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Human Factors in NRA Troubles

Over at NRA in Danger, here and here. Go read. We always knew things were bad, but holy shit were they bad.

The board has a problem that is similar to LaPierre’s. It, too, is overwhelmed. It is a mass of 76 directors, almost none of which (other than a few retired military) have any experience in administering anything, let alone a $350 million corporation. Most are elected based on their skill at activism or in shooting. For most, it is the highest achievement of their life, their greatest boast, and so it is something to be protected at all cost. In its time, Ackerman McQueen pushed the idea that board membership was something like an award, rather than a responsibility. You receive the award, and show up for meetings where the leadership pats itself on the back and you give applause when the speaker pauses.

Yep. A lot of readers used to ask why I didn’t run for the board. What was the point? Those people individually had no power, and their collective power was only theoretical. No thank you. I have a reasonably good paying career and at the time felt I had more sway as a blogger than I would as an NRA board member.

There was also the sense that the culture of the Board would not agree with my nature. I am not impressed by celebrity or interested in hobnobbing with insiders. I did a lot of that as a blogger, but that’s how you understand an organization. I am not interested in it for its own sake. I don’t need the participation trophy, and I was not going to kiss anyone’s ring to get nominated. Though running by petition isn’t a difficult hill to climb, even now.

One thing I do feel bad about is that I got the Indianapolis meeting very wrong, because I didn’t really know what was going on, since by then I had already largely semi-retired from blogging. We haven’t been to an NRA Annual Meeting for some time, and weren’t talking to people who would know.

The World Needs Serious Journalism on Guns

To be perfectly honest, I might not have agreed with the political orientation or goals of The Trace. I definitely don’t like the person backing them financially. But they have done some good journalism, and for a while, there were almost certainly NRA insiders leaking to them. It was enough to make me lament we didn’t have anyone on our side doing what The Trace was doing.

Enter gun journalist and fellow Delco native Stephen Gutowski, who has founded “The Reload” which is intended to bring quality journalism to the gun issue. It’s a subscription, but these days if you want good journalism, you have to pay for it. The Google Algorithms promote garbage, and that’s what you get today with ad dependent rags. So I’m happy to pay the $70/yr to support his work. They also have a forum, and to be honest, gun people are short of places we can communicate with each other. So I’m hoping this is successful.

What Club Rules Do You Hate?

I feel like I’m at the point where I’m doing rule revisions for the club all the time. The new Board members have different ideas. This is good, because stagnation is usually a bad thing. I’m open to debating new ideas. I’ve said previously, keeping thieves away from money should be a top priority for any non-profit, and I think we’re pretty safe in that regards now. I wish NRA could say the same, but they can’t.

So in thinking about rules, it always helps to start with first principles. So what are they? This is what I’ve come up with:

  • Rules should be based on safety, not shooting preferences. A lot of club rules enforce the shooting preferences of the ruling cadre. This promotes stagnation, which is the point in many cases.
  • Short and simple to understand rules will be better adhered to than lengthy rules that read like tax code.
  • When someone does something wrong, and you can throw a list of charges at them, your rules are redundant, and probably overly long and complex.
  • Subjectivity can’t be avoided, but should be to the greatest extent possible. However bright line rules will tend to be complex. Simple rules will be open to interpretation. The important thing is everyone agree on a consistent set of interpretations, and that those are communicated.
  • Avoid rules that enable rules nazis. My club has a rule about targets needing to be placed six inches from the target frame, which is meant to prevent the target frame from being shot up. But there was once an RSO who carried a ruler, and I’m sure you can imagine what he did with it.
  • Rules should not disable the advanced shooter because some people are idiots. A useful exercise is to outline the rules, and then pick which of the “four rules” the club rule maps to. You’ll necessarily have some that are procedural, like what you must do if someone yells “cease fire.” But it’s useful to see how many rules either don’t map at all, or map so far downstream that it would just be better to state the actual safety principle directly.

The main thing to remember is that all this is supposed to be fun! Even with very well done rules, having rules nazis can ruin a good time. Much like thieves will be attracted to the temptation of money, rules nazis are attracted to the prospect of lording over people with rule minutia. So keep minutia to a minimum.

