Open Letter: Duane Liptak NRA Board Member
I’ve just completed some meetings and other duties with the NRA, and I wanted to get some of these thoughts out there, in case anyone finds them useful. There is a lot of work going on, and I’ve never been so encouraged by the efforts I’m seeing move forward. As a disclaimer, these opinions are mine, personally, and I do not speak for the NRA or anyone else in this statement. This is long, and potentially a bit repetitive on points of significance, but I felt it important to say.
We are nearing midterm election time, and a lot is at stake. I don’t have any particular love for many of the positions of either of the two major parties, but the reality is that the Democrat side is embracing socialism and statist oppression so openly that it is hard to ignore the potential consequences of Democrat legislative control of either chamber at the federal level and losing ground in the states. The candidates in the NY State AG race are actually arguing over who will more voraciously wield the power of the state in trying to drive the NRA out of business to silence the voice of their political opposition. We have some favorable odds to retain a Republican U.S. Senate just with the luck of the draw with the seats that are up, but we still need good turnout to retain it. Dems only need to gain about 24 seats to flip the House, and there are between 65 and 75 or so contested races that are within a few points, nationwide. It’s close. In addition, Governorships and legislative races at the state level could affect redistricting that would make it very hard to have anything other than a Democrat majority in the House for years to come, so those races are just as critical.
Personally, I am something of a gun rights single issue voter, in that regardless of the merits of any other positions of a candidate, I weigh support for 2A rights as a prerequisite before even looking at other issues, and most of my friends and associates fall in that category as well. I believe those rights to be too important to do otherwise, especially at this time in world and national events. Fortunately, a candidate’s stance on gun rights usually follows along with many of the other positions that are appealing to me as well, and if I can find a pro-gun, fiscally conservative, social libertarian, then I’m fairly happy. If you fall in that category of voter and are disappointed that we’ve achieved no forward legislative progress in the past two years of a Republican-held House and Senate on gun rights, I’m with you. But, I also spend enough time lobbying and working with lobbying efforts to understand that our simple majority by party is not a majority on many issues that I hold dear. Personally, I’d love to see the NFA gutted, or at the very least, Hughes repealed and silencers and SBR/SBS completely removed from NFA purview, nationwide no-permit carry, as well as many other positions that might be considered “extreme” by anyone who doesn’t understand or love freedom quite so much, or understand that these measures actually increase the safety of our country. On the side of “just give us a common sense inch,” I’d love to see basic nationwide reciprocity passed without poisoned amendments, and that shouldn’t be hard—one would think. (That one is the fault of current Senate leadership for not having the fortitude to bring it to a vote.)
The unfortunate reality is that we were actually dangerously close to additional ANTI-gun legislation this year on rate accelerating devices and “bump stocks” that could have effectively banned all replacement triggers that was steamrolling toward the legislative floor and had enough bipartisan support in both houses to pass due to the emotion of the moment and not actually understanding what the legislation actually was banning—a common theme. There were some even worse bills on the table including the possibility of another national AWB this year, and the lack of understanding of what printed firearms were all about almost ended up with legislation banning those, with potential far-reaching second and third order effects from that, as well. Without the NRA, these measures likely would have passed. That’s a fact, and I dealt with it through our Magpul lobbyists, as well. It was a steamroller, and disaster was very narrowly averted. Yes, I’m not happy that it was even close, and I’m certainly not happy with some of the other legislative shenanigans in other areas, but the alternative would be far worse with Dem control of the legislature and the committee chairs, even if we had the hope of a Presidential veto to hold the line.
One thing we are winning at, and that has potentially saved the Republic in my eyes, is in judicial appointments. We are about to finally have an actual solid 5/4 court on the basic individual right to own a firearm in the U.S. Supreme Court (USSC). We have been extremely close on that in previous decisions. We are likely not ever going to turn NY, CA, NJ, and other liberal enclaves legislatively back to more firearms freedoms, so the path to that is through the courts, and we could potentially get AWBs, magazine restrictions, etc., declared unconstitutional with the right court composition and granting cert to the right cases. We will need the USSC and Trump’s appointees to do that, and in the background, Trump and the Senate have confirmed 60 constitutionalist-leaning judges in federal courts across the country, changing the balance in two district courts, with 40 more appointments planned before the midterm and another 40 or so after. This is important to the fight for ALL freedom with more judges who interpret the constitution rather than attempt to legislate statist ideals from the bench. If we had lost the 2016 Presidential election to the Dems, this option would be dead, and we would potentially have the basic individual right to own a firearm (incorrectly and unconstitutionally) struck down by the courts. Like Trump or not, without him being the one making appointments right now, the Second Amendment may have died in this decade.
So, we need a strong showing this fall to keep, and ideally, expand control of both chambers. Please get out and do your part, and encourage others to do the same. The anti-freedom groups are motivated, organized, and well-funded. Bloomberg has pledged to spend $80 Million in house races alone.
Just as a reminder, as they are sometimes bad at talking about things like this effectively, we likely would have had some of the previously mentioned negative legislation passed were it not for the NRA, and we certainly would have ZERO chance of having any positive legislation without them. I know it’s fashionable these days to accuse the NRA of not being “hard core” enough, and yep, some of the statements have left me a little disappointed. Folks need to understand that there are plenty of people within the organization and staff that are very aligned with my viewpoints. There just isn’t the political possibility of achieving those things right now, and that’s a real, and unfortunate, fact. We were very close to having the votes for HPA passage, although not many of our elected officials want to take that up right now, and we are still very close to national reciprocity passage, but the legislative vote numbers on repealing NFA, ditching all provisions of GCA ‘68, repealing Hughes, etc., aren’t even close. That’s unfortunately not something we can change without changing the entire political and public opinion landscape right now—which will take some time, and a lot of effort from all of us. We all need to work toward that.
