Across the Fruited Plain: The people fighting for your gun rights
Editor's Note: This article has also been published at USConcealedCarry.com.
By Chad D. Baus
Recently, USCCA's Kathy Jackson presented me with the idea of writing a regular column that could update members on the ongoing fight for gun rights at the state level.
I quickly realized that what started with just a few words ("I'm needing a regular online writer to tell me about the doings of other state gun rights organizations... and to track local political battles in across the states. Are you interested in doing some of that kind of work?") was going to be a rather daunting project - but not for the reasons I originally anticipated.
In late January, I set about to identify and contact the leading gun rights organizations in all fifty states (or fifty-seven if you are President Obama), requesting their help in keeping me up to date on the current battles that they face, what specific activities they are engaging in on each battle, their sense of the morale of gun owners in their state, etc.
Identifying the right group was no easy task. Having been a gun rights activist for nearly a decade now, I was familiar with the leaders in some states. I also consulted with others whom I was aware of as having relationships with other state organizations. In many cases, however, it was necessary to do the research, review dozens of web sites, and try to decide with whom to make contact. As I was doing this research, I quickly began identifying areas where we, as a civil rights community, need improvement.
While in some states it is easy to identify three or more groups with a web presence, but in doing my research I quickly learned that not all gun groups are involved in legislative battles. (Item #1 on the Room for Improvement list.) There are basically three types of state organizations:
- Groups centered around gun-show promotion (their primary function appears to be promoting and run the shows)
- Groups centered around competitive shooting (these are usually the organizations that are listed as the official NRA state-affiliated organization); and
- Groups that are centered on grassroots activism (the guys in the trenches fighting legislative battles year in and year out).
There are variations, of course, and overlaps, where one group performs more than one function. And not all states have every type of organization. Sadly, if they are lacking anywhere, it seems too many are lacking what I believe is the most important in terms of preserving our Second Amendment rights - groups centered on grassroots activism. I centered my focus on identifying those groups.
Eventually, I identified the list of contacts, one in every state save Ohio (As a resident here, I've got that one covered), and sent my request: 'Keep me up on the goings-on in your state, and I'll help make your fight known to a national audience.'
One month later, I had received answers back from fifteen states. I don't just mean fifteen affirmative answers - I mean to say that I only heard back from fifteen persons total. Now while I don't presume that this means only 30% of the United States are represented by a strong state-wide gun lobby, that level of response was certainly a disappointment. Even leaving allowances for emails that didn't make it through, busy lives, and a few people who aren't interested in participating but didn't bother to send a note to respectfully decline, that number still leaves a lot of room for improvement (Item #2).
As I thought more about the people who did respond, I became more and more curious. Why did they respond, when so many did not? What do we have in common? Are there common threads among the reasons we got so involved in the fight to preserve the Second Amendment? Why do we do what we do, so often at the cost of personal, family and work? I decided that my first article would be devoted to developing a better understanding of the pro-gun rights grassroots activist, and sent a short survey.
Among those who responded, New York's Jacob J. Rieper has been at it the longest, working as an "unofficial" activist since 1992, and as Vice President of Legislative & Political Affairs of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association (www.nysrpa.org) since 2000. This kind of dedication is quite an accomplishment, especially when one considers that when Jacob was asked what percentage of his lobbying time is spent running offense vs. playing defense, his answer was, simply, "It doesn't work that way in NY."
We have the anti-gun mainstream media to thank for Jacob's nearly two decades of thankless work in the Empire State. When asked if there a specific incident that sparked his interest in getting more involved, Jacob replied "Dan Rather pissed me off, which prompted me to get my pistol license."
Like every activist that responded to my survey, Jacob isn't paid for his work in the trenches. He estimates he spends "maybe 10-15 hours depending upon the time of the year. More when the legislature is in session from January to June, and again around election time. Less other times."
Daniel Pehrson, Founder & President of the Pennsylvania Firearm Owners Association (www.pafoa.org) went from new shooter to gun rights activist in a very short time period. He began shooting in 2004, and March 2009 is the third anniversary of launching discussion forum software on the PAFOA website - a date in 2006 which he considers to be his birthday as a gun rights activist. His motivation for getting involved came when he went looking for information on obtaining a Pennsylvania License To Carry Firearms, and found there was no real resource that explained clearly what you had to do, where, why, or when.
Daniel spends "roughly 20-30 hours a week doing pro-Second-Amendment work of some sort," squeezing it in around his job and personal life. "I don't sleep much," he told me. When asked if he gets paid for his Second Amendment work, he said "No. If anything it costs me money. But like any activist, you don't do it for the money, you do it because it is what you believe in and you do it for the generations that come after you."
Daniel noted that his day job as a computer programmer for a web development company in Philadelphia has translated very well into harnessing the power of the Internet through web sites, blogs, and social networking to connect and organize serious grass-roots campaigns to preserve our rights.
Buckeye Firearms Association (www.buckeyefirearms.org) has been fortunate to have volunteers skilled in similar areas, and has experienced the same type of exponential growth since 2005. Judging by the appearance of many states' gun rights web sites, this is an area where a lot of help is needed. The cost of paying to build and maintain a site is just too much for grassroots groups to manage. It is obvious from my research what states have a great group of volunteers skilled in computer/ web programming, and which ones do not. (Item #3 on the Room for Improvement list.)
Iowa Carry Inc.'s (www.iowacarry.org) Sean McClanahan has a story much like my own. After living in a state that was very friendly to concealed-carry (in his case Virginia, in mine Tennessee), he moved to Iowa about three years ago, and quickly realized that "my rights were going to be far different than I was accustomed to." Just as I did when moving back to the Buckeye State in 2001, Sean says "I decided to become involved with the attempts to fix the system, and have been doing so ever since."
Sean's time commitment to Second Amendment activism is also in line with my own. He says he spends up to 40 hours a week, including "most evenings and a good portion of each weekend", on taking care of items related to the group.
The answers to one survey question rang particularly true to my own experience in Ohio. When asked, "What is your number one frustration as a gun rights activist?", the conversation quickly turned to apathy among current gun owners.
PAFOA's Daniel Pehrson expresses it best:
"When anti-gun legislation is opposed, everyone makes a lot of noise, but when it comes down to trying to organize a rally, all of a sudden you get a lot of excuses as to why only 1% of your mailing list can show up. Meanwhile the anti-gun groups are using the millions of dollars they get from the Joyce Foundation to rent busses to transport their paid activists to an anti-gun rally."
"Our power is in our people," Daniel observes, "but we as activists need to find new and better ways to get those people motivated in larger numbers."
And that, in a nutshell, represents one of my primary aims for this new column.
In the next installment of Across the Fruited Plain, we'll begin to take a look at specific legislative battles that are being waged (many will share commonalties across state lines), and examine specific activities local organizations are engaging in on each battle.
Chad D. Baus is the Vice Chairman of Buckeye Firearms Association.