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Journey’s Effort to “Save” the NRA

It seems that more of the various groups that have splintered off into pushing some kind of reform at NRA have ultimately come to back Judge Phillip Journey’s efforts to challenge NRA’s legal moves.

I’m not 100% sure that I think his approach is ideal, but I’m also looking at the fact that there don’t appear to any petition candidates at all.

In fact, via voting the best options I can see other than writing someone in (which won’t likely be enough, but it won’t likely hurt) is to bullet vote from the list of candidates for Owen Buz Mills as the only one on the list to drive him to the top of the results. Because even though others might win seats, they care desperately about how “popular” they are and where they come into the rankings. Rank the dissenting board members high and you are still sending a message.

Back to the legal issues at hand, I don’t have any great insight there. On one hand, I tend to believe the bankruptcy legal experts who were watching this case closely not for anything to do with NRA, but the unique circumstances around it. They are pretty pessimistic. On the other hand, I also see that Judge Hale specifically addressed what NRA should expect – a not so subtle nod to stripping leadership & possibly Bill Brewer of power – if they try to refile, which opens the door to refiling. I do think there’s truth that the trial resulted in disclosures that make it more likely the NY AG can push for dissolution. I also think the fact that the federal court did weigh James’s attacks on NRA as a political foe into account when trying to decide if they deserved bankruptcy protection from her office signals to other courts that going in this direction is going to set a very bad precedent.

Either way, it’s about which court you think would give NRA the fairest shake. Neither one makes me comfortable which is why I’m more open to a legal strategy that is simply summed up as: “Whatever Wayne LaPierre, Carolyn ‘Burn the Records’ Meadows, Charles Cotton, and Willes Lee oppose is what I probably support.”

I went ahead and threw a few bucks at the effort. I’m not going to press the readers to do so since I don’t know if there are good answers in any of this, but I think it’s important to share it’s out there.

Ultimately, one reason I’m on board with the effort to try and save the NRA from people like Wayne is because we have a huge resource in our community that NRA has moved away from both tapping as a resource and supporting – gun clubs. Not commercial gun ranges, but non-profit, volunteer-run gun clubs. NRA’s support of clubs has gone downhill in the last 20 years. Part of that is because they were really behind the times in the shift to newer shooting sports that were taking off which reduced the amount that rising club leaders needed to build connections there or learn about resources. But they didn’t manage to connect with these people on any other level when it comes to club support.

As much as NRA has dropped the ball on this, they still have the institutional knowledge (within the volunteer organization as a whole, even if not always on staff) and name recognition to rebuild this resource and start offering more things that are relevant to clubs in need. As much good as I do think some groups are doing on the legal fights, no other group has tried to step into this space. Yet, if no one does, once these ranges are gone, they are gone for good. And that’s forever a loss of a Second Amendment habitat for growing new shooters.

NRA Elections – The Reality

I tried to leave a comment, but it seems WordPress.com is acting up and wouldn’t accept it. Therefore, NRAinDanger writer, I’m responding here and may be able to generate some additional feedback.

“…getting on the ballot by petition is impossible…”

I agree with much of the post, but I very much disagree with this. The reality of it is that if a candidate can’t find the needed signatures of people who can vote, then they can’t make it on the board.

I saw that Frank Tait fell short on signatures largely due to people who said they could vote, but really could not. This isn’t surprising if you know how many people think they are NRA members who really aren’t, and a huge percentage of NRA members probably believe they are entitled to a vote when they really aren’t. And that’s a really important measure for getting actual votes cast, too. It’s a hurdle everyone must overcome, so I don’t really consider it a true roadblock to reform.

This year’s class of board members up is interesting statistically. They have had both the biggest difference between “last winner” and “first loser” in a decade plus of records (3,024 vote difference in 2018) and the 2nd and 3rd smallest differences (just 356 in 2012; only 417 in 2015). Based on my records of tracking organization voter participation, this class is also among the lowest of valid votes cast in the cycles. There aren’t really any Baby Boomer celebrities on the ballot to drive turnout.

Realistically, to get on the board, a petition candidate needs to find new votes. Chatting online largely doesn’t reach the thousands you need to find to convince to bullet vote. If they are already on a forum talking about reforming NRA, chances are they were already voting that way. Because it’s not just about getting reformers on, but also about getting problem people off.

I know it won’t happen, but could you imagine if Carolyn Meadows wasn’t elected by the membership? She’s up this year. Or David Coy or Joel Friedman, named to this committee to move NRA away from its most important functions? Also up this year.

