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NRA Needs a Reform Movement That’s Realistic

While the figures involved in the hardliner (Knoxers in the past) versus pragmatist (Wayne’s faction) debate have changed, the essential debate is still with us.

NRA’s parasitic relationship with its PR firm isn’t anything new. The Knoxers railed against it too back in the day. I’ve never been comfortable with it either, but I’ve always had the choice of living with it as a member, or joining the hardliners. I am of the opinion that NRA taking a no-compromise, hardline stance will ultimately result in its irrelevance. Believing we can always win by saying ‘no’ louder is not a winning strategy when you’re working as a determined minority in a republican political system.

These days the issue is bump stocks and red flag laws. NRA largely surrendered on the bump stock issue to buy time to stop the bills that would have put semi-automatic firearms in legal jeopardy. They endorsed red flag laws provided they had sufficient due process (which none of them do). I believe both these moves are unpleasant necessities that reflect the reality of the political situation post-Vegas and post-Parkland. If you want to fight and die on bump stock hill, sorry, but we’re going to lose that fight. We also risk losing a large chunk of the current transferrable machine gun stock. You’re all aware of the debates, so I won’t rehash them.

The NRA is in desperate need of reform, but to date the drive for reform has only come from hardliners, who would cause a lot of other disasters for gun rights by failing to see what battles aren’t winnable and aren’t worth fighting, which aren’t winnable and are worth fighting, and which are winnable. We’ll never all agree on that. But most hardliners seem to think that all battles are worth fighting all the time, everywhere, and with maximum intensity. No one fights wars that way and wins. You have to take a lot of limitations into account if you’re waging war or waging political struggle. Hardliners don’t accept that there is a limit to our political influence. They fight as if we had 200 million other Americans behind us. Generals who fight that way lose armies. Political movements that are similarly unrealistic end up similarly destroyed. We need a reform movement for NRA that understands limits and is politically realistic. If such a movement were to appear, I would support it.

Everytown Files Against NRA’s Non-Profit Status

John Richardson has all the details. All I can say is NRA better have its act cleaned up by the time the next hostile administration is in the White House. As John mentions, “I could only imagine the damage this complaint might have done if it had been filed during the Obama Administration.”

I suspect that’s not lost on the faction of NRA that’s picking this fight. NRA isn’t the first corporation to enter into a parasitic relationship with a consulting firm. That’s not to excuse it: it needs to change, and should have changed yesterday. It should not take Bloomberg and a hostile state governor engaging in lawfare against the NRA for them to clean up their act.

When we sue Cuomo and other state officials personally, we don’t want it coming out that they might have a point about NRA having shady practices. You want the civil rights case to be open-and-shut, and not have both sides looking like they are trying to get away with something.

Is This Serious?

An engineering student from the UK wants to introduce a bullet that has a hemostatic agent in it to keep people from bleeding out. I’m sure criminals will sign right up to use these bullets. I’m sure you’ll have a long line of cops signing up to either use them! I can promise you’ll get a long line of cops lining up to get themselves exempted from any law that mandates them for the serfs.

This greatly misunderstands self-defense. If it’s a less-than-lethal threat, we have less-than-lethal tools at our disposal that we ought to, and are usually legally obligated to use in our defense. When it comes to using deadly force, it’s to defend against someone that is a threat to life and limb. Blood loss from critical places is the key means that causes the threat to not be a threat. It’s a life or death situation, and you’ve decided better your attackers life than yours. It’s not a arm wrestling contest.

We’re providing another degree of lethality or force in comparison to current nonlethals that exist. They don’t penetrate the body and most times are not effective in neutralizing, especially in life-threatening situations. So, we’re trying to bridge the gap by still providing a way to incapacitate like a normal round, but removing that loss of life.

No, you aren’t. Bullets are deadly force. Bullets with hemostatic agents are still deadly force. No one has any business shooting someone with a firearm if they aren’t threatening life and limb. This is not even remotely comparable to non-lethal chemical or electronic weapons. Why don’t you talk to some self-defense experts before you waste your time with this shit. Stay in your lane!

The do-gooders want to save the world. But who will save the world from the do-gooders?

