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The Wages of Never Meeting a Camera You Wouldn’t Jump in Front Of

I have a pretty strict rule: I don’t talk to journalists. I’ve rarely made exceptions to that, but for the most part, that’s my rule. As a result, I’ve given up a lot of opportunities to self-promote and up my profile. If there’s anything I’ve learned in the gun issue, it’s that being an effective self-promoter pays. You can’t swing a cat in the gun rights issue without hitting a dozen self-promoters, at least half of whom will border on shameless.

Definitely in the category of “shameless” is Phil Van Cleave. I understand that as head of a state gun right’s group, Phil can’t take the same policy I do. He has to talk to the media to a great degree. But seriously, you should have walked out of the room long before this:

Since this came out, I don’t think Van Cleave has exactly covered himself in glory. His spin on this is pretty much that he went undercover as a highly trained secret agent, intent on exposing who was behind this charade, and where it was going.

“For better or for worse, I decided that I would play along with the scheme so I could find out who was behind this and where this was going,” Van Cleave said. “I figured if I was right about this being a set up, I could blow the whistle and get a warning out to the gun-rights community across the country to protect as many people as possible and maybe derail this attack.”

Come on, just admit you got snookered. Cohen has snookered a lot of people more prominent than Phil Van Cleave. Or maybe suggest that you were going along with the comedy; that you thought you were participating in an obvious self-deprecating comedy piece and didn’t think anyone would be crazy enough to take it seriously. You’d still be a sucker, but at least you’d still have some dignity left.

Does anyone other than rabidly deranged partisans think anyone, even Phil Van Cleave, endorse a “Puppy Pistol?” I like quality self-deprecating humor, but this isn’t it. My issue with Cohen’s comedy is that it’s just not funny. Borat was a menagerie of cultural condescension, and looking down on others. Punching down is never good comedy. I only wish there weren’t so many people in the gun rights movement that weren’t so desperate for attention as to easily become victims of a con artists like Cohen.

UPDATE: Maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on Phil Van Cleave. Watch Larry Pratt laugh about rape. A big part of appearing on television for interviews is to keep your shit in check and to not forget you’re on TV.

From Russia With Love

Some of you have probably seen the story of a Russian National connected to an influence operation involving the NRA being arrested on charges of spying. I’ve read the actual criminal complaint against her and it’s hard for me to see how she’s not guilty as hell of what she’s being charged with just based on the evidence found in the complaint. Sounds to me like she even had an assistant in the US (US Person 1) and was also being helped along by (US Person 2), who it seems is connected to the National Prayer Breakfast. Popehat, who has experience as a federal prosecutor, suspects the complaint’s timing was because they got wind Butina was getting ready to flee the country.

While I generally roll my eyes at “based on my training and experience,” the complaint has a number of interesting details.

Your challenge in your “special project” will be to balance two opposing imperatives: Your desire to communicate that you speak for Russian interests that will be ascendant (still around) in a post-Putin world while simultaneously doing nothing to criticize the President or speed the arrival of his successor.

There’s a few references to relations after Putin is gone in the complaint. I’m thinking Torshin’s odds of contracting an acute case of polonium poisoning just went up. From the sounds of the complaint, the woman who said “No government official has EVER approached me about ‘fostering ties’ with any Americans,” was basically taking orders, albeit via Torshin, from Putin himself.