While there is a system to replace all of those people, can you imagine the headache of trying to conduct business where they have to find the replacements and then get them caught up to speed on what is likely a very, very secretive process largely withheld from the Board & members? Hell, I know that the elected members get updates during the election period and fret very much like junior high girls in a popularity contest about how they are placing compared to others. Just make them sweat by boosting – radically – the number of votes just for Owen Buz Mills as the only nominee who joined Journey’s case and you can make a statement even without a petition candidate.

Is it tough to get on the board if not blessed by Wayne? Yes. But someone who can’t get 500-600 signatures of valid voters definitely isn’t going to get the 70,935+ votes that the last winner received in the last election for this board class. Definitely not impossible, though.

UPDATE: I just had an additional thought based on the links auto generated to be most related to this post. Coy and Friedman have, in the last decade, been among those incumbent Nominating Committee board members to lose. Honestly, even getting them out and replacing them with no show board members who would turn down committee assignments and such work might be a help to cause headaches and slow this march to dissolution or irrelevancy that Wayne is setting up. Although, given that 2 of the 5 votes on this committee are board members who are a) up for election, and b) past losers in their election races, I think it’s safe to say that Cotton & Lee are the only votes that matter on that committee. Regardless, more people eventually appointed and it does slow them down.

NRA’s Response to Bankruptcy Ruling

First, NRA had no response.

I think all stories have been updated at this point, but every single initial article out there had quotes from the gun control groups who – wisely – wrote their planned responses in advance. Or, perhaps had the benefit of not being litigants so they could speak off of the cuff. All of those same articles initially said that NRA had no comment.

There were only a few ways that this would likely go:

  • NRA wins on its terms
  • NRA is allowed to proceed with bankruptcy, but would have some kind of outside oversight
  • Dismissal

From a mix of legal/PR perspective, I can understand why you wouldn’t want to say too much if the second result had come out of the case. It would have been pretty complex, so some kind of platitude about looking forward to options and working with the court would be possible.

But there isn’t a reason in the world there wasn’t a statement ready to go for dismissal. It was obvious from the judge’s question to the parties before closing that this was a very likely outcome! There was plenty of time to have a few sentences ready that also acknowledge you needed more time to fully review the ruling. But, no. NRA wasn’t ready to acknowledge the reality of their situation.

In fact, this seems to be a trend. The main NRA account on a platform used to follow my account, even as I became increasingly publicly vocal about my opposition to things they were doing. However, when I put up a request asking for recommendations for a non-NRA postal match that could make a fun, short range activity for National Shooting Sports Month since I heard from people they were not open to potentially sending money to NRA for anything that could end up seized by the NY Attorney General and given to Mike Bloomberg in the next year before the postal match even closed. Acknowledgement that NRA might not win? That’s an unfollow! Anything that isn’t 100% “Wayne’s gonna lead us to freedom!” is not allowed to be seen or discussed it seems.

Back to the court case, NRA after some time had a quote from Wayne as its only response. It makes clear they are remaining in New York and there will be no changes to anything involving members.

(more…)

Need More Coffee…

Today’s starting out with a bang. A little too much bang before coffee was made, in my opinion.

Google has shut down John Richardson’s blog for the time being, claiming that he sells a regulated product. He doesn’t. He simply offers commentary on political issues that Google doesn’t support. Here’s his Twitter account for those interested in keeping up while he’s down.

More drama comes out of the NRA & AckMac lawsuits with accusations about Wayne supposedly wanting a $6 million mansion in the Dallas area funded by AckMac who would then bill NRA, according to WaPo. NRA says it was all AckMac’s idea. Honestly, I don’t trust either one and can easily see either party (or both!) being responsible for proposing for this kind of crap when the organization was already struggling financially.

I’m seriously considering offering some very sarcastic commentary on the house they were considering for Wayne & Susan. I really can’t stand fake old houses – those done in the style of older homes, but that are brand new and ridiculously furnished so far removed from what they were supposed to be inspired by. (There’s seating for 6-8 people surrounding the master bathtub. Questions, I have them.) Between my efforts to focus on positive things and lack of time, I’m going to resist for now. For now; I have screenshots in case I change my mind.

