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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.

Dear NRA

It’s time to sit down and have a little talk. There’s a few things that are becoming apparent as I’ve watched the reaction to Parkland. One is that Bloomberg’s game has been much better organized and more focused than it was after Sandy Hook. My impression then was that the gun control movement was poorly prepared and organized. Bloomberg was still mucking about with Illegal Mayors, and the Brady organization was flat broke and not really ready. The White House hadn’t yet spent much time on gun control, and Sandy Hook was the pretext that got them started. That has not been the case this time. They’ve learned a lot, they were much better prepared, and they executed on their strategy very effectively.

NRA used to be an organization that was good at grass roots organizing. I have participated in some of those efforts as a volunteer coordinator over several campaigns. I stopped in frustration, because we could never recruit any volunteers to coordinate. It was always just Bitter and me. Back then, I thought they were my deficiencies; maybe I didn’t have the touch. There were some volunteer coordinators who are pretty successful. But since then, I’ve learned I can be an effective organizer of volunteers. The chief problem was that I didn’t have enough local connections to be effective. The other thing I learned is that people did not recognize NRA as an organization that they are or should be directly involved with. We might like to say “I’m the NRA,” but I’m not sure that’s really ringing true for a lot of people these days. NRA is an organization that sends them a magazine and asks them for money. A lot of members might agree that NRA is important, and that why they maintain their memberships, but they are more in the role of passive consumers of what NRA is offering.

That has to change. We must turn them into active participants. NRA will not accomplish that by continuing to encourage members to passively consume more Ack-Mac-generated Angry Dana videos. I worry that in another few years of planning and learning from prior mistakes, when Bloomberg et al get their next pretext, the dam is going to break. It may have broken already; this is all still playing out. We can lament that Bloomberg has been more effective this time because he’s hiring professional organizers who know how to work with a small number of dedicated activists, or we can beat him at this game by upping our game.

This past weekend, I organized a mailing of more than 200 letters to local lawmakers from members of my club. We came up with templates people could start with. We were ready to look up lawmakers for members, and had a bunch of envelopes, pre-printed address labels, and stamps. I offered work time (which applies against dues) to members who participated. The response was pretty good. We are an NRA Gold Star club. How many other clubs out there would like to do something, but don’t quite know what to do? How many other clubs or shooting outfits view NRA as some far off organization they don’t really know or interact with?

Grassroots activism is hard. It’s a lot harder than paying Ack-Mac to make another series of angry videos. But effective organizing takes more than feeding people’s anger. You have to effectively turn that anger into something useful and positive. For that, there is no substitute for face-to-face local contact. NRA doesn’t seem to do a whole hell of a lot of that outside the Friends of NRA program.

I would strongly encourage NRA to focus on a few areas:

  1. More outreach to NRA affiliated organizations, specifically for the purpose of training people how to be effective. But less specifically to get face time with members. Doesn’t have to be top people. Could be Board members. Could be local volunteers.
  2. A lot of clubs and shooting organizations need help with technology. NRA could be a lot of help with this. Technology facilitates communication. I could never have organized the letter writing campaign with the technology we had even two years ago. I was only able to do that because I put a framework in place to facilitate it. It was a lot of work, but paid off. What I’m lacking is the ability to communicate with other area clubs. I’m slowly building that, but that’s a harder problem. Again, NRA could do a lot to be a facilitator to get local organizations talking to each other. Sometimes being an outside organization can be an advantage, and this is one of those times.
  3. People need to have politics explained to them. Most people don’t understand the political process. They need to see and understand how their action fits in. I was recently reminded of a passage from a leftist organizer: “Power tends to appear magical to those who have less of it, and mechanical to those who are accustomed to wielding it instrumentally.” The article continues: “It’s not magical kids, and it’s not George Soros sprinkling money around. It’s hard work by people who’ve trained to do it.” When the balloon goes up, our people have to know what to expect, and be able to spring into action. We’re very good at self-organizing, but some people will need it spelled out a bit more than others. You don’t want to lose because you’re only depending on self-starters. In my experience, self-starters are rare, and they are getting rarer in the younger generations.

We have a lot more people at our disposal, and unlike their people, ours have a lot to lose. They will have to pay people to organize their small cadre. We should require far fewer paid professionals. But the work nevertheless has to be done, and it’s something that can’t be accomplished with a membership accustomed to passively consuming content. NRA needs to spend more time getting out there among the people, and most importantly educating them, and offering the tools they need to be successful.

