While the media and extremist politicians like to act like very few Americans actually own guns or care about their rights, we gun owners know that we have a huge community. We have online email lists and forums, rod and gun clubs, and commercial shooting ranges with active shooting leagues. But how do we turn all of those connections into meaningful political action?
As an activist, you’ve likely heard before that many gun owners just don’t know what to do. They are told to write their Congressman, but they are a loss for words and aren’t sure if a casual letter is professional enough. If they are presented with a phone number to a Congressional office, they worry that they will stutter over their words. Until they make that effort for the first time, they really don’t understand just how easy it is to make their voices heard beyond Election Day.
[box type=”info”] All club outreach needs to consider two things: One is the power of all of the individuals who could, in theory, contact lawmakers from one region. Two is that the club itself should act on behalf of members, but not at the expense of direct member-to-lawmaker communication. By acting in its own voice, the club’s message to lawmaker is that we don’t just have ‘X’ number of gun owners in your area, but we have a COMMUNITYof ‘X’ number of gun owners and their families in your area. That kind of organization is a signal of potential voter influence to lawmakers.[/box]
Here is a list of specific and actionable grassroots ideas for community/non-profit gun clubs to consider implementing. Anything advised here should be taken into consideration with the legal structure of the club.
Send letters on behalf of the board of the club to every federal and state lawmaker that represents at least a handful of your club members. Mention your overall club membership numbers. Do not leave any official off of the mailing list just because they are anti-gun. You want to send the message that if we’re even pestering anti-rights officials, the known votes against us, just think about what how we’re writing to their colleague they want to pull over to their side.
At your very next club meeting – whether it’s tomorrow or next month – set up an area for all attendees to write a letters to their lawmakers. Make it easy for them. Provide a few versions of a similar letter – maybe be a little more focused on mental health on one, make another just generic and nothing more than “no more gun control,” and another might mention a little more in the way of cultural concerns – where your goal is to give people a choice in nearly anything they might want to say, but don’t know how to write themselves (or are too lazy to write themselves). Have blank sheets that are simply pre-addressed at the top so that people can write their own if they want. If your club has the equipment, or you can get it there, get a few computers there, with a printer, and offer to type up whatever the members want to say and print it right there on the spot for them to sign.
Collect these letters and either fax them in to the offices or mail them in individually. Don’t leave it to members to send, have someone from the club handle delivery. Furnish stamps, if needed. Make sure all communications have an address on them so the member gets a response.
Make the above ideas the standard activities post-meeting for next couple of months. Advertise it in the newsletter and put it out to the club email list. Tell people to come down and someone with experience in contacting politicians will help them out if they aren’t sure what to say.
Give the people who participate something beyond a thanks and a pat on the back. Does your club require work hours? Give them credit of a work hour for participating and leaving you with at least three letters to fax or mail to their Congressman and Senators. Does the club have any kind of raffle or drawing? Give a special entry to anyone who participates (depending on the laws on this issue). If the club is really serious about involvement and can afford it, then give club members who participate a credit on their dues for the next renewal. It shouldn’t be a paltry amount, but the exact value should be in reasonable proportion to the membership fees.
Target your club email list by district as much as possible. If you have a potentially weak ally in your area (there are several in Pennsylvania), then make sure that your club members with emails get a special email that tells them their help is needed to go above and beyond. Let them know that their interactions asking their lawmaker to defend their rights is particularly important because it’s possible that he could be feeling extra pressure from anti-gun groups or partisan groups who normally don’t work on gun control, but want to exploit their position on it in order to win the seat for their party in the next election.
Get permission, if needed, to hang a sign on the relevant ranges that talks about the kinds of guns used on that range that will be banned. Add photos if that will garner more attention. Make it so that casual shooters who may not be the most attentive or the most involved in the competitions or leagues will have the information right in front of them.
When making the pitch to get fellow club members and shooters involved, give people specific examples of what is proposed in your state. Even the most informed gun owners may have missed something breaking from within their own state since so much is being discussed at the federal level right now. We have a powerful talking point since one suburban lawmaker here in Pennsylvania is calling for confiscation. Not even California Sen. Dianne Feinstein is talking about taking things that far.
If your club leadership is hesitant just because they haven’t done something like this before, then get on them to act now. That actually makes their voices more powerful at the moment. If a lawmaker gets a letter from a club in his district that he has never heard from before, their staff will know it. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing at the moment because it signals new activism on our issue in response to the proposals.
Match Directors, League Shooters, and Competitive Shooters
If equipment to draft and print letters to Congress and other elected officials is on-site, shooting committees could have someone organizing the same letter writing event mentioned in the Club Leadership tab for their big shooting nights. This is potentially more effective because you can tell shooters exactly what kinds of guns are being threatened.
Trap night? Did you know the one of the more recent versions of a McCarthy gun ban would have outlawed every single semi-automatic shotgun? Pistol night? I hope you don’t like regular-sized magazines or pistols of just about any caliber.
Does your club host competitions that draw from outside of the normal membership? You’ve just expanded your sphere of influence! Match directors can set up a table with a sign/write a letter station. If you can target talking points to the guns used, that’s even better. And, hey, what’s a better introduction in a letter than, “I’m writing you as I take a break during a competition shooting my semi-automatic rifle that anti-gun groups want banned. There are dozens of people from your district right here in front of me who will lose their sport and their primary home defense option if you ban our firearms.”
Does the match have the financial wiggle room to offer a discount to those who write their letters? A few bucks off for people who participate and leave their letters to be faxed or mailed is an incentive. Or, if the match/club doesn’t have wiggle room, how about asking a member if he/she can make/donate lunch for the competition that might “cost” people a few bucks, but give a free plate to anyone who writes letters?
Match directors and various shooting discipline organizers within the club should themselves write specific letters. Mention that they organize a regular match with an average of ‘X’ shooters of these types of firearms every month, or they run the weekly shoot that has ‘X’ number of participants. It’s about showing that we have community that we will talk to and mobilize from every single corner we can find.
[box type=”info”]The goal is to give members who normally aren’t involved in politics an incentive that shows your club values their effort to defend gun rights. The other strength in non-commercial gun clubs is that these are voluntary communities that have self-organized. Gun control activists try to tell lawmakers that DC-area organizations direct all pro-gun action of a tiny minority. Show these lawmakers that it isn’t true. We have our own local communities, and we will organize outside of any top-down approaches.[/box]
I know there are many other ideas for longer term political involvement, such as hosting a fundraising shoot or dinner for a lawmaker, but this list is focused on immediate action in regards to pending gun control issues.