leak to The Trace either because they are that disgruntled, or to gain the upper hand in internal battles by outing their internal opponents dirty laundry in a way that will cause embarrassment. Either way, it tells me the internal quibbles are bad enough that there are people who think airing dirty laundry to the enemy is better for the organization than letting their internal opposition win. That’s not a good situation to be in.
I know there are reformers out there trying to make a difference, and I’m open to reformers. But I’m not seeing anything out there I feel like I could get behind. So I offer the following advice for reformers, which you can take or leave. I don’t really care either way:
- If you’re going to come in hard and strong, openly claiming to represent an upending of the status quo, and challenging the Board’s powerful members (I’m talking to you, Adam Kraut), you better be coming with an army behind you. NRA has 76 Board members. One, two, or three people aren’t going to change the Board, and you can absolutely expect any organization to circle the wagons against an avowed revolutionary.
- Even if you can get one, two, or three reformers on the Board, you’re better off learning the Board’s politics and working with it. At this stage it’s important to not be seen as having personally antagonized people. Otherwise the body is going to do everything they can to keep your reformers out of the loop and keep them as powerless as they can manage.
- Every organization I’ve ever been involved with has a handful of practices that are culturally destructive. You won’t be able to fix all of them. Take them on one at a time. Your allies for each will probably be different. You may not even be able to get the worst practices. Stick to what’s doable, and what’s doable is going to depend on what you can find allies for.
- Even people who agree NRA needs reform need to understand the political situation and know what limitations we face. There are times when retreat is necessary. Generals who don’t understand when they need to retreat in battles lose armies and lose wars. You have to know when a position is untenable, and the best option is to fall back and regroup. Here’s an unpleasant truth: bump stocks are not a tenable position. Machine guns or anything that shoots like a machine gun is not a tenable position. Saving semi-automatic rifles is a tenable position, and they are under severe threat in a number of states, such as Washington, Oregon, and probably soon to be Nevada and Colorado. Machine guns were lost in 1934. That was the time to fight, and our grandparents and great-grandparents blew it. We’re in a “save what we can, where we can” situation with respect to machine guns, and the bump stock issue threatens to upend that whole applecart. I just use this issue as an example. But fighting everything, everywhere, all the time, 100% is a recipe for losing. “No compromise” is a recipe for losing. We do not have the numbers to always get our way.
I’m not saying revolution is bad, necessarily. In 1977 it was necessary. Maybe it’s necessary again. But the NRA of today is very different than the NRA of 1977. For one, it’s about 5x larger. Over the years it’s also put mechanisms in place to thwart revolutions. It would be very difficult if not impossible to pull off another Cincinnati Revolt. If there’s NRA is to reform, it’s probably going to come incrementally.
Pick one or two issues. They can be big issues. Even issues that is likely going to make some staffers cringe. But be realistic about what you can achieve. Be very careful about attacking people personally. If you do so, you better be sure doing so will gain you more allies than it’ll cost you. If you’re going to aim for the king, you had better not miss.