It’s Going to Take More Than Just Taking Kids Shooting

Kevin has a good article that I think is spot on:

I’ve been arguing gun rights online for almost 20 years now, long before there was such a thing as a gunblog, and in that time, I’ve managed to convince absolutely no one that disarming the law-abiding will somehow affect criminal behavior.

However, I’ve also seen friends who were anti-gun get into guns because of their experience at a range: Shooting guns is fun, and once we get people to try it, we usually win.

I think what we’ve been seeing this past year are the consequences of the destruction of civil society. Recently, a friend posted a picture on social media of a tween sleepover where every single kid had their nose buried in their smartphones. I can remember when I was a kid having friends sleep over, and we’d spend serious effort trying to side tune the Playboy channel. You remember doing that? Adjust the tuning just right and “Hey, is that a tit? Yeah. I think that’s a tit! Turn it the other way.” I don’t know, maybe kids these days will have fond memories of gathering together to stare into smartphones, and interact on whatever social media app the kids are using these days. But today’s kids have almost no opportunity for unstructured and unsupervised play that most of us grew up with.

Snow day from school? Yeah, I was out, and didn’t come back until dark. No parents. Mom would say, “Stay off the lake. You’ll fall through and drown. And don’t stay out so long your limbs freeze off.” Of course some of the best sledding was the slope heading onto the lake, and you could catch decent air off the bank. Most of the lake was a few feet deep. I fell through the ice plenty of times only to find myself up to my knees. I wasn’t dumb enough to go on the part of the lake that was deep enough you could go completely through. We (and when I saw we, I’m talking Xers born in the 1970s) are probably the last generation to have been raised the old way. We are now beginning to reap the whirlwind of a decades long experiment in raising children that is an abject failure. If you read nothing else this week, read this:

There’s a Way to Stop Mass Shootings, and You Won’t Like It.

That’s right. You’re not going to like it because it’s going to require you to do something personally, as opposed to shouting for the government, or anyone to “do something!”

You ready? Here it is:

“Notice those around you who seem isolated, and engage them.”

Read the whole thing. My parents were both heavily involved in civil society. My dad became a volunteer firefighter in the early 1970s. Even though he’s now pushing 70, he’s still doing it, and probably will keep doing that in some form until he drops dead. As he’ll tell you, his days of running into burning buildings are over, but he can still drive a truck and direct traffic as fire police. My mother was involved in probably half a dozen groups. I was dragged to meetings as a kid when their schedules overlapped. If I had had a smartphone at the time, I almost certainly would have buried my nose in it. But we didn’t have smart phones then, so I had to watch, and whether I realized it or not at the time, I had to learn.

Take this passage from De Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America”:

The political associations that exist in the United States are only a single feature in the midst of the immense assemblage of associations in that country. Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions constantly form associations. They have not only commercial and manufacturing companies, in which all take part, but associations of a thousand other kinds, religious, moral, serious, futile, general or restricted, enormous or diminutive. The Americans make associations to give entertainments, to found seminaries, to build inns, to construct churches, to diffuse books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; in this manner they found hospitals, prisons, and schools. If it is proposed to inculcate some truth or to foster some feeling by the encouragement of a great example, they form a society. Wherever at the head of some new undertaking you see the government in France, or a man of rank in England, in the United States you will be sure to find an association.

We are not passing this onto our children, and it’s going to be an absolute disaster for our Republic. Because civic life is the antidote to both isolation and totalitarianism. It exists in the community and outside the government. Civic life was not something that was foreign to me when I encountered it as an adult. I understood a thing or two about it from my parents, who may have not explicitly taught this to me, but did through example. When I came into the gun issue, which is largely organized as civic organizations, it was something familiar. When I look around my club I see a lot of old guys. I do not see young people, even though I know they are out there. We can’t be satisfied to simply pass a love of shooting along to the future generation. We also must bequeath to them the civic institutions that go along with it. It is those institutions that have protected us for so long. It’s not the NRA: the NRA is ultimately a part and a product of those institutions. If the NRA did not exist, we would have to invent it. So take your kids to the range. But also take them to meetings, like my parents did. Teach them how all this works, and make sure when they are adults, they are ready and able to inherit what has protected and promoted this issue for so long.

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