The Plot Thickens

John Richardson has more. Yesterday a story was floated that Angus McQueen’s son in law was the outside retained counsel NRA was using in the suit. It turns out that isn’t true. From John:

Ackman McQueen contends this lawsuit is the work of the NRA’s outside counsel William Brewer III who is the in-law of their co-CEOs Revan and Angus McQueen. However, the lawsuit is brought by the Virginia law firm of  Briglia Hundley not by Mr. Brewer’s firmTodd Rathner, NRA Board Member, speculates that the attack on Mr. Brewer is the work of the pro-AckMc faction of the Board in an effort to undermine Wayne LaPierre.

So Wayne has turned against Ack-Mac? This is bigger news than I thought, if true. You can find the actual lawsuit here. I’d note this footnote from page 8:

Refusal to provide certain requested data “in writing” (such as unique visitors, viewership numbers, clickthrough rates, or related performance metrics) that enable the NRA to analyze the turn on its in NRATV.2

2 In addition, certain NRA stakeholders were also concerned that NRATV’s messaging — on topics far afield of the Second Amendment — deviated from the NRA’s core mission and values.

Ya think? Based on some numbers I had compiled from YouTube to support a post I never had time to finish, the reason they aren’t turning over these numbers is because they are almost certainly atrocious and would show what a waste of money most of NRATV is.

It also looks like much of this contention is over the contract Ack-Mac has with Ollie North, which they aren’t apparently disposed to share with NRA despite New York law requiring that NRA review the contract.

Is something untoward going on here that Ack-Mac doesn’t want coming out? You could bowl me over with a feather if it were true. I’d be shocked to find gambling going on in this establishment.

The Titanic Battle Begins

By now most of you might have seen the news that NRA is suing it’s PR firm, Ackerman-McQueen. I should note that I haven’t been in regular contact with NRA staff or board members for several years now, so I have no special insight on insider information about what’s going on (and even if I did, I wouldn’t be talking about it in public like this).

That said, I’d be very surprised, given the public reactions, if this didn’t represent an internal struggle within NRA. Especially given Ack-Mac’s statements that it’s a frivolous suit, without merit, etc, but that they also look forward to continuing to work with NRA. But continue to work with what faction?

This is a struggle that needs to happen. Bitter and I are not as anti-Ack-Mac as some folks. We think there’s merit to some of their work, and they do some things do well. But we also believe their relationship with NRA is unhealthy, and there probably is not be any fixing it. Sometimes you’re just better off pulling the tooth, rather than trying to save it. This is probably one of those cases.

They Aren’t Going to Believe It

NRA is up to 5.5 million members, according to NRA. The antis never believe the membership numbers, and neither will their allies in the media. What convinces them? Winning elections and flooding phone banks.

What NRA needs is more Democrats as members. As long as they think our numbers are baked into the GOP numbers, the Dems will remain anti-gun. We need some ability to pull numbers off Dem candidates that they won’t get back by going with Bloomberg.

A Must Read – On NRA Hate

NRA Board Member and Magpul EVP Duane Liptak is addressing the NRA hate that’s popular as of late. The growth in NRA hate does not surprise me. We’re on the defensive, and there’s a lot of people who don’t understand there’s such a thing as a no-win scenario. So when NRA does things like push ATF to reclassify bump stocks instead of rolling the dice with legislation, people who think there’s a pathway to victory on bump stocks get all bent out of shape. There isn’t. At least not at any price I’m willing to pay.

I’ll start out by saying I’m about as hard core libertarian on gun laws as it gets, as in mail order suppressed FA belt feds for everyone. Let’s also get out that pretty much everyone in the NRA building is pretty far along that line, as well. I was talking to Chris and crew about strategies to open the registry during the Bumpfire stock litigation while we talked about how to fight some of the things we know are coming. They’re on board, really.

That’s been my experience as well. But there’s what I ideally would like things to be, and there’s reality. And we have to live and work in reality. The reality is the hill to die on is saving semi-autos. I realize that, a lot of other people realize that, and NRA realizes that. Read the whole thing.

What’s Going on at NRA?

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.

Challenging Doctors Was a Smart Move

Whoever thought to do this at NRA deserves some credit for smart populism, getting people talking about the issue, and forcing their opponents to engage in a never-ending stream of elitism:

I think the controversy that has ensued sums up the debate nicely. I like things that work on many levels. As Glenn Reynolds notes: “The thing is, doctor’s ‘special insight’ into the gun issue is the not-exactly-genius-level observation that being shot is bad for you.

