NRA Ballots: What To Do

I fully endorse John Richardson’s ballot. Vote for Owen Buz Mills, and that’s it. Write in Frank C. Tait, Wayne, PA, and R.B. Rocky Marshall Jr, Boerne, TX. The rest of them need to come to their senses and show Wayne and Bill the door, and start reestablishing trust and competence in the Association.

What the LTC Data Can Tell Us

I just wrote about the trends in my own county’s license to carry a firearm issuance and noted that year-over-year, the numbers were up more than 65%. So you’d think that I’d be cheering this piece at The Reload for covering the statewide numbers and looking at how Philadelphia County was out of whack with the rest.

But I’m not.

Why? Because while I did look at year-over-year data in my post, it was presented with very important contextual information – like the closure of offices, shifting demand, and where we stood compared to 5 years ago which matters for looking at trends. Now that still isn’t the entire picture, but it puts the 65% increase into an important context that takes into account those with expiring licenses from 5 years earlier. (If everyone renewed exactly when they needed to do so, that is responsible for 42% of the issuances in 2020.) And the introduction of an online application may have shifted more early 2021 renewals into 2020 – all data we won’t be able to see in trends until next spring.

Are license issuances up? Without question. The questions are on how much.

And here’s why The Reload’s piece leaving out information about the shifts in demand bothers me. Because how you present data can change the picture of things quite a bit.

Take the graph below. In red, I used Stephen Gutowski’s model of strictly looking at year-over-year data to plot change in demand on my county since 2004. (I have my county’s historical numbers saved for easy calculations, but not the statewide data.) According to his method, our county’s issuance rates have gone on a wild ride of a low of -26.1% decline (2014) to the high of 65.1% growth (2020) with repeated declines in 2019, 2017, 2014, 2010, 2008, and 2004.

But that steadier blue line? That’s the rate of change on issuances for rolling 5 year periods – the period that licenses are valid in Pennsylvania. That shows a much steadier rate of change from a low of -4.8% (2004) to a high of 16.8% (2013) with small declines only in 2018, 2006, and 2004.

And, if you want raw numbers, here are the rates of currently valid licenses for the same county over the same period (total of previous 5 years of issued licenses). This trend line looks very different than the rates of change in issuance…

Why does this look so different than even my tamer rolling 5 year numbers above? Because of the way it accounts for surge years. The end of 2012 and 2013 were incredibly high due to the political fallout and threats following Sandy Hook in late 2012, so we saw a license issuance drop in 2014 because all of those new licenses issued 1-2 years prior were still valid. That doesn’t mean that all of those newly licensed people disappeared. They should be part of the numbers through at least 2018 when those 2013 LTCs expired. (We did actually see a very small drop between 2017 and 2018 – not all of those people who got their licenses opted to renew them, clearly.)

So while year-over-year data has a place in analysis of where we stand with the right to bear arms movement and possible sympathetic voters in Pennsylvania, it’s not the whole picture and no one should get too excited by extreme swings up because they are usually followed by slight drops later on.

The Health of an Organization

One of my primary objectives as a new club president is to devolve a lot of the Board’s responsibility. The primary mechanism in civic organizations to accomplish this is the committee.

Younger people these days are so unfamiliar with civil society, I often worry about even using the word “committee.” Does it have good connotations? Governments have all kinds of committees, subcommittees, blue ribbon panels, etc and they don’t get anything done. At least not anything of value. Maybe we need a better word for it. We could go all corporate and adopt “team,” but I think that carries a lot of bullshit along with it these days too.

Our club was functionally a one, two, or three man show for a number of years. Sure, we had committees, but they were themselves generally one man shows, and those were often Board members. Until very recently, power was firmly rooted in three to four people at most. The rest of the Board was relatively powerless when push came to shove. Now we’ve devolved a lot of that power to the Board, and I’d like to devolve it further still.

Successful organizations aren’t a cult of personality. Successful organizations have processes. A successful organization is a machine that you can plug people into, and mechanisms are in place to keep the machine running even if the operators change. This is a very difficult task in a volunteer-driven organization. The distribution of power is a way to develop new leadership, and ensure when people step out, there’s other people who can step in. It also doesn’t hurt to ease members into the leadership culture.

This year we’re going to give an actual Annual Report to the members that goes beyond just totals for the year. People aren’t going to volunteer for a black box. If an organization has processes, people have to see where they might be able to pitch in. So you have to be open about things. Any civic organization should be open about its operations. Beware leaders who seem to like hiding things. Sometimes you do have internal matters, but it should be the exception rather than the rule.

Speaking of culture: organizational culture is not an accidental thing. It is deliberate, and one area that can’t be separated from leadership. The leadership of an organization sets the culture. If they don’t, actors (sometimes bad actors) will come in and do that for you.

So what’s the lesson here? NRA has a lot of problems that are frankly familiar to me on a smaller scale. Though my club thankfully didn’t have the massive grifting. But I served on a Board where we were a rubber stamp before a power vacuum changed the dynamics. That power vacuum empowered the Board as a body to step up, and things have gotten better. Not perfect, but moving in the right direction. Like NRA, my club also has an overly large Board. What I’m saying is there can be hope. NRA has a leadership problem. The Board are sycophants, sure, but you’d be surprised how much toxic leadership can hold sway over a Board. From my point of view NRA needs to be rid of two people: Wayne LaPierre and Bill Brewer. Wayne because he’s hapless. I don’t believe Wayne could successfully run a Boy Scout troop. Bill Brewer because he’s correctly identified Wayne as a guy who will believe anything, and pay him anything. I don’t believe Brewer has the best interests of NRA at heart, and if we’re rid of Wayne, but Bill gets to name Wayne’s replacement, we just replaced Ack-Mac with a worse parasite.

The rot often seems to run all the way through, but I can promise you it does not. Toxic leadership is a cancer. The first order of business in enacting a turnaround is to remove it. From there, health will probably improve.