And then there’s the news that NRA and its Foundation are being sued by one of their big donors today. And that gets more interesting coming not long after the rumor that the board and other leaders lost their insurance to cover such situations. They are still indemnified, so NRA is picking up the tab no matter what the insurance situation is today. But since the Board has decided to fight indemnification for Oliver North, it’s pretty easy to understand why the best move for some was to resign since chances are good with that the board would make the same moves against anyone outside of the inner circle.

So, yeah, I think it’s time for more coffee. Or just maybe move straight to whiskey today. Either way, it’s a better way to get through the afternoon.

Attempts at Gun Voter Suppression in North Dakota

The North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party created a Facebook page on Halloween to stir up some election tricks.

They created a “Hunter Alerts” page to use as a platform for buying Facebook ads to target at hunters and gun owners. As you can see in this image from NRA created from screenshots of the page details and ads they are running, they are trying to convince any hunter who might hunt out-of-state that they will lose those licenses if they show up to vote.

If these tactics show any sign of working at all – if there is any drop in gun owner participation in the North Dakota election whatsoever – this will be copied around the country to try and keep gun owners from turning out to vote. They know that we turn out in very high numbers to protect our rights, so now they are trying to use our rights and lawful activities against our voters to convince them not to vote.

Also, if you see any paid ads like this at all in your social media feeds, make sure to get screenshots and drop a message to the NRA page. They can take a look to investigate further. Getting the word out to the voters they are lying to can hopefully give NRA & local gun rights leaders the chance to respond so that the goal of keeping these voters home doesn’t work.

Cody Wilson Caught

At this point, there is nothing that looks remotely defensible about Cody Wilson’s actions after he (reportedly) paid a minor for sex if the details in this story are correct.

At home, police say that he got on a plane to Taiwan at some point after he was tipped off by a friend of the minor that she was cooperating with a police investigation into the incident. Even if the trip was pre-planned, this seems like an unwise choice to make the trip if you’ve got any chance at defending yourself.

But now we learn that he checked in to one hotel and promptly left, decided to rent a studio for 6 months, but then didn’t show to get the keys when he realized that he was wanted in Taiwan, too. (We may not have an extradition treaty with them, but that doesn’t mean they are under obligation to let you roam free. A country with no treaty can still arrest you and turn you over to the US, it’s just a matter of whether they want to do so or not.) They eventually found him in a totally different hotel.

The report indicates that his passport was cancelled, so Taiwan could pick him up on immigration charges once he was found. He can now be deported to the U.S.

None of this will look good during a trial. Depending on the details of the encounter with the girl he is accused of soliciting, he could have potentially mounted somewhat of a defense that she lied about her age repeatedly. If he could prove it or raise a reasonable doubt that he actually knew her age, then there’d be a chance at a plea bargain or maybe an easier sentence. But fleeing to a foreign country with no extradition treaty and going so far as to rent an apartment? Yeah, that’s not going to go over well and will probably kill his chances at being released in advance of the trial since he’s now a demonstrated flight risk.

NRA Election Participation

Once again, I’ve got the data on member participation in NRA elections. Unlike attendance, these stats aren’t record breaking – not the lowest, not the highest. Just about average.

In terms of total votes cast, 5.67% of eligible voters who received ballots returned them. That’s on par with previous years, as you can see in the chart. The lowest vote participation I’ve ever documented in 2006 was 5.12%, and the highest was the 2016 regular board election at 7.76%.

Of course, there’s also the context to consider of how many ballots went out. As we add more voting members to NRA’s member roster, it becomes harder for any one board member to reach individual voters who may feel inspired to vote after meeting with them or learning more about them. This is the record number of ballots mailed based on my data – 199,245 more than last year. That means more life members and members who have stuck with the organization for at least 5 consecutive years.

Of course, these charts just look at ballots returned. Of the ballots mailed back, 3.98% were invalid for a variety of reasons. This is up a bit from the last few years, but down substantially from 2013. Unfortunately, they stopped separating out my favorite invalid statistic – ballots from previous years. Who has these and remembers to send them in during the exact voting period the next year?? Last year, it was 24 people.

At first glance, I thought that people may be voting for fewer than 25 candidates, as the top vote getter this year (Ronnie Barrett) was only on 71.7% of valid ballots. That’s the lowest percentage I’ve recorded. The previous low was 2015 at 76.52%, so the same cycle of candidates. Most of the other lows I’ve recorded have also been during this same cycle of 3 year terms, so I think it’s just the lack of a really huge celebrity that spreads out votes more. (That’s not a bad thing!)

