USA – -(AmmoLand.com)- Jeff Knox and I had a chance to spend some time together at the 2019 Shot Show. It was a frank and honest conversation about our views of the NRA, the battle for our RKBA and its future.
I believe Jeff loves the NRA; he grew up there. At his father’s heels, he was part of most of the significant changes in the ’80s that formed the modern NRA.
Also, I think he is too close to the NRA and his families involvement to be objective. He watched as his father fell from favor and was later blacklisted by the NRA. Did the NRA do him wrong? Probably, but boards and administrations have politics, and sometimes people get hurt. You cannot undo the past.
Jeff, Thank you for the time this morning. I’d like to ask you a few questions and end with .. solutions to the issues we see regarding the NRA.
Most of us have the impression our voices fall on deaf ears at the NRA. I know only 7% of applicable people vote. What can the NRA do to solve this problem, and listen to their members?
NRA members get that impression because it's true. Rather than trying to facilitate communication between NRA Members and Directors or staff, the NRA actively works to insulate Directors from the Members, and the staff functions as a massive bureaucracy that is difficult to navigate. It is challenging to find a reliable way to communicate with Directors, and virtually impossible to find out who chairs or serves on what committee.
That needs to change.
About ten years ago, I proposed on the floor of the Annual Meeting, that the NRA create an online directory of NRA Directors, including their committee assignments, and a messaging system, in a “Members Only” area of the main NRA website. I also proposed that a “Members Only” forum be created to facilitate communication and act as an idea incubator. The leadership scoffed at the idea, offering up a raft of excuses as to why it was unfeasible to do this. Primary among them was the excuse that Directors, as volunteers, are already overloaded with NRA-related business, and making it easier for “the public” to communicate with them would be too much of a burden.
A Director stood up and made a motion that my suggestion be tabled or referred to some committee of the Board, never to be seen again.
Technology has advanced since then, and today it would be even easier to establish a two-way communication platform/forum between the Members and the Board. Additionally, during election season, each candidate could have a forum [in addition to AmmoLand News] area where they could expand on the brief bio that is published in the magazines, and respond directly to Member questions. This area could be limited to
Voting Members Only, as could any other area needing more limited access.
The forums could be moderated to remove abusive or otherwise inappropriate posts, and Candidates and Directors would be free to choose how much time and energy they would personally invest in responding to questions, etc.
Members should understand that, just like lobbying Congress or their State Legislature, representatives don't have time to read and respond to every question or comment personally, and just like most forums on the internet, rude, abusive, or threatening comments would be deleted, and those making such comments might have their access limited or denied.
Creating a system like this would require minimal investment in technology and staff to make it work, and would go a long way toward giving the Membership a voice that has been sorely missing.
Does there need to be an 11th commandment for 2A organizations not to bash each other? It’s one thing to discuss policy difference, another to follow the GOA path or tearing down other 2A groups for your benefit.
The 11th Commandment hasn't worked out so well for Republicans, and it wouldn't work for rights groups. I disagree that GOA “tears down” other 2A groups. They are often highly critical, and I think this criticism can get over-heated at times and is often exaggerated in the “comments section,” but rights activists are not known for our inclination to go along to get along, or unity for its own sake. I believe that steel sharpens steel and that constructive criticism and challenging of others' strategies and tactics is essential. There has been some time when NRA in particular, has looked like they were heading down a specific path, but vocal alarm about that path from GOA and others has forced NRA to make some course corrections for the better.
We know that mass murders and other crimes are often stopped by an armed defender, but there is no way of knowing how bad the result would have been had that armed defender not been present. It's all speculation. That's the situation with rights activism as well. If we see a group heading down a path that we feel is detrimental to the cause, we have an obligation to stand up and challenge that strategy. We can only speculate on how things might have turned out without those challenges, but a robust debate (thank you AmmoLand News) with input from multiple perspectives is almost always superior to autocratic, top-down decision-making from a select few.
I think there is never an excuse for vitriol or personal attacks questioning individual motives, and I think “the market” makes corrections when groups or individuals cross the line. While there are always some people who will stick with their favorite organization no matter what the organization or its leaders say or do, the majority will eventually see through the rhetoric and vote with their checkbooks on whether criticism and arguments are worthwhile and productive or just a nasty fundraising tactic.
We should not compete with each other but work cooperatively toward common goals. That doesn't mean that we have to always agree on strategy and tactics, but we need to confine our criticism of one another to those strategies and tactics, avoiding harmful and hurtful approaches.