Lessons from the Annals of Club Management

My parents were both heavily involved in civic culture. My mother was in three or four civic groups. My father was a volunteer firefighter pretty much my entire life, which for those not familiar with how those run in Pennsylvania, are effectively social clubs that fight fires. They are not unlike gun clubs, except they shoot water rather than lead. And their shoot houses are a bit…. hotter. As a kid I always got dragged to those meeting and hated it. But the end result is that kind of organization was never something foreign to me, so when I joined my local gun club, my first instinct was to start attending meetings. Then matches. One thing leads to another and then somehow I agree to serve as an officer. Thanks mom and dad. See what you did? It’s been a learning experience, though. For those of you involved with clubs, here are some things I’ve learned:

  • If your Board takes an action you know will be controversial, it will probably be twice as controversial as you think. Prepare for that. During a period of controversy, everything the Board does, even things that shouldn’t necessarily be controversial will become controversial.
  • I am not a rules person. I hate rules and procedure. One reason I stay at the job I have is we have a very unstructured workplace, and I like that. I work best in that. While Henry Martyn Robert can still kiss my ass, for now, having some basic ground rules for meetings is beneficial for making sure everyone gets a say and meetings don’t descend into chaos.
  • Having professional advice is important. Any shooting club should have an attorney they can consult with regularly. Seek professional advice on your ranges. NRA provides range consulting that is practically free. They are very up on current practices, and while they can’t set you up all the professionals you need, since they don’t make recommendations, they can tell you at least what kind of professionals you need. I’m a computer engineer. That’s my area of expertise. Running a firing range is not. Stay in your lane, and use professionals for what you’re not an expert on.
  • Don’t push too fast. Don’t become a slave to imagined timelines: “We have to get X done, and then Y. Because X and Y need to be done before Z starts.” Plan things out. Think about your timeline of events as a whole in the entire context of what you’re doing. Tasks that might not seem connected, you may suddenly find they will become connected.
  • Communicate. My role is secretary, which puts me in charge of most of the communications, even to communicate decisions I might not agree with personally. If I had to pick the one area to work on the most it’s that. There’s no workplace I’ve ever worked that had a really solid communication culture. Communication is much harder in deliberative organizations, where you have to get a group of people to agree on a plan.
  • Don’t bring problems to a deliberative body, bring solutions. It’s much easier to get a deliberative body to agree on solutions than it is to get a deliberative body to solve a problem. The latter is difficult. Even if the body can arrive at a solution, it will often be very suboptimal. I’ve had members get indignant when asked to submit a proposal for something they want to do. Seriously, if a board member at a club ever asks you this, there’s a reason: you don’t want a deliberative body trying to implement your idea. It doesn’t work well that way. Bring solutions, not problems.
  • Don’t assume your membership knows how the club operates. There’s a handful of members at any club that are always around. These are the people you will get to know and have the most communication with. These people generally know what the Board is doing, what’s going on at the club, and how the club generally works. It’s very easy to forget that most members are not all that engaged. This goes back to communication: you might have to explain how things work. I’m surprised that a number of people I’ve encountered that believe the Board at my club is a professional, paid Board. We have no paid employees. We’re all volunteers.
  • Speaking of volunteers, you can’t be too picky with volunteers. They aren’t your employees and you can’t and shouldn’t direct them like they were employees. This can be particularly tricky if a lot of your Board are used to running businesses. Volunteers are a different beast. You appreciate what they do, and tell them that, even if you’re not happy with the actual work. Volunteer driven organizations are very much “If you aren’t happy with how someone else is doing the work, do it yourself.”

There are definitely times, and a lot more recently, when I think the for-profit Guntry Club Model of providing shooting facilities is far better than the Social Club Model. But I think civil society is important, because it teaches people to cooperate, fosters stronger community, and is better, overall, for the health of the gun rights movement. The religious right is successful because they have the church as a locus of organization. Clubs are much like churches, in that regard.

NRA Sued Over Using “Cloud Gate”

Looks like sculptor Anish Kapoor is collaborating with Bloomberg’s Everytown to sue NRA for using footage featuring his Cloud Gate sculpture in Chicago in their video “Clenched Fist of Truth” Assuming NRA, or more accurately NRA’s PR firm, used their own or licensed material, I can’t imagine there’s any basis for this suit other than grabbing headlines. How can you copyright any picture of an object in a public place? This strikes me as a SLAPP suit. Regular readers of this blog know I’m not the world’s biggest fan of what I’ve dubbed Angry Dana videos, but it’s free speech.