Good SCOTUS News

We’re going back to the Supreme Court. I agree with Cam’s take on this: “The Court’s acceptance of this case is going to lead to a meltdown by many on the Left. Expect court-packing rhetoric to grow red hot from the likes of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and other anti-gun Democrats who’ve been threatening the Court with ‘restructuring’ if it took a Second Amendment-related case for well over a year now.”

I believed the rhetoric about court packing was actually squarely aimed at the Second Amendment. Why do I say this is good news? I have heard from people who would know that there was a coalition on the Court that meant Scalia could avoid taking any case he could not win. I am betting that deal has managed to continue. I would not say it’s a slam dunk. This will be a nail biter.

There was a lot of talk about the denial of cert for the felon-in-possession cases last week. I didn’t really comment on them because I didn’t think that meant much. The truth is the lower courts haven’t handled that issue as poorly as they have with understanding the core right. So I wouldn’t really read much into it. To me FIP cases are miles down the road when the lower courts aren’t even getting the basics right, or in some cases outright reversing Heller and McDonald.

At This Rate …

… I’m never going to be able to replenish my .22LR supply at a reasonable price. I am honestly not much of an ammo stockpiler. For calibers I reload, I have enough supply to get me through an ammo shortage. But I was negligent on my .22 supply.

I was down to a half case of .22 when the pandemic started. I should have ordered a few cases then. Never again though. When supplies return to normal, I’m gobbling up a case every month or so until I have a deep enough supply to weather shortages.

BTW, in my experience almost no one believes this is a demand driven shortage. Conspiracy theories abound, as well as accusations of price gouging by the manufacturers. Doesn’t take much to clear shelves, folks, and manufacturers are going to be really reluctant to add capacity when they were in a slump recently because they overbuilt during the last ammo panic.

20!

Iowa makes 20. Why, it’s almost like those coattails Joe Biden totally didn’t have, but Trump apparently did, are starting to pay off. Shame the Supreme Court might still be unwilling to do their jobs.

And Then There Were 19

We’re getting close to half, as Tennessee becomes the 19th state to adopt constitutional carry. From Governor Bill Lee:

Law-abiding Tennesseans will soon be able to carry a handgun in our state without unnecessary permission from the government. Tennessee becomes the 19th state with constitutional carry and it is core to our public safety agenda this year. I firmly believe that penalizing law-abiding Tennesseans is not a solution for reducing crime—we must stiffen penalties on those who break the law. This legislation protects Tennesseans’ rights while significantly increasing penalties on those who steal or unlawfully possess a firearm. I thank the members of the General Assembly for their support and commitment to Second Amendment rights in Tennessee.

John Kerry’s AR-16

Sorry, for all of you out there laughing at John Kerry over his AR-16 comment, which you should because he’s proof that you can marry more money than you could ever hope to make, but money can’t buy you functioning brain cells.

But the AR-16 is a thing, and I would totally own one too if I could.

It’s a Tactic

A lot of people are pissed at Rob Pincus for this. Maybe they should be. But I’ve done posts here along these lines. The trick is that if your opponent has a popular premise they are using to push their agenda, you can accept that premise, but on terms that your opponent will never or can never accept. By doing so you expose their true intentions, and if they prove successful in the end, at least push them farther away from their original position.

That said, times today are different, and with the current polarization, I’m not really in any mood to play games. It’s looking to me like we have an opportunity to prevail without having to concede points to make things less bad. They didn’t quite get the conditions they needed to support their narrative with the past couple of incidents. But that might not hold. There are plenty of nuts out there.

It’s also a tactic that you don’t make concessions when you don’t have to. Only make concessions when it’s the choice between bad and worse. My issue with Pincus’s piece is he wrote it before it was apparent that kind of thing was going to be necessary. If the Dems don’t have the votes, they don’t have the votes. Let it be.

Club Economics

The economics of a non-profit gun club is different than the economics of a commercial range, and necessarily so. One big issue with the club life is a lack of recognition that there are economics for a gun club. A gun club is just as much a business as a commercial range, and they are subject to the same forces, both in terms of economics and regulation. But their purpose is different. Their missions are different.