As the big dog on the block, the NRA doesn't have to take their disagreements public. They have the ear of politicians, industry, and big donors, and can undermine their “competition” with just a few select words to the right people. Unfortunately, they do this a lot, quietly criticizing and dismissing the ideas and activities of smaller groups – not because they disagree with the objectives or approaches of those groups, but because they see them as competition for dollars and political influence. That's a severe problem. The smaller groups don't have the same sort of insider influence; therefore they more often have to take their disagreements with NRA public, to bring the power of public opinion and individual donors onto their side.
As with most problems in the world, it all boils down to communication. If groups are communicating well, they can cooperate and get much more done than if they shut each other out and look at each other as competition.
Are we losing or winning the 2A battle?
We are losing in some ways, while we're winning and advancing in others. The greatest danger we face is the loss of focus on core principles. It's challenging to stick to principles in the face of some horrendous tragedy and overwhelming political and media opposition, but that's when those principles are most important. While it can be acceptable to cede some ground to avoid losing even more, it is critically important that we don't surrender our core principles as part of a political concession.
There are logical progressions to principles, and we can't throw away any part of that logic train for the sake of political expediency. This falls right in with your next question, so I'll roll it in here to answer both.
I think the NRA does a delicate balancing act of Negotiation, Staunch 2A preservation, and litigation. All that said their actions are at times a mystery. I know 2A preservation is like 3D Chess, and I don’t want to repeat the 1st question. So how doe the NRA better explain its actions and how does it do so without letting the gun grabbers in on to their plans?
There are always two factors in play in rights advocacy: Legislative, and Electoral.
To win legislative battles, we need elected politicians who agree with our positions. It is indeed a balancing act. If we push too hard with legislation, we run the risk of alienating these politicians or alienating their political constituents. If we don't push hard enough, we run the risk of alienating our constituents and hurting the politicians' chances of being reelected.
The significant challenges we face at this moment in history can be broadly divided between federal and state battles. At the federal level, there is not much in the way of intrinsic threat. The Democrat majority in the House has promised to pursue a radical, gun control agenda, and has already started filing oppressive legislation. The Republican majority in the Senate and the Republican President should ensure that those bills are not going to pass into law, but we must maintain pressure to make sure that our “friends” in Washington understand that we will not tolerate any waffling or infringement.
NRA's ill-conceived statement on bump-stocks and their mushy position on Extreme Risk Protection Orders has created a difficult situation in Washington and the states because they failed to stick by our core principles. President Trump jumped on the bump-stock issue, resulting in a terrible regulatory reinterpretation from the BATFE. ERPO legislation will undoubtedly come up in Congress soon, and NRA has already signaled support for the concept, with only debate over some of the implementation details. There is a chance that the NRA position will result in passage of an ERPO bill, and that the President will sign it. But even if it is carefully crafted to ensure due process, and punish abusers – as NRA has declared it must to gain their support – it will still violate the core principles of the Second Amendment philosophy and will be seen as a betrayal and capitulation by a large segment of GunVoters. Even if the legislation fails, NRA's stated support is very likely to lead to politicians voting for it, and GunVoters abandoning those politicians. That weakens the overall position of the rights movement and is expected to result in more losses in the next election.
The NRA official position helped them, and some politicians, appear more “reasonable” in the wake of a serious tragedy and the immediate response to that tragedy, but it has set the stage for a very difficult congressional election year in 2020.
The more obvious and immediate threats are coming from state legislatures though.
Bloomberg and the Giffords gang – with the help of several other anti-rights billionaires – are pouring tens of millions of dollars into the states to elect anti-rights politicians and pass all sorts of draconian legislation. That money will be a significant factor in gubernatorial and legislative elections going forward, so we have a double-whammy in play. There is an immediate threat to rights from the proposed legislation, and Governors and legislators think they can maintain the support of GunVoters by following the basic guidelines set forth by the NRA. This means that in states where we have historically been in the minority, we are facing competition of sorts, where the anti-rights legislators are competing to make their state the most restrictive in the nation. In states where we have historically been able to defeat anti-rights legislation narrowly, we are likely to suffer significant losses over the next two years. And in states where we have traditionally had a relatively strong majority in the legislature, we're going to see waffling and concessions that will hurt our cause in the 2020 elections.
Failing to keep the core principles of the right to arms in the forefront of everything that they say and do, has laid the groundwork for serious problems going forward.