While Illinois has an anti-SLAPP provision, the applicability of state anti-SLAPP provisions in federal courts varies by circuit. Federal anti-SLAPP provisions in the 7th circuit seem applicable, but only to get the suit dismissed. I’d note that Illinois doesn’t seem to have a SLAPPback provision.  Either way, I hope NRA pursues every avenue to recover the money spend defending against this suit.

Punching Back Twice as Hard

The NRA has filed suit against Cuomo and the head of New York’s Department of Financial Services, Maria Vullo. I was hoping NRA was working on this, because the lawsuit practically writes itself. The 33 page complaint can be found here. The suit is not just against Cuomo and Vullo in their official capacity, but also against them as individuals. This means Cuomo and Vullo will be personally on the hook for part of NRA’s losses, and NRA is claiming that it “… has suffered tens of millions of dollars in damages based on Defendants’ conduct …”

Defendants’ unlawful exhortations to New York insurance companies, banks, and financial institutions that they, among other things, “manag[e] their risks, including reputational risks, that may arise from their dealings with the NRA . . ., as well as continued assessment of compliance with their own codes of social responsibility[,]” as well as “review any relationships they have with the NRA[,]” and “take prompt actions to managing these risks and promote public health and safety[,]” constitute a concerted effort to deprive the NRA of its freedom of speech by threatening with government prosecution services critical to the survival of the NRA and its ability to disseminate its message. Defendants’ actions constitute an “implied threat[ ] to employ coercive state power” against entities doing business with the NRA, and they are reasonably interpreted as such.

There’s several things claimed in this complaint that are important. One is that even if DFS was correct in fining Lockton and Chubb, it was wholly inappropriate and beyond the scope of their lawful authority to demand that both companies cease doing business at all with NRA, even outside of New York, even for programs which are compliant with New York Law. When I first read that, my thought was “That’s pretty much slam dunk a First Amendment violation.”

Secondly, NRA argues that the fine was meant as retaliation for NRA’s exercise of its First Amendment rights, because other organizations similarly situated to NRA are apparently violating New York’s claimed regulation and have not faced prosecution. NRA claims Lockton and Chubb were singled out specifically for NRA’s views which Cuomo and Vullo find abhorrent.

Federal judges will still be federal judges, and gun rights and NRA are not popular among that set, especially in New York City. But this is a First Amendment case, and the precedent is much more clear that Cuomo and Vullo are violating NRA’s rights, and as a consequence, our rights as members. I do hope if and when this hits discovery, if other conspirators are found, they are added to the suit.

They wanted to make an example out of us. Now we can turn this around and make an example of them.

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 Pulls Another Heston

Ollie North is going to be President of the NRA after Pete Brownell decided not to serve his remaining year. The last time they used this maneuver, it was to put Charlton Heston in the Presidency.

“This is the most exciting news for our members since Charlton Heston became President of our Association,” said NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre.  “Oliver North is a legendary warrior for American freedom, a gifted communicator and skilled leader.  In these times, I can think of no one better suited to serve as our President.”

Exciting for whom? Does anyone under 40 even know who the hell Ollie North is or what he’s known for? Maybe that’s a good thing. Charlton Heston was a leading man in the Golden Age of Film. Even in my mid-2os when he was installed as NRA President, I knew who he was and had watched most of the movies he was in.

North is best known for illegally selling arms to the Iranians and funneling arms to the Contras. This  somehow resulted in him becoming a conservative darling, which, I’ll be honest, I don’t understand. The nuance of the whole thing is lost on me because I was 13 when all this went down, and I’m in my mid-40s now. So to me Ollie was this guy I watched testifying under oath while my father and grandfather argued about whether he should go to jail or was a hero. Again, let me reiterate, I’m in my mid-40s. I am no spring chicken. Ollie North has pretty much no cultural relevance for me. That’s not something I’d have said about Heston in my mid 20s.

