Mid-Term 2014 roundup: that went well.

Overall, the election seems to have gone well for the pro-freedom side: Republicans (who are typically, but not always, pro-gun-rights) have a substantial majority in both federal houses. Unsurprisingly, the forecast at FiveThirtyEight was quite accurate, and better than most individual polls.

As usual, the true winners are the TV companies who made zillions of bucks running political ads.

I can only hope that the Republicans use their majorities in both houses to actually accomplish productive things and avoid burning precious political capital on divisive social issues. We’ll see.

Republican governors were elected in blue Maryland and Massachusetts, which surprised me, while a Democrat was elected as governor in Pennsylvania. The race in Colorado is too close to call yet, but FiveThirtyEight is predicting that Hickenlooper will barely squeak by with a win, or potentially a runoff.

As expected, endorsements from gun-control groups were essentially meaningless outside of “safe” districts: the Americans for Responsible Solutions “Champions for Common Sense Official Election Night Tally Card” listed 13 races in the House and Senate. While AZ-2 is still being counted (with the two candidates within a few handful of votes of each other at the current moment), six of the ARS-endorsed candidates lost their elections.

Miguel has a good rundown of what Bloomberg’s money got him (hint: not much, with about 50% of those he endorsed or funded losing their races).

Although they were roundly rebuked in most races, gun-control groups did have one victory worth noting: I-594 in Washington (which mandates background checks on nearly all transfers of firearms, including temporary transfers) passed with just under 60% of the vote, significantly less than the “90% of Americans” that gun-control groups claim support such measures. Gun-control groups wildly outspent pro-gun-rights group by more than a factor of 17, with gun-control groups (and a few wealthy benefactors like Bill Gates, Paul Allen, and Nick “We need more school shootings!” Hanauer) contributing more than $10.6 million, while pro-gun groups and individuals only contributed a bit more than $602,000. The fact that a school shooting took place in Washington just a few weeks before the election probably helped bolster support for the measure, even though the measure (if in effect at the time) would have made no difference.

The Bradys (and their allies) are spinning the passage of I-594 as “the only place where guns were directly on the ballot this election day” while ignoring the dozens of races where gun-control supporters were defeated. While the measure is likely to be challenged in court, the gun-control side is happy about this one victory and promises that it is an “indication of things to come”. It’d be worthwhile to keep your eyes open for when similar measures are proposed in other states — such measures need to be challenged early.

In short: it wasn’t a perfect election for the pro-gun-rights side, but overall we did pretty well. Gun control at the federal level is now essentially off the table, though we need to be concerned about state-level measures promoted by big-money groups and donors.

On Fundraising Strategies

My strategy for political fundraising is pretty simple: like many people, I join membership organizations that are aligned with my position on a particular issue1, keep my membership up to date, and subscribe to their mailing lists.

Additionally (and in my view, more critically), I also subscribe to the mailing lists of groups advocating against my position. For example, I’m subscribed to ARS mailing list2. Whenever they send out a message calling for more donations3 I make a note of the amount they request. Every few months I add up all the requests that ARS makes, double it, and split that amount between contributions to the NRA, GOA, and SAF.

Groups like the NRA, GOA, and SAF work to concentrate and amplify the voices of their members. Individually, a vote or a letter to your legislator isn’t terribly meaningful, and I can’t make flashy TV ads or do much with $50, but the NRA and other groups can use that money much more effectively for lobbying, advertising, etc.

While I can’t hold a candle to Bloomberg’s billions, I try to do my part.

I’m curious what strategies others have when it comes to fundraising and political advocacy. Thoughts?

  1. For example, the NRA, GOA, and SAF for gun rights, the ACLU and EFF for freedom of speech, privacy, etc. []
  2. I’d subscribe to Everytown and CSGV, but I’m not sure I could survive bashing my head against the wall that frequently. []
  3. ARS often asks for small donation amounts and has an “anonymous donor” that will match all contributions. Anyone know who that donor is? []

ARS is getting nervous

Americans for Responsible Solutions seems to be getting a bit nervous.

Here’s an excerpt from a recent fundraising email entitled “Potentially devastating” which I received from them:

Bad news. This headline just came in:

NRA goes big in key 2014 races

“The National Rifle Association has reserved $11.4 million for its initial fall advertising campaign and will begin airing its first TV commercials in three Senate races crucial to determining which party controls the chamber next year.

“The gun rights group said it plans to spend much more than the initial outlay during the final weeks before the midterm elections.”

$11.4 million, with “much more” to come? That could be more than enough money to unseat leaders in Congress who support commonsense proposals to reduce gun violence.

We [ARS] already have ads on the air in 4 House races. But now that the NRA’s moving into statewide races, we need to be there too.

Our country simply can’t afford to lose members of Congress who voted to expand background checks. If they lose, the gun lobby’s candidates will sit in the House, Senate, and governors’ mansions around the country.

They won’t just block expanded background checks — they could even roll back some of the most basic laws in place that help make our communities safer.

It sounds like ARS is getting worried. Good.

Hunting with suppressors to be allowed in Louisiana

From guns.com comes this report that, effective August 1st, 2014, it will be legal to hunt game in Louisiana with suppressors, thus adding Louisiana to the list of 33 states where hunting with suppressors is legal.

Hunters in the Sportsman’s Paradise will be able to use legally-owned suppressors to both harvest game and control pests following Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s signing of House Bill 186 into law Friday.

