This was written by NRA Board Member Duane Liptak. It’s a long read, but if you’re in the ranks of those who are pro-gun but anti-NRA, it’s worth the read.
Mr. Liptak is the Executive Vice President of Magpul Industries Corp. and a former infantryman-turned-fighter-pilot who spent roughly three years with MARSOC between flying tours (there’s an interesting career path for ya!).
So, it’s relatively popular to bash the NRA right now, and we have a lot of folks in our own community that are happy to jump on that bandwagon. I get it. I don’t like where we are at with the 2A situation, either, and I wish the NRA could yell “Shall not be infringed,” from the mountaintops. But, through my involvement with the org over the past years, and the insight into the DC and state level situations I’ve unfortunately had to gain while lobbying and managing lobbying efforts, I also understand some things that make me appreciate the strengths of what the NRA actually brings to us, and I felt compelled to share that as a comment on some posts that decried the current state of the NRA. Some folks urged me to make it sharable, so I’m doing so, with some cleaning up of my language. 🙂 I get that some folks will call me full of it, or claim “the NRA is in full damage control” or whatever, but this isn’t an NRA statement. This is a statement from me, a very, very zealous advocate for extreme libertarian gun rights, with an understanding of the current political landscape. Take it as you will, but please put aside your prejudices for just a moment to read, because if we can’t get everyone pushing in the same direction, we can’t beat the disarm America movement, because they are more than willing to get together to achieve our ruin.
In any of this commentary, I’m speaking for myself, not for the NRA. I have to use that disclaimer, as I’m speaking out of turn, and this is MY PERSONAL understanding of the events and information, not official NRA position. I suppose some of this information could also be potentially damaging to future efforts because it lays out some reasoning and strategy, but it’s to a point right now where people need to understand some things. The NRA is not just your best defense, they are your ONLY defense. FPC does fantastic legal work, as does SAF. GOA is great at grass roots email activation and they file some amicus briefs and lawsuits. All of them have ZERO capability to interact with lawmakers in a meaningful way more than me running up to DC, which I do a couple times a year. No one else does, period, and that’s why I’m on board with helping to steer the NRA rather than bash it.
I’ll start out by saying I’m about as hard core libertarian on gun laws as it gets, as in mail order suppressed FA belt feds for everyone. Let’s also get out that pretty much everyone in the NRA building is pretty far along that line, as well. I was talking to Chris and crew about strategies to open the registry during the Bumpfire stock litigation while we talked about how to fight some of the things we know are coming. They’re on board, really. Now, the other side of this is that it’s Washington, D.C., and the number one priority of most congress-folk is getting re-elected. To some extent, that’s fine, as they are supposed to be representing the will of their district or state, and votes support that. When they evaluate an issue, they look at how it will help or hurt their re-election, and…what else they can get for it. If they support A, can they get B as an amendment to help their state, can they count on attracting donors with a particular stance, etc. So let’s take a look at the bumpfire stock thing.
After Vegas, bumpfire stock legislation was drafted, but NRA had the juice to kill it. Then we have Parkland, and the public outcry to the lawmakers is that we have to “do something for the children”, even if it’s meaningless and dumb—because it was kids this time instead of adults in a currently unsympathetic demographic like Vegas. A strong majority of both chambers were willing to pass a bumpfire stock ban as “something”. The language in the legislative ban included binary triggers, cranks, etc., and could also at some point be interpreted by ATF to include ANY aftermarket trigger and even be mangled to include semi-autos in general as having the capability to have rates of fire similar to machine guns and thus, be regulated. It would be a disaster. NRA pushed back hard, but guess what…the legislators were reacting to public sentiment, and they had more than enough votes to pass it. It was going to come out of committee.
We (Magpul) yelled at our lobbyists to kill it. NSSF was trying to kill it. NRA was trying to kill it. But…Trump apparently dislikes two things in the firearms world: bumpfire stocks and elephant hunting, for reasons that are his own. So a veto was not happening. So…what’s your play? You can say “No bans, not one inch” and send out a fundraising email, and everyone would feel good about the NRA position, but the ban would have passed, and the Dems would potentially have everything they needed for a semi-auto ban already in law, ready to be interpreted nefariously. So, the decision to make the push to regulatory was hatched. NSSF was on board, as well, as everyone thought there was a better chance of killing it in regulatory, or at least fighting it as it would be a hell of a stretch to regulate like that. The NRA’s wording was poor from my perspective. Even if they said, “you don’t need legislation because this is a regulatory matter, and regulatory can take a look at it and clarify,” that would have been better. But, they didn’t…for a few reasons.
