T
H
E

L
I
B
E
R
T
A
R
I
A
N

E
N
T
E
R
P
R
I
S
E


I
s
s
u
e

55


L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 55, September 15, 1999
Fire Still Burning

Who Is Really The NRA?

by Scott Bieser
sbieser@earthlink.net

Exclusive to The Libertarian Enterprise

           One need not be a regular reader of TLE or simply a competent observer of politics, to understand that the NRA's leadership acts more like a gun-congrol group than a gun rights group. But it helps. The NRA's idea of politics as "the art of the possible" looks an awful lot like the art of slow-motion surrender. So I am a proud member of Gun Owners of America and Jews for the Preveservation of Firearms Ownership, and I'm looking at the Second Amendment Foundation. But forget about the NRA, they're our Judas Iscariot.
           But then I met some of the membership, and the picture got a little more complicated.
           I had dropped by a smallish weekend gun show recently at the Glendale Auditorium, and found myself in front of a table displaying petitions to repeal California's recently-passed law which broadens the definition of "assault weapon" to be banned, and also magazines and clips holding more than 10 rounds. (We have a little-known and rarely-used provision in our state constitution that allows voters to "veto" legislation if enough petition signatures to call a vote are collected within 90 days of that legislation's passage.)
           Standing behind the table was a 50-ish gentleman who had the ram-rod posture of many retired military men, and an NRA cap. Well, this was interesting, since the NRA is not officially supporting the petition drive. (In fact, neither is GOA, to my knowledge. What's going on here? This whole effort seems to be based on an ad-hoc group formed by radio talk show host Geoff Metcalf. And the headquarters is a web site, http://www.vetothegovernor.org/ )
           I hadn't signed yet so I asked for the Riverside County copy, as the petitions need to be segregated by county of residence. He handed me the proper form and said, "I'm from Riverside, too. How come I've never seen you at the council meetings?"
           I knew that NRA has local organizations called "member councils" who meet regularly, but I never thought much about them. "I'm not with the NRA," I told him. "I'm with GOA." Then I prepared to get into a discussion about the relative merits of the two organizations.
           Instead he said, "I'm with GOA, too." And he gestured towards two small stacks of flyers from GOA, placed at the far end of the table. Then he told me the council meets the first Thursday of every month, which was that very next Thursday, and gave me the time and location.
           I had some difficulty locating the small, rented meeting hall, so when I arrived 10 minutes late the meeting was already underway. I slipped in the back and found a chair to occupy, and discreetly surveyed the room as the group chairman spoke about an upcoming NRA youth fair. There were about 45 men and three women, all appearing to be of the caucasian persuasion and ages spread fairly evenly between 25 and 75. They were dressed in the casual warm-weather attire of common in the Southwest desert areas. As the meeting progressed, about 10 more people arrived and settled in the back of the hall with me, most of them looking just like the earlier arrivals, except that three of them were Latinos, thirty-ish, dressed and groomed like their Anglo compatriates.
           The feature attraction that evening was special guest speaker Bruce Colodny, an area attorney who specializes in defending peaceful gun owners who run afowl of the Golden State's various and sundry gun laws. For two hours he explained what's legal and what's not, what is likely to get us into trouble even though it's supposed to be legal, and what to do if you are detained or get arrested. He clarified what's going to happen under the new assault-weapon and "safe handgun" laws recently passed and signed by Gov. Barney Fife -- I mean, Gray Davis. He passed out some refrigerator-magnet business cards and some educational flyers.
           As the meeting wound down I overheard a couple of members remark that attendance was up considerably from the norm, which they both agreed was due to the value of the speaker. So this was an atypical gethering, but how atypical was it? To find out I'll have to attend another meeting.
           Some announcements at the end included a report from the gentleman who had manned the Glendale gun show booth (unfortunately I did not get his name), that he had collected 1,000 signatures for the referendum against the assault-gun law. Everyone in the hall cheered him. Then more blank petitions were passed around to people who promised to drop them by the area gun stores and shooting ranges. So despite the NRA leadership's disdain for the petition drive, these local people are enthusastically in support of it.
           After the meeting formally ended the attendees milled about, most chatting in small groups and several forming a knot around the gun show petitioner, who was handing out NRA polo shirts that the members had pre-ordered. So I didn't get to speak with him, and no one else there knew or cared that I was a visitor rather than a member. Not being the gregarious sort, I left as quietly as I came.
           As I drove home, and in the several days since that encounter, I have pondered on what I saw and learned here and have arrived at some tentative conclusions.
           First, despite the moral cowardice of its leadership, the NRA offers one important value for the gun rights movement. It establishes in thousands of local communities a place where people who share an interest in guns and gun rights can get together for information exchange, collective action, and general socializing.
           None of the other gun rights groups offers anything like this. All I see of GOA is a monthly mailer containing reports of the latest legislative outrage, some postcards to sign and forward to my Congress-cretins, and a plea for more money to feed their lobbying machine. JPFO has some great literature, and is useful for filtering neo-Nazis and similar such morons out of the gun-rights movement. SAF is focused on publicizing constitutional research. All of these are worthy projects, but I want a place where I can go hang out with my fellow gun nuts and talk about topics ranging from the best way to align a sighting scope to doing something about the fascists in Sacramento. And I want conversation that's more mature than the infantile ranting I've seen way to much of on talk.politics.guns, thank you very much.
           Second, while I considered joining the NRA just to enjoy this local connection (the value of the legal advice I received at that meeting was easily worth the price of an annual membership), for now I'll see if I can just sit at the meetings and give generously when they pass the hat for local expenses. I won't be able to vote on anything but hopefully if I use my best manners and make sense, I can have some influence when I want to. The worst that can happen is they'll ask me to either join up or leave.
           Third, if GOA or some other gun rights group really wants to supplant the corrupt NRA organization, it should consider the importance of "high-touch" as well as high-tech, and find suitable structure and venues for its activists to peacefully assemble in meatspace on some regular basis. If we're going to work together, we need to get together.
           Finally, I see an enormous gulf between the attitude of the national NRA leadership, and the grassroots activists. I don't know whether the much larger number of people who have paid memberships and never go to meetings is as radical and committed as were the bunch I met that Thursday evening, but it's this "vital 20 percent," even if it's really only five percent, that really matters anyway. Someone with some resources and savvy could easily capture these guys from the NRA and form a dynamic force for gun freedom.


Scott Bieser is an art director for a major computer game publisher in Southern Calfornia. He will pay top dollar for copies of L. Neil Smith's out-of-print books, but queries need to include a valid return address. sbieser@earthlink.net


Next to advance to the next article, or
Previous to return to the previous article, or
Table of Contents to return to The Libertarian Enterprise, Number 55, September 15, 1999.