This ain’t Heston’s second coming, guys. Sorry.

Banks Looking at Tracking Gun Purchases

The Wall Street Journal, which is unfortunately paywalled, has an article that talks about how Banks are looking into ways to track gun purchases, presumably to shut them down. The problem we face is that the financial industry is essentially run out of New York City, and therefore it will have the cultural inclination to shut down sales, and will also be vulnerable to political pressure.

As I’ve said before, the strategy here is to put us in a position where we have to deal with this new threat, and put us in a position where we have to burn political capital to stop it. This is similar to what we had to do with PLCAA. We probably have the juice, at least in a Republican Congress, to get financial regulations, but it’ll probably cost us National Reciprocity and SAFE, which is the whole idea.

Joe Huffman notes this is criminal. I’ve had my differences with Joe on this issue over the years, but I believe this is an instance where civil rights law can be used, especially if we can show the financial industry is under pressure from state actors. This actually is a conspiracy to deny civil rights to Americans that goes beyond advocating for public policy. It would be nice if Sessions could sort this kind of thing out for us, or absent that, there are civil remedies in the Civil Rights Acts as well.

It would be unprecedented to use Civil Rights suits against banks and the State of New York for the Second Amendment, and the 2nd Circuit is among the most hostile in the country, but I don’t see why we shouldn’t try. If we can get to discovery, that alone would be pretty interesting.

UPDATE: In terms of putting pressure back on New York, if the whole industry did what Hornady is doing, it would put a lot of pressure on the worthless politicians (like Cuomo) pushing this crap.

The Gift that Won’t Stop Giving

Ted Nugent, firm believer that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, is at it again.

I could go onto a rant about why the hell is this guy still getting nominated to the Board (I get he could run by petition and win, but why endorse it?). The only way we can expand our political power is to grow the tent. Some questions for people to discuss in the comments:

  1. Is Nugent helping keep the tent full, or is he driving more people away from it?
    Does the nonsense spewing from his maw actually accomplish something for us, and if so what?
  2. Does this kind of rhetoric bring in support from places we need it? Not all new NRA members are created equal. I’d rather have ten new NRA members where I live, in Northern Virginia, or in Columbus, Ohio than have 100 new NRA members in rural Oklahoma.
  3. The reason Nugent’s inane commentary gets amplified is because it gins up our opponents base and hardens their soft supporters. The other side has a bigger amplifier than we do. Does that mean we need to police our kooks harder than the other side needs to police theirs?

Maintaining a Big Grassrootsy Garden

Kevin responded to Sebastian’s recent post addressing NRA’s lack of focus on utilizing their grassroots strength with an argument that the first step in building up your grassroots is to get people to the range.

I don’t disagree with his post, but I think we’re talking two different stages of the game. Sebastian’s post focuses on engaging those who are already in the fight, largely with something to lose – gun owners or gun rights supporters who want to keep their rights. Kevin’s is on pulling more people into the game to begin with. Both parts are desperately needed, and current gun owners need to find their comfortable place doing something to advance the cause in at least some area of the issue – recruitment or something else.

I think it gets back to the analogy is that this whole issue – the legislative votes, the shooting sports, the legal arguments, etc. – are all part of a very, very big garden. You can’t get every weed everywhere, but by making the best use of material and gardening assistants, you can strategically target the biggest weedy threats and maintain a healthy landscape.

I’ll be honest, there could be another Dear NRA letter written about their lack of engagement over the last few years with some of the important resources that can help with Kevin’s concerns and the political efforts. I think it’s too easy for workers to fall into their division without looking at how the resources at their disposal can be utilized by another division to promote the cause across the board. It’s hard for someone outside of the organization to even imagine how different divisions can help them. There is much room for improvement in connecting the many resources of the larger gun rights organization to really help the ground level volunteers and sport shooters.

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