One, I’m sure they hoped that their “support” of a regulatory fix could sour the legislative efforts and then cancel the regulatory look, too. In any case, the legislation was averted by the push to regulatory, and the regulatory ban is narrow and also likely to be overturned. FPC is making good authority arguments in their suit, and the NRA is arguing on “takings”. The Dems have reintroduced the legislative ban in the house this session because they wanted the “other” stuff that was also intentionally included. As long as the regulatory ban lasts while legal arguments are happening, the bill can probably be killed. Is that a trade or a compromise? No. It’s not a trade if a dog turd sandwich is being forced down your throat, and it’s pretty much a done deal, but you manage to get away with only taking one bite instead of the whole thing. But, the left LOVES it when the NRA does such things because they have trolls that are helping to divide the gun community, although we do a great job of it ourselves.
The stronger the NRA is, the stronger the positions can be. The more members the NRA has, the more pressure they can bring in discussions about elections and the more support that stronger positions have when talking to politicians. The more money they have, the more we can spend in elections. Is the NRA perfect? Oh, heck no! No organization is. But they are our only real chance. The NRA, with the help of the NSSF, also, has killed an actual AWB and magazine restrictions on the national level several times in the past few years alone. I, or our lobbyists, have seen it. No one else was even considered part of the conversation, regardless of posturing. We also wouldn’t have FOPA, and if anyone wants to complain about Hughes, which I hate as much as anyone, if you were currently living under GCA ’68, and had the chance to get the FOPA protections, but someone slipped in the Hughes amendment at the last minute to try to poison the bill, you’d still support passing it.
The NRA didn’t give you GCA ’68. They tried to minimize damage in another time when overwhelming support for even worse gun control existed after Kennedy and King were assassinated. NFA originally included handguns, also, and was in a similar period of hysteria about mob violence. Without the NRA and also the NSSF, we wouldn’t have had the Lawful Commerce in Arms act of 2005, and the entire firearms industry in the US would be out of business by now—sued into bankruptcy just by fending off lawsuits from Bloomberg lawyers.
There are a lot of wins there, but make no mistake…I want more, too. However…please understand that even with the R majority we had for the last two years…soft Rs like Flake, Rubio, and the other purple district congressmen and senators had us in a bad spot even then. Repealing the NFA, as much as I want that to die, has about 5% support in Congress right now. You’re not getting that legislatively unless you change out 95% of Congress, no matter how hard we could push for it, or how many “strong statements” anyone makes.
We are, in reality, barely hanging on to a slim majority of elected officials at the national level that even believes the 2A is an individual right!
The only path to right this course, especially with states like CA, CO, NJ, MA, NY, WA, etc., is through judicial review. And…love Trump or hate him, regardless of anything else he has done, if it were Hillary putting 2, possibly 3 judges on the USSC bench, the 2A would be dead in 10 years. That’s why NRA went all in with him. Not because he was a philosophically pure candidate on all of 2A, but because he was willing to put pro 2A judges on the bench, and because he could win. No one else on our side could, and the alternative—a Hillary presidency—would be disastrous.
Someone is going to bring up salaries and expenditures and mail solicitations, and such, so let me hit that for a second. Executive salaries in the NRA are not shabby. Agreed. They are, however, less than organizations like the Red Cross, AARP, and other not-for-profit .orgs of similar size, and you have to understand that NRA execs are limiting their future options by taking that job. You’re not going from the NRA to Patagonia, REI, or ANY politically sensitive company. But… we can still do better, I think. There is a compensation review coming.
