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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.

At Least We’re Not The Only Ones

Maybe the issue is just that not enough people give a shit about guns, if both sides are resorting to dabbling in other issues:

Gun control advocates shift attention, money to other issues ahead of midterms

I think NJT is right: there’s a viable “gun rights only please” coalition. There actually isn’t one for gun control. But both sides are seeking safety in broader coalitions. It’s hard to read the pitching seas and know what direction to steer the ship. It’s comforting to follow. But are you following everyone to disaster?

The fundamental problem is in a realignment like we’re going through, no one knows where your pet issue will end up. There’s strong temptations to seek out coalition partners that might make sense in the short term, but in the long term aren’t beneficial. You just want to get through the storm.

The Campaign to Make Us Pariahs Continues

Opinion published in Sunday’s USA Today says the Boy Scouts should ditch NRA and create their own firearms training program. This is just one guy’s opinion, so I’m not sweating it. But it shows the concerted effort to place us outside the mainstream, likely coordinated by Bloomberg, is continuing.

The NRA needs the BSA more than the BSA needs the NRA. The BSA is perfectly capable of creating a firearms safety program of its own without the NRA participation.

You want to test that nice theory? If you ask me, this is a bigger threat to the Boy Scouts, because I believe we have the cultural power in the circles BSA depends on to end it as a national organization of any consequence. This would not be a wise fight for the BSA to pick.

Ollie North Has Graduated from Angry Dana School With Flying Colors

New video from NRA defending Kavanaugh:

The commenters at Instapundit love it, which should show you I don’t really know crap about populist propigandizin’. But I’ll still throw in my $0.02.

At least it’s related to the gun issue, since getting Kavanaugh on the court will make or break the 2nd Amendment. This is the most important battle we’re going to have with our opposition. It might not be the most intense (I expect that will be the fight to replace Ginsburg or Breyer) but this will give us a much stronger 5th vote on gun cases. I don’t want to roll the dice with another pick of Trump’s. I’ve been saying to Bitter all week: “Can we hold a vote now? Why do they keep falling for these delaying tactics. Just hold the damned vote.” Also, this should be the last confirmation hearing ever. They are three ring circuses. This is one area I’m OK agreeing to now, because I don’t really feel like I’d be giving anything up not holding them for Dem nominees either. It’ll be better for everyone.

Anyway, my issue with this latest ad is that you could replace Ollie with Dana and the writing and delivery still work. I’ve heard Ollie North speak off the cuff. I know he’s capable of humor. I’d go even farther and suggest he’s actually a good and engaging speaker. It’s like NRA’s PR firm has two or three chords they know how to play, and somehow they’ve made a band out of it. Can they message around an individual’s strengths, weaknesses and quirkiness? If they could pull that off, it’ll humanize the person delivering the lines. It’ll make the message stronger.

Maybe the issue is you hear the songs for the first time and you like them. It’s only when you listen to the whole album you realize the band only knows three chords. But maybe that’s enough?

Good Article on Dana Loesch

From “St. Louis”: “The making of NRA’s Dana Loesch” I would encourage everyone to read it, and maybe read it again. NRA should be very concerned about polling numbers. While I believe there’s an argument to be made that polling increasingly doesn’t work, that’s another post. It concerns me that you can trace movement in public opinion back to the point where Bloomberg really got his act together and started dumping serious money into gun control.You can see the expected spike post-Sandy Hook, but then around 2015 it really starts headed in a direction we don’t want. That also happens to coincide with NRA adopting what I’ve called the Angry Dana Strategy. Anger is only going to get you so far. People eventually tire of anger. I know I’m tired of seeing shit like this.

Look, I get it was a joke that was taken out of context. But what the fuck does diversity or the lack thereof on Tommy the Tank have to do with the Second Amendment, shooting, or gun rights? I’m finding I’m having to ask this question way too often these days. Who thought it was a good idea to do this? What are you smoking? This isn’t just poor judgement on Dana Loesch’s part, it took a team effort to fail this hard. Mockery is a lot more powerful than anger, and I’d cheer NRA shifting away from anger to mockery, but it has to work. You need people who can pull it off. It’s hard to do well. It takes sharp writers and a host that can deliver it.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe any of this is going to change as long as membership holds stable or goes up. Eventually the Angry Dana Strategy won’t hold back the tide of public opinion if Bloomberg can keep it going in his direction, and we’re all going to pay the price for that when the dam eventually breaks. NRA needs to get back to basics and start making grassroots organizing the heart of its strategy. The tools to accomplish that are a lot more powerful today than they were in the 1980s.

We are in the middle of a grand political realignment, and the S.S. Second Amendment is going to get tossed around by the storm along with everything else. When we find a new political equilibrium, I don’t know where the Second Amendment and a host of other cultural issues will be, and neither does anyone else. If Ack-Mac thinks they know, they are kidding themselves. Is NRA being lashed together with sinking ships? I don’t know.

Ack-Mac won’t get NRA through this. What can get them through it is their core membership, sometimes members, and aspirant members. But you have to do something with them. Feeding them a firehose of media isn’t organizing them.

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.

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