Yes, there are times when 3D Chess is needed, but the moves in that game must be very carefully planned, and they must never deviate from core principles. Any deviation from core principles opens up weaknesses that can be exploited by our enemies going forward. Rather than 3D Chess, a more appropriate analogy would be that game with the blocks all stacked up in a tower, and you have to remove blocks one-by-one without knocking down the tower. Whenever NRA, or anyone else, surrenders on a core principle – even if it's only some minor issue with only minimal apparent damage – a block is removed from the bottom of the tower, and the integrity of the whole structure is jeopardized.
As I stated above, the key to this, like so many other problems we face, is communication. If the NRA leadership makes a statement or claims a position that other leaders and commentators in the rights community see as problematic or ill-conceived, they are going to be called out on it – unless they have made an effort to share their plans in advance, and gained the support and agreement of those folks. Building allies. This approach also offers the opportunity to get other perspectives that they might otherwise miss, thus avoiding mistakes. But I have rarely seen any clever maneuvering of the sort you describe, and I've been observing and participating in this fight for over 40 years. Instead, what I commonly see are people taking actions based on immediate perceptions, and then trying hard to justify those decisions and mitigate the damage caused.
It's not reasonable to expect NRA to run every move or statement they make, past a phalanx of their critics in advance of making them, and that's not what I'm suggesting. As long as they are operating within the explicit framework of their foundational principles, there's no need to vet a strategy past anyone. But when they come up with a “clever plan” that might appear to conflict with our traditional values and core principles, it should be run by the Legislative Policy Committee first. From there, if they are sure they want to proceed down that road, they should reach out to allies in the rights community to let us know what they're doing and why, so we can comment on those actions with a better understanding of what's intended. As things stand, even senior Board members are rarely consulted before significant steps are taken.
What’s your favorite pistol, and when was the last time you got to go shooting?
I'm a die-hard 1911 guy. My favorite is the Colt Combat Commander that I purchased while I was in college and then had customized by gunsmith Steve Woods [now retired]. I've carried that gun routinely for over 35 years as my primary EDC sidearm. I also have a Kahr Arms CW380 that has become my primary backup and “no excuses” gun for times when a full-size .45 just isn't practical. I'm not averse to the various “wonder-9s” out there though and am currently exploring the idea of shifting to a lighter, softer-shooting gun for EDC.
I don't get to shoot nearly as much as I'd like. My brother and I got out right after Christmas to test out our Christmas presents. I serve on the Safety Team for my church, and we try to get together pretty regularly. We're also trying to get some regular pistol matches going at our local range to help make frequent practice more fun.
I'm frequently accused of “NRA bashing,” but people who say that are being selective in their reading of my articles. I am a staunch supporter of the NRA and its mission. At the height of the controversy when my father was bumped from his position of First Vice President, I was still very active with my local Friends of NRA Committee, MC'ing our banquets and helping to raise thousands of dollars for the NRA Foundation.
I always encourage every gun owner and lover of liberty to join and be voting members of NRA and see no viable alternative to the organization. They are the most potent weapon we have in the fight for rights, and I want them to be as strong and effective as possible. My criticisms of the organization are focused on specific missteps and mistakes – in policy, money management, personnel issues, and internal operations. Since they are so powerful, they have the potential to do great harm if they aren't very careful about how they do things, and I try to do my part to keep them on the straight and narrow path.
Just as I encourage people to lobby Congress and the President, even when they are “friendly” Republicans, I encourage NRA members to lobby their elected representatives on the NRA Board of Directors. As well as their hired staff at NRA HQ/GO, to push them in the right direction, and let them know how the people they work for feel about the issues of the day.
The NRA leadership should welcome and invite this interaction, not make excuses and try to shut down the messenger.
Thank you, Jeff, I think if you want the right to criticize the NRA you must also offer a solution. So here is mine.
- (1) There should be a formal financial audit of the NRA, and it should be released to all voting members three months before the election of board members.
- (2) The NRA should be more open about explaining their position of issues like red-flag and background check. Tell us why they are a danger to gun owner’s rights. When we don’t know, we assume the NRA is doing nothing, and I know AmmoLand News will gladly help in that effort.
- (3) Just my impression but the NRA needs some financial management; someone trusted to keep an even financial keel.
- (4) Management has been in power for a long time, what is their secession process?
As always reader comments are welcome. I have great confidence that this article WILL end up on the desks of NRA management.
About Don McDougall
Don McDougall is an NRA instructor and member of the Los Padres “Friends of the NRA” committee. If he’s not at the range, you will find him setting the record straight with on gun issues and gun safety on AmmoLand Shooting Sports News.