Please understand that “taking a hard line, no compromise stance” publicly is great for fund raising and grass roots activation—and the goals behind the scenes can be exactly those no compromise positions, as they are in the offices of the NRA—but if a legislator doesn’t believe it’s in his or his constituents’ best interests or will keep in office to support something… your stance isn’t going to sway him. The facts may… but they also may not. That’s the wonderful thing about lobbying—some of the folks you are talking to couldn’t care less about the facts. That’s right… some don’t care. At all. Show them a 4-foot pile of evidence that their anti-gun or even lukewarm stance on guns is detrimental in every measurable way, and they still might not care. Some of them only care about how things poll for their next election, and that’s it. Republicans in purple districts are hard to get to support pro-gun measures sometimes because they know it will potentially lose them their seat to a Democrat challenger—and there may be no better candidate in that district that has any chance whatsoever of beating a Democrat challenger, so you’re stuck with either the soft R or the hard D. House and Senate leadership don’t want to tackle issues like that that may lose them control of their chamber due to the lost seats, and thus the ability to control the legislative agenda at all, plus the loss of the ability to support judicial appointments, pass budgets, etc., which is worse for the entire country, and can immediately undo anything that they DO pass. It’s a messy, flawed system. But, it’s what we’ve got to navigate. When you demand a mile and refuse to take a foot when one is offered, you’re not going to move forward in this environment. All or nothing nearly guarantees that we get nothing. The antis actually LOVE it when we draw lines in the sand that prevent any progress at all for our side, and LOVE it when we are bickering among ourselves as to who is signalling more 2A virtue.
The reality is that the NRA is your only real viable voice in the fight for gun rights in these circles. Other gun groups are great at promoting “hard line” positions publicly—and BZ for them doing so— because they aren’t risking policy achievement by doing it, as they don’t have the horsepower to even be included. They publicly state a hard line position, file a few amicus briefs maybe, send out some emails to fire up the grassroots base (which actually is an important factor) and they cash your check. I’m not saying don’t support them, because that grassroots activation is effective, as are some of the legal efforts! We need their efforts, also. The NRA, however, actually gives you a voice in this jacked up circus of the DC beltway, in the best way to actually influence policy—because they actually have a seat at the table. Unfortunately, sometimes that requires, at least to all public appearances, taking a certain position in order to achieve certain ends. Believe me when I tell you that it’s extremely frustrating to many of the staff to have to do this, just as much as it is for many members to see it. This is how change is effectively achieved, though, when larger movements are impossible. Everytown and other anti-freedom groups absolutely want all guns banned, period, and this has been leaked or reported on in one form or another for some time. But, in most cases, their public positions are for “common sense safety measures” and “reasonable restrictions,” and having the tactical patience to take our freedoms an inch at a time helps them to get to where they want to go. We have to be willing to win our freedoms back in the same way from a legislative perspective while we also charge forward with the legal strategy that may transform the national landscape for the better in a far more immediate fashion if we can get enough people on the bench that actually believe in the founding documents of our nation.
That legal fight is what can’t be forgotten. Other groups, like FPC, etc., do some great work, as well, but the legal battlefield on which the NRA plays is incredibly significant. Heller and MacDonald, getting the anti-gun ballot measures stricken from the Oregon ballots, the cases which have expanded concealed carry around the nation, injunctions in CA, ad nauseum—all of these had the hand of the NRA, and with the change in judicial landscape, more will come. The NRA is currently fighting what is potentially one of the most important First Amendment legal battles in our nation’s history, fighting a State supported effort to drive an advocacy out of business because of its beliefs, and the NRA will prevail. Even the ACLU has backed the NRA in this effort, as it’s SO critical to preserving freedom of speech and preventing government from killing opposition using the power of office. This case may have far reaching effects on government censorship that affects the very ability to speak out in opposition of government at all, and could potentially be used to shut down the entire firearms industry by denying basic business services, should we lose.
Want the NRA to be able to get more done? Want things to actually get passed? Want to get more real pro-gun legislators elected? The way to achieve that is with numbers. The NRA is at its highest membership numbers, ever, but there are around 6 Million NRA members and over 100 Million U.S. gun owners—conservatively. If just another 5 percent of U.S. gun owners were members, the ability to influence policy would improve significantly. As powerful as 6 million members can be, a lobby with the power of 10 or 12 million members is so significant as to not be able to be ignored. The NRA is currently under attack, because the anti-freedom opposition knows that the NRA membership can affect elections. The enemies of freedom are doing everything they can to force the NRA to the sidelines in this midterm, because they know the effect the NRA can have.
What can you do? First, become a member of the NRA. Become a five-year or life member if you are already an annual member, so you can vote in the board elections, also. Then encourage family, friends, neighbors, people you see at the range, co-workers, etc., to also become members. With membership, we have more say on the national stage. Join other groups you believe in, as well. Support other efforts, or start one yourself. But…it doesn’t cost much to be an NRA member, and just the publications and other benefits make it worthwhile as a gun owner, let alone the cause you are supporting. So, do that first.
Then, become active this fall. Vote. Don’t be apathetic, even in races where you think we’ve got an easy victory. Every vote does count, and the enemy is motivated. Encourage others to vote. Help to educate others on the issues. Support a candidate if you can. This could potentially be one of the most important elections in the history of our nation, and it is absolutely imperative that we all do our part to promote a victory for freedom.