Places to Shoot

It is basically impossible to maintain a healthy shooting culture without having places to shoot. Even if we change the laws in places like New York City, because they’ve been so utterly successful at destroying their gun culture, Bloomberg likely won’t ever have to worry about icky gun people in his city. There’s almost nowhere to buy a gun, and almost no places left to shoot. This is a city that once contained NRA’s primary shooting facility! Can you imagine that today? Actually, you don’t have to. This is where NRA’s range in New York City was:

Think there’s any chance of getting that facility back as a shooting range? Not a chance. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be possible to make new places to shoot in the Five Boroughs, but it’ll take generations, and a court willing to take the Second Amendment seriously.

It’s far easier not to lose those places to shoot in the first place. Generally speaking, I’m not going to air my club’s dirty laundry in a public forum. But I’ve spoken about some things either seeking advice or pointing out things that might be useful for people in the same position. I see a few comments here and there like this:

“Sorry, but, your club sounds like a Fudd club.  Are black rifles banned too?  Only 1 shot every two seconds?”

Now, my club it’s actually not a Fudd Club. It’s Gun Culture 1.5, to use that analogy. No issues with black rifles there: but we do have some rules that are… outdated. I am not likely as far behind as some other people would be in participating in an effort to bring Gun Culture 2.0 to a Gun Culture 1.0 club. But anyone struggling to help in such an endeavor has my respect: we owe it to future generations of shooters to try to preserve places to shoot.

I will fully acknowledge that some clubs and ranges are hopeless, and will die with their current leadership. I’m not suggesting every effort will always pay off, just that the effort is worth our collective time even if our individual effort fails. I can almost guarantee you that if you were to join a “Fudd Club” of sufficient size, you’re going to find allies in any effort to un-Fudd it. If you suddenly find yourself trying to take a Gun Culture 1.0 club into Gun Culture 2.0, I offer some advice:

  • Don’t be an asshole. No one likes someone who comes in with a personal agenda and has all the grace of a bull in a china shop. Those people are quickly flagged as trouble, because most of the time they are, no matter what they are selling.
  • Try some of the old shooting sports. I shot Silhouette for several years. I even shot air gun silhouette. It greatly improved certain aspects of my shooting. It’s also a great way to get to know people, which is key to changing anything. You’ll find friends in unexpected places. As I’ve introduced some more modern shooting sports, I’m finding a lot of unexpected crossover from shotgunners.
  • Be willing to help out. I was willing to help out when asked, or even when I wasn’t asked. Before I knew it, I received the ultimate punishment a club can administer to a member: I was given an officer’s position.
  • Don’t expect or push to change things overnight. I have been an officer for almost a decade at this point, and I’m just now starting to have enough influence to change some things. A lot of what got me to the point was circumstantial. It’s good to have an instinct for when an organization is ready for change, and when you’ll get resistance. When you get to those “ready for change” moments, go for it.
  • Talk to people. In deliberative bodies, if you bring an issue up and lose, that will be dead for a while. No one likes rehashing old shit that got shot down. So if you’re going to bring up an issue, be sure you have the votes. Have an idea which people are strong and weak yeas or nays. Think about compromise positions. Think about what you can do to firm up your weak votes.
  • Build systems and culture, not cults of personality. If you don’t bring other people along with what you want to do, even if you succeed in making changes, they likely won’t outlast you. People who are successful at building a legacy build systems and cultures. Culture is important, and it’s deliberate. It doesn’t just happen. It’s like a garden. You have to tend it.

I’ve heard stories of clubs that change through outright revolution. I recall a story told to me a while ago about a club in Pennsylvania who had a cadre of members that wanted to put on a machine gun shoot. The leadership said no. Next election, they replaced the leadership. That club now has an annual machine gun shoot. If you have the votes and the people willing to step up to affect that kind of thing, it’s an option. I am a reasonably good administrator. I’m a poor revolutionary. I’ve always wondered how the people who used the outright revolution managed it. I have to work within the confines of my own strengths and weaknesses, which I guess is a good final bit of advice. I’m always curious to hear stories in the comments from anyone who’s got one.

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