Commercial ranges do not necessarily exist to make money as a range. They exist to get eyeballs in the store and walking past the counter, where most of the revenue is generated. This is not a concern for a gun club, typically. A gun club is really just a pool of people who pool their resources to keep and maintain a place to shoot. I would argue that any shooting facility has a responsibility to the shooting community as a whole. The economics of both commercial ranges and non-profit clubs exist within a shooting ecosystem that needs to be alive and healthy for those institutions to maintain themselves.

Clubs need to be very concerned about what kind of membership they are cultivating because they are very dependent or in some cases entirely dependent on volunteer labor. Every club needs a large pool of people who pay their dues, use the facilities a few times a year, and do little else. These are the people that keep the lights on, because they provide needed revenue without taxing the resources much. But clubs also need to be sure they are bringing in serious shooters, because these are the people who will care enough to volunteer, and that is the lifeblood of a gun club.

I hear a lot of people complain about wait lists to get in, sponsorship requirements, etc. I hear you, but this is in large part because the economics of a club do not allow them to charge the market clearing price for dues (clearing price is the price at which supply will equal demand). The higher you make the dues, the more member turnover you’ll have as the lesser users decide their three visits a year just aren’t worth the dues.

Member turnover for a club is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a curse because bringing in new members is a lot of work, and you’re putting all that on volunteers. If a club were a for-profit enterprise, you’d want to set the price at the clearing rate and hire people to handle the turnover. But the club is not a for-profit enterprise, and few clubs can afford staff. Turnover is a blessing because the initiation fees help the bottom line, and it brings in fresh members with fresh energy and perspectives.

But for those who complain about wait lists, my impression of clubs is that most of them are keeping turnover too low.

All clubs, generally speaking, are charging way less than market rates and filtering incoming members for quality in some fashion. There’s a rumor floating around at my club that we’re looking to become an “exclusive” club with few members and sky-high dues. The shooting economics of the area would never support that, and we do our best to quash rumors like that, but to a large degree every club is exclusive. Exclusivity is a necessary feature if you’re charging less than the market clearing price, which nearly every club is doing. Many clubs choose to do exclusivity by sponsorship: you gotta know somebody.

The more experience I get in management of a club, the less I think of sponsorship as a filter. On one hand, I get it: the volunteer pool is usually smaller than the amount of work that needs to be done, so a filter that spreads a task across the whole membership is appealing. But it’s the wrong filter. The prospectives are usually going to be like their sponsors. So if the sponsor is a marginally safe shooter, chances are he or she will miss those same safety issues with the prospective. My club does a qualification program, but it’s biased toward passing people. In other words, it’s not much of a barrier to unsafe shooters. Additionally, if you don’t have enough volunteers now, because you’re replacing casual shooters with more casual shooters, sponsorship ain’t changing that. So waiting lists abound.

Which brings me to another component of club economics: programs. Small clubs tend to be much more dependent on programs for revenue. I run a relatively large club of 1300 members. For us, programs revenue is drop in the bucket. Almost all of our income comes from dues and guest fees. This is probably the same for most every club close to our size.

Running healthy shooting programs is a must though, because much like the commercial range exists to draw in shooters past the gun counter, programs exist to draw serious shooters into the club. Matches and shooting events are a recruiting tool to help bring in people who make shooting a big part of their lives, and thus are more likely to get deeply involved with the volunteer and social life of a club. A club that isn’t running healthy programs is a dying club. One force I’ve had to battle in my own club is the desire to cloister the club off from the outside world, which would slowly kill it. Adam Smith said there was a lot of ruin in a nation, and the same is true for gun clubs, believe me.

A place to shoot is pure gold to our shooting community. Without places to shoot, everything we do is for naught. So they have to be saved, as best we can. I know there are fuddy duddy clubs out there whose current caretakers are determined to let die with them. We can’t save them all. But it’s worth it to spend the time and energy to save what we can, and I hope that by sharing some of what I’ve learned with the larger community, I can help with that in some small way.

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