Build Alliances: Find and partner with anyone who shares your concerns. Emphasize linking with other survivors and families of victims. Along with the 3000 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, it is estimated that since the Columbine school shooting in 1999, around 150,000 people have been directly involved in a shooting episode in their school. Many of those people are now voters; many are parents; some are nearing middle age and positions of leadership. Tell their stories. Keep the conversations personal; those are the most effective. And remember … not all NRA members support the extreme views of their leadership. There are many responsible hunters and recreational sportspersons, both NRA members and not, who support keeping inappropriate firearms out of the hands of the unqualified. Find them; connect with them; listen to them; find some common ground.
Raise a War Chest: If the NRA is going to spend $50M, then $100M in counter-fundraising is needed because they have a head start. The rich who say they side with this cause need to pool their money in one place – not spread it around – to become an even bigger Goliath. More Mike Bloombergs need to pony up, and those people are out there. The goal is to take away a politician’s financial incentive to be funded by the gun manufacturers / NRA, versus being funded by “the good guys.” Politicians’ loyalties run shallow, so a better offer can and needs to be made.
Non-billionaires can contribute what they can, and/or organize fundraisings, to support the existing organizations doing the best they can with woefully under-matched funds (e.g. Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence; Americans for Responsible Solutions [Gabby Giffords]).
Open Disclosure: PAC contributors like hiding in secret. Push for state-level legislation requiring PACs to disclose the principal donors paying for their advertising. This will never pass Congress, so follow California’s lead for new model legislation to shine the spotlight on these backers.
Fight From Within: The NRA claims “5M” members. If you are already a responsible gun owner and not a member, then consider joining them. Yes, this may sound counter-intuitive. But the NRA claims to represent “gun owners,” but in fact they represent only some gun owners. Join the organization, and then work to change it from the inside. Open the books, change the extreme leadership, engage conversations with other members to search for the middle ground. The downside is new short-term membership money for the NRA. The potential upside is long-term control and redirection of the organization away from its entrenched leadership. Be that insurgent “fly on the wall.”
Boycotts: History has shown that boycotts and public pressure campaigns towards business corporations on social issues can sometimes be successful. Dick’s Sporting Goods just announced a unilateral decision to stop selling assault rifles, and you can boycott those stores that include guns as part of their floor space. Also mount campaigns towards major corporations to disconnect any relationship they may have with the NRA, as the First Bank of Omaha (America’s biggest privately-held bank) and Enterprise Holdings Inc. (Enterprise, Alamo, and National car rentals) recently announced. Letters to big corporations can sometimes still be effective.
Marches: By all means, march. Public demonstrations make a difference by showing raw numbers. It keeps an issue visible and alive. Expect a lot of lip service in response, because no politician or business likes the optics of arguing with grieving parents and siblings and friends. Back in the office and the boardrooms, nothing will likely change. March anyway.
Disarm the Rhetoric: Expect the tired old “war horse” arguments (mentioned previously) to be rolled out at every opportunity. They are all refutable, for reasons that will be described in a subsequent essay. Just know that when you hear them, it tells you who the speaker truly is, and that s/he is not really in the conversation versus speaking someone else’s “talking points.” Nevertheless, have your responses refuting these excuses at the ready. Stop talking in the negative about “gun control,” etc. Replace these with positive messages (e.g. “stop the killing”; “gun safety”; “common sense gun ownership”).
Legislative Priorities: Pick THREE, and only three, very specific priorities for action. In every communication with a legislator or candidate, ask them: a) whether they support each of them, and if not, what instead; b) what they are actually doing – concrete actions – to effect these priorities. Ignore the fuzzy non-answers and “we’re studying this” response. They are simply trying to distract us and get themselves off the hook in the moment, and do not deserve our support. Keep these priorities very simple (e.g. minimum age limit to purchase; eliminate bump stock accessory; background checks for ALL gun sales from ANY source). Too many priorities, and/or too difficult issues, will simply make it easy to bog the process down, ignore the proposals, and continue to do nothing. If a politician cannot clearly and publicly sign on to three simple and specific priorities without qualification, s/he will never do anything of real substance.
Contact Your Legislator: President Trump, should he try, will find out very quickly what President Obama learned: very little about gun regulation can be done by the Executive Branch alone. This is due to numerous laws preventing them from acting passed by prior Congresses that essentially neutered federal agencies from effective oversight. So efforts need to be focused on Congress and state legislators. That is where the NRA and NSSF are focused.
Write your Congressperson (snail mail is often more effective than email); visit their offices; make phone calls; sign online or paper petitions. They may choose to not open their mail, or shut down their email account or voicemail. But keep trying. Their strategy will be to wait you out until you give up. Which of you will have the greater patience and perseverance?
Voting: Many battles will be lost. But this time some may actually be won. In the end, it will come down to employing the strongest of all tools in the kit: voting for candidates who truly support our interests. That means getting involved in the boring, tedious work of politics and campaigns. If eligible to vote, then do so in each upcoming election (primary and general). If not, volunteer to work on campaigns, organize discussion forums, hand out information, work voter registration tables. It is all about showing up. Gun violence has been and is a national concern, but it has never been a defining election issue. This year, it needs to be made a litmus test for one’s vote. Off-year elections – and 2018 is one – historically have a notoriously low turnout dominated by the extreme and passionate voters, while others sit home. If this current effort and momentum cannot be maintained until November 2018 – for nine more months – then this in fact is yet just another die-on-the-vine moment.
Pragmatically, it is unlikely that any real change in federal or state legislation will happen in 2018. Most politicians will elect to sit tight and wait until November to see whether this momentum is real or not. So a 3-step approach, using the action steps described above, needs to be employed. 1) Make guns an overriding priority issue for elections by showing visible strength in numbers; 2) Identify on which side of the fence each politician is; 3) Vote out the detractors, vote in the genuine supporters. If this happens in sufficient numbers, then the change we are awaiting for will come in 2019 with a new Congress and new state legislatures.
All that said, know that this is not really about fighting a logical argument. It is not about trying to change political opinion. It is not about trying to raise a collective conscience. It should be about those things. Instead, it is actually about trying to overwhelm cash, and political funding, and business economics that are against the cause for responsible gun ownership and a reduction in the current unrestrained arming of America. It will require a total commitment to reverse the benefits of the NRA/NSSF support and convert it to be a liability in the voting booth. But that is the only way things will change. Our idealism must motivate and energize us. Realism must guide us. God speed us in this critical endeavor.
© 2018 Randy Bell www.ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com