For the “last winner,” the lowest vote getter to still get a seat on the board, there were some interesting observations. The last winner was on just over half of the ballots – 54.46%. That’s not the lowest percentage I’ve seen, but the 2nd lowest and definitely close. What is more interesting is that those who did not win seats were much farther behind the pack than I’ve ever documented before. In my years of data, the top person who still lost is usually just under 1,000 votes away from the person above. This year, that gap was huge at a difference of more than 3,000 votes. So those who didn’t make it on the board this year were much farther behind as a group than they have been in at least a decade.

NRA Meeting Attendance – 2018

Attack gun rights, inspire more people to fight for gun rights. This is an equation you think that gun control supporters would have figured out. Once again, we see this play out in the NRA Annual Meeting numbers with a new record-setting attendance.

A total of 87,154 members attended the NRA convention in Dallas this year.

From the time I started attending in 2004, the event has grown by just over 42% in terms of attendance. It was about 7% larger than Atlanta for members who came out.

Gun Control in the Heartland

It looks like Democrats are looking to candidates from deep red districts to not give in on guns and to openly push their national gun ban agenda.

I received my home town paper today, and this is a full-page ad running in small town papers in Oklahoma from Fred Gipson who is running as a Democrat in Oklahoma’s 4th district which does have a college town, but is also largely rural.

click to enlarge

I wish I was back in town the day the candidate visited so I could introduce myself as a “female AR-15 owner, NRA Life Member, volunteer to fund programs that teach young people how to safely and responsibly use semi-automatic rifles & other firearms, and past Democratic pro-gun candidate volunteer.” All with a smile. Because even our insults back home are polite.

I think it’s safe to say that given the branding of his website and lack of events posted that he probably doesn’t stand a chance in a district where his incumbent opponent has consistently won with around 70% of the vote. But I don’t think it bodes well for us that one of the major political parties is running openly on gun bans even in pro-gun areas. It seems they don’t believe we’ll be around long enough to matter.

If you live in OK-4, it might be wise to let your local Democratic Party know that you expect them to find candidates who have a record of respecting the 2nd Amendment instead of running candidates who campaign on banning guns many local residents own and use responsibly. Telling the local leaders who have a voice at the state level that they are hurting down ticket races by pushing gun control candidates on the ballot can make a difference in how the political parties work with us instead of against us.

Golden State Killer DNA Use – Getting Past the Media Hype to Potential Legal Issues

First, let’s establish that I am not an attorney. I talk to lots of attorneys and even attend law seminars from time-to-time, but I have never studied law in any meaningful way. My post on this matter is because I have a gut feeling the use of DNA searching in the case of the Golden State Killer is probably new territory.

Second, let’s establish that though I’m not a geneticist, I am experienced enough in genetic genealogy that I can tell you mainstream media reporting on DNA testing is as terrible as it is on guns. Most reporters know absolutely nothing about the types of DNA that can be tested in the consumer market, how matching happens, what the policies on use are with those sites, and the limitations of DNA. DNA doesn’t lie, but it’s sure as hell misinterpreted – often. Add to the problem of reporters not knowing anything about it the fact that most of the people in front of the cameras from the police department and the district attorney also know nothing about it, and you’ve got a recipe for terrible reporting.

Based on some of the most detailed reporting that didn’t come out until late last night and this morning, the investigators did not use a commercial DNA testing company you commonly see advertised. In the US, the big ones are Ancestry.com, 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, and MyHeritage. Three out of the four confirmed in statements when the media started getting things wrong that they in no way cooperated with any criminal investigation with their DNA databases. While the fourth one didn’t issue a statement, the police didn’t use their private databases, either. All of them have pretty solid policies not cooperating without a warrant.

However, because these companies all offer different tools, many of which are useful in their own ways to us genealogists, but you can’t compare to someone who tested at another site, some folks built a website called GedMatch that’s sort of like a public open source comparison tool. It’s database is made up of people who have taken their raw DNA data from other companies that run the tests and upload them to be compared to each other. Why? Well, in cases like my grandfather’s, he only tested at Family Tree DNA before he died. If a great match tests at Ancestry, we can’t compare the two kits except at Gedmatch. (Technically there are a few alternatives now, but there weren’t for a long time. Gedmatch became the place to do it.)

