You’d think that the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency would’ve meant a collective sigh of relief for the Association and gun owners. Instead, the last six months have been a collection of mistakes, misstatements, and growing rancor among the Board, prospective Board members, and the very American gun owners whose rights we purport to defend. We are proving to be our own worst enemy, and our leadership increasingly appears to be doubling down on an attitude of arrogance.
Last year’s decision to raise the bar on the number of signatures required for member-petition candidates to get on the ballot had the effect we expected, offering the perception that we’re “keeping out the little people.” We don’t need your input, thanks, as we already have a committee to select invitees for our private club. And that disconnected, “ivory tower” perception was not helped at all when, before the gun smoke even cleared from the Las Vegas massacre, Wayne LaPierre and Chris Cox “pre-surrendered,” calling for additional regulation on bump stocks before anti-gunners even organized their typical attacks.
“The NRA believes that devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations.”
Could it be argued that there’s some clever, legalese, word play surrounding “function” there? Certainly. But it’s so subtle that it isn’t noticeable by most non-attorneys, and provides plausible deniability for anti-gun politicians. In its plain vulgate, it was a gift-wrapped, public relations present for those who despise our Second Amendment – and a slap in the face to gun owners. It smacked of betrayal to most of our members, who expected “Stand and Fight” to be more than a marketing slogan.
Marion Hammer then added insult to injury, taking the opportunity to not only deny that “is means is” in the above statement, but to declare any dissenters to be “Trojan horse members” to be shunned and dismissed. Blind loyalty was to be expected, apparently – again reinforcing that perception of arrogance; that members are “associates” in name only, and should simply shut up, listen to their betters, and fork over more donations for the privilege of our managing their rights for them.
This was entirely the wrong approach to take. In both cases – the bump stock statement and Marion Hammer’s defense of it – silence would have been preferable to alienating (if not outright enraging) our members.
As the holidays came and went, it seemed that perhaps that lesson had been learned. Then our annual Board election rolled around, and Marion Hammer went on the offense again. She issued her “Enemy Within” screed, labeling those who disagree with our current culture as “agitators” and “dissidents” (ironically using “activists” as an epithet, despite how we portray ourselves to the membership with our “Stand and Fight” rhetoric). She implied heavily that only those selected by the Nominating Committee – the same group that gave us Directors who don’t attend meetings, occasionally donate funds to anti-gun groups, make damaging statements, and consort with terrorist financiers – are “qualified” to have our Association’s interest at heart. Anyone relying on the signatures of easily-fooled common members to get on the ballot was, apparently, only in it for their self-glorification or financial gain.
Predictably, the public response to this was far more “outraged disgust” than “contrite falling in line,” and we in turn have responded with a tone of defensiveness and accusation that borders on the haughty. Look at the terms used in these articles! Dissident. Agitator. Trojan horse. It’s no wonder online comments invoke Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables” comment – the dismissive, contemptuous sentiment is uncomfortably similar.
In a time when our numbers should be swelling, we have members leaving the Association in disgust. Donations have fallen, with many angry comments delivered in their place. Millions of prospective members have seen an ugly side of our leadership and are congratulating themselves on making the right choice to eschew us. People are beginning to note the gun rights victories they’ve won without our help and, in some case, despite our resistance.
American gun owners number somewhere around eighty million. We currently have a membership that represents five million – barely six percent of those armed citizens. We cannot afford to treat them with contempt and speak of them like fools.
While Marion Hammer is a glaring example of what has gone wrong with our organization, she is a symptom rather than the problem. We’ve lost our fire. We’ve forgotten to be “activists” in defense of the Second Amendment, only getting involved when, in the words of Winston Churchill, “victory will be sure and not too costly.” Our leaders have gotten too comfortable in the echo chamber they’ve created in their “private club.” They’ve fallen out of touch with our members, and have “served” so long that the word’s meaning has dulled.
Our organization must be relevant to a new generation or bigger problems are on the horizon. This means our Board needs to be staffed with people who take their responsibility seriously, and are willing to take an active role in the day-to-day management that sets – and sometimes corrects – the course of our Association.
Marion’s “Enemy” statement included a list of 25 names to be considered for election. We hold that it makes for a better exclusion list. Look instead to the “agitators” that went unnamed – names like Paul Babaz, Julie Golob, Maria Heil, Timothy Knight, Adam Kraut, and Kristy Titus. Look into their positions yourselves, and contact them directly with pointed questions. Unlike many of our current Board members, they welcome the opportunity to explain themselves and collaborate with members. They also hold the very qualities – passion, integrity, tenacity, modern sensibilities and perspectives – that we desperately need before the next public relations disaster strikes.
Remember this: We will never see a shortage of those who would see this organization – and the right we defend – dismantled. They are more than capable of achieving that without our help.