The organization has already slashed budgets by increasing efficiencies, cutting funding to major habitual contractors, tightening up contracts in general, and all around tightening up the ship. The new Treasurer is a stud. Good things are happening as far as a fiduciary responsibility to the members, as the org knows there is a BIG fight coming in 2020. And rumors of things like cutting off coffee to staff are BS. They just went from a vendor, like many offices use, to a self-administered coffee mess…like many offices use. We have that here. I hate getting junk mail, but they produce results. I’d love to streamline the opt-out process for that, plus maybe knock off the renewal notices a month after you renew and things like that, and those are goals of mine, but we also need the cash and members to keep up the fight, and the mailings produce results. Is it enough to offset people who don’t renew to avoid the harassment? I don’t know…but I’d like to look at it. Help to recruit a few new members yourself, and that will help cut down on calls and mailings.
Anyway, this is a heck of a rant, but I’ve seen too much NRA bashing lately by those who don’t know what’s even going on in DC. It’s a mess. I hate going there. But, the NRA is actually our best advocate there, regardless of what you think about some of the publicly stated positions. Making a press release that says, “We support repealing the NFA and doing away with the 4473 and all other remnants of GCA ’68,” doesn’t actually accomplish anything if you can’t produce results. It actually damages the ability to explain the real downsides of the issues that are at hand, with support, that need to be killed, because you won’t even get to talk to the people on the fence to make your case. Dems tend to ask for “common sense gun reform”, which we know means disarm America. Consider looking at NRA public statements through the same lens, in reverse. Maneuvering the swamp requires talking in less than absolute terms, even when behind the scenes, your goal is absolute. I have friends on the NRA staff. You’re not going to find more ardent supporters of the absolute, not to be infringed 2A than those people.
One last note on red flag laws…If you take a look at the terms the NRA is talking about, it’s adding the poison pills that make it less appealing to Dems—you know, like due process, and penalties for false reports, which they are really trying to get around with these. There’s not a single person in the NRA building that wants red flag laws–because of the risk of abuse. But…saying “not one inch” and sending out emails saying how strong someone’s stance is (that doesn’t actually accomplish anything legislatively) gives the left free reign to build whatever narrative and language they want. With NRA “supporting” a full due process version, it actually drives hardcore Dems sour on an “NRA supported bill”—because they don’t actually want a bill to keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill or dangerous people…there are trying to disarm regular Americans.
You may also see attempts to tie reciprocity or HPA to it, whether NRA supported, or just through the actions of Republicans. That’s not a “compromise” or “deal”–it’s trying to pull a Hughes amendment on the Dems. To kill just enough support from their hardcore that it starts to falter—while they work moderates and weak republicans behind the scenes on the real issues. We’re actually in a really shitty spot with support for UBC and red flag laws in Congress, and without mechanisms like this, they’d pass a horrible version pretty handily in the house, and it is dangerously close in the Senate. If we have—God forbid—another shooting, it would sail through.
I don’t like any of this any more than the next guy, but people bash the NRA a lot without understanding the reality of how the silly reindeer games get played on the hill. Try to at least understand the value that the organization provides because it is big and very real, and critically important. I want a live tank in my front yard and mail order Solothurn S-18/1000’s from Bannerman’s. But the path to get there isn’t exactly a clear one in the current legislative environment. Without the strength of the NRA helping to pack the courts, shape elections the best we can, fight off bad legislation wherever possible and pave the way to improve rights through the judiciary (we’ve confirmed 85 federal judges in addition to the 2 Supremes with 130 more to go), I fear we won’t have a path to it at all. That’s why I’m a member, and helping to make the organization as right as we can get it is why I got involved.
I get the frustration. I’m mad that we’re even in this situation. How could we, a republic, born from free men taking up arms against oppression, even be considering some of this nonsense? It baffles me. And, I used to be super frustrated with the NRA, also. Until…I was forced into being involved in politics and seeing how this whole mess works. Now I know what I have to do, and I hope everyone out there who cares about gun rights can get on board, too.
So, if you want to support GOA or FPC or FPC, or JPFO…that’s fantastic. Join your state organization, also. Be active locally. Let your elected representatives know how you feel on these issues regularly. But…be a member of the NRA, and be active. Vote. Let the board and the staff know where you stand on issues. Help to be a part of the solution. If we, as gun owners, can’t stick together and take advantage of the strengths of all of our organizations where they can do the most good, we will lose this fight. I’m not willing to lose.
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