The police created a raw data format that looked like one of the major testing company’s raw data forms based on the DNA sample recovered from a crime scene. Using that form, they uploaded it to Gedmatch as though it was a sample from one of the major testing companies. There’s nothing in Gedmatch’s terms that says you can’t “spoof” a major company format with data obtained elsewhere. The entire purpose of the site is to compare across testing platforms.

BUT, where things get interesting is that when you upload a kit at Gedmatch, you must answer a question:

Please acknowledge that any sample you submit is either your DNA or the DNA of a person for whom you are a legal guardian or have obtained authorization to upload their DNA to GEDmatch: Yes or No

Now, the officer who uploaded it 1) is not the source of the DNA, 2) is not the legal guardian of the suspect, and 3) does not have the authorization of the DNA sample provider to upload. Yet, s/he uploaded it anyway by directly misrepresenting his/her status as the legal representative with permission of the source of the sample.

Only with that misrepresentation did they find enough information to focus in on one subject and follow him around to find a source of publicly disposed DNA to run a direct test against the original sample using the traditional law enforcement test (CODIS).

Is the misrepresentation of who has permission to use a website under specific terms a violation on the part of police? I think it’s a reasonable argument to make, though I don’t know how much precedent we have in this area of law because we’re talking technology that most previous cases don’t really cover.

Now, GedMatch was also recently used to solve a Jane Doe victim status. I tend to believe that there’s a more solid case that police are legal representatives of an unidentified deceased victim in their “custody” than they are over a possibly still living suspect’s DNA sample. That said, any law enforcement use of the database makes people, understandably, uneasy. There have been calls for years for law enforcement to consider an opt in GedMatch-like database in order to solve John/Jane Doe cases with clear terms and conditions for those who opt in. Plenty of people are willing to help in those cases, and even in searches for criminals. But the authorities didn’t give people that option, they held themselves out as representatives of criminal suspects to gain access to a database.

In the context of guns, Sebastian & I figured it is most closely represented with this type of analogy:

A plainclothes cop shows up to your gated, private gun club and tells a board member that he has a document attesting that he’s a representative & there with permission of your club’s Membership Chairman and is just looking some things up on his behalf without ever disclosing that he’s law enforcement. He is allowed into the gated club only based on this form that says he really is representing your Membership Chairman, even though the officer really plans to investigate your Membership Chairman on a case not related to your club or its business. When he comes in, the officer looks through the guest log and sees a name he recognizes as similar to a felon known to him. He uses the information on the guest log to start following around your Membership Chairman to see if he’s allowing a felon to use his firearms. When it turns out to be the case, the cop sweeps in to make an arrest. Now technically the arrest is based on what he witnessed. But he never would have been following him if not for what he saw when he entered the gated property by falsifying documents that claim he was the Membership Chairman’s representative and was there with his permission. Is this a fruit of the poison tree problem?

I don’t know exactly how this will all play out, and I don’t know enough law to know if this is absolutely a violation. What I do know is that it violates ethics of the genetic genealogy community. While I understand that GedMatch doesn’t really have the same “gates” restricting access to its database as the commercial companies, the fact that they aren’t addressing the very real issue of how the cops represented themselves in order to be matched against others bothers me. That question in their upload process either means something or it doesn’t, and GedMatch isn’t taking it seriously. I made our kits private in the meantime.

As a final thought on DNA & crimes. I think it’s important to remember that as much as guns are misrepresented and therefore misunderstood, so is DNA.

DNA alone can tell you remarkably little without extra context and information. It doesn’t lie, but it is sure as hell misunderstood and treated as inappropriately damning. Consider that California was going to put a man away for life for a murder he absolutely did not commit based on the officer’s lack of detailed analysis in considering how DNA might have appeared on a victim. I mean we all “know” that if you find someone else’s DNA under a victim’s nails and they struggled, then that must be your assailant. It’s what tv tells us! Except what if the EMT called to the scene reuses a pulse oximeter on the victim that was used hours before on a man he took to the hospital? That was an important detail that nearly cost a man his life. Even in genealogy, something as obvious as a parent/child match? If you don’t know whether that parent has an identical twin, then you don’t have all of the information you need to make a sound conclusion.

It’s complex. And that’s why the media will f*ck it up almost every time they report on it – just like guns and gun owners.

UPDATE: The NYT has a decent article on the ethics & possible legality issue. A law professor who professes to know about DNA searches says there may be questions about the legality of the evidence. I’m going to assume that’s why they went after the other samples so that any warrants were technically issued on those grounds rather than the legally dubious GedMatch grounds.

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