HB186 strikes the state’s ban on using National Firearms Act-registered suppressors, commonly but incorrectly referred to as “silencers,” in hunting, and replaces it with language to allow widespread use by lawful sportsmen.

The popular bill had sailed through the state Legislature, passing the Senate unanimously on May 20 with little comment by lawmakers.

“This is about mitigating the noise and preventing hearing loss,” said Rep. Cameron Henry (R-Metairie), sponsor of the legislation.

The law will allow any person who possesses an NFA-compliant and properly registered firearm suppressor to use the device to both harvest game animals as well as pests and nuisance wildlife such as beaver and nutria. However, in an apparent bid to void use by those with a history of poaching, it forbids the use of suppressed firearms by those who have been convicted of certain wildlife violations in the past five years.

As a suppressor owner and advocate, this is excellent news. I had no idea that so many states allowed hunting with suppressors.

I really should join the American Suppressor Association, as they and the NRA were instrumental in getting this bill passed.

Of course, not everyone was happy:

Only a handful of Louisiana House representatives voted against the suppressor bill when it passed through that chamber in an 82-15 vote in April. Those who did oppose it voiced concerns about the use of suppressors by criminals as well as the broad allowances to use the devices for virtually all game in the state.

“I don’t know why we need silencers to hunt birds,” said Rep. Austin Badon (D-New Orleans). “We don’t need this bill.”

For some reason, Americans are seemingly unique in the widespread belief that suppressors are tools of assassins, hit men, secret agents, and other stealthy types. In many countries, including those that are decidedly anti-gun like the UK, the use of suppressors is considered one of being polite and neighborly: just as it’s rude and disturbing to drive a car without a muffler, shooting unsuppressed firearms can be impolite in some circumstances.

Rep. Badon is off the mark: all shooters should be able to use suppressors if they wish, and their use should be encouraged. Not only does it help reduce hearing damage for the shooter, but it minimizes the irritation of those who may be disturbed by the sound of unsuppressed shooting. Win-win for everyone.

Popularity of pro-gun and anti-gun groups on social media

Gun control groups routinely tout that they’re representing some large fraction of Americans in order to boost their claims to legitimacy. I’ve always been a bit skeptical about this, since various public records seem to show extremely low numbers of paid members among gun control groups, and high numbers of paid members of gun-rights groups.

I generally consider paid membership numbers to be more reflective of actual interest, as paid members are putting their money where their mouth is. Still, knowing how popular various groups are on the two major social media services — Facebook and Twitter — can yield some insight, particularly into how interested slightly-to-moderately motivated subset of the population is in what they say. Clicking a button to “Like” something on Facebook or “follow” them on Twitter requires basically no effort and allows one to get updates from those that they “Like” or “follow”. Since there’s essentially no barrier to entry, I’d expect that social media numbers would be a good way to measure the relative interest in what the different groups have to say.

I reviewed the numbers of Facebook “Likes” and Twitter “followers” (hereafter referred to as “subscribers”) for gun rights groups, gun companies and industry trade groups, and anti-gun groups on November 8th, 2013 at about 9:00pm UTC. Here’s what I found:

Gun Rights Groups:

  • National Rifle Association (Facebook): 2,748,839
  • National Rifle Association (Twitter): 191,692
  • Gun Owners of America (Facebook): 276,867
  • Gun Owners of America (Twitter): 22,786
  • Second Amendment Foundation (Facebook): 119,810
  • Second Amendment Foundation (Twitter): 4,962

Gun Industry:

  • National Shooting Sports Foundation (Facebook): 157,718
  • National Shooting Sports Foundation (Twitter): 21,104
  • SHOT Show – run by NNSF (Facebook): 44,573
  • SHOT Show – run by NSSF (Twitter): 23,649
  • Glock, Inc. (Facebook): 614,185
  • Glock, Inc. (Twitter): 63,336
  • Smith & Wesson (Facebook): 680,937
  • Smitth & Wesson: (Twitter): 54,447
  • Sturm, Ruger & Company (Facebook) 345,734
  • Sturm, Ruger & Company (Twitter): 18,310

Gun Control Groups:

  • Americans for Responsible Solutions (Facebook): 89,414
  • Americans for Responsible Solutions (Twitter): 210,7081
  • Mayors Against Illegal Guns (Facebook): 19,271
  • Demand Action – MAIG on Twitter (Twitter): 26,860
  • Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense In America (Facebook): 122,938
  • Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense In America (Twitter): 12,254
  • Brady Campaign (Facebook): 58,650
  • Brady Campaign (Twitter): 17,170
  • Violence Policy Center (Facebook): 20,571
  • Violence Policy Center (Twitter): 1,934
  • CSGV (Facebook): 46,314
  • CSGV (Twitter): 9,575

What does this tell us? First off, it’s noteworthy to point out that all groups except Americans for Responsible Solutions had far more subscribers on Facebook than on Twitter. Perhaps the ability to post arbitrary-length messages on Facebook is preferable to the 140-character limit imposed by Twitter?

The fact that the NRA has the largest number of subscribers is unsurprising: they are a huge organization and have ~5 million dues-paying members and a very active public outreach group. They also have a substantial number of subscribers on Twitter.

I was surprised by the number of subscribers to the Gun Owners of America Facebook account: the GOA is a no-compromise group that, while having about 300,000 dues-paying members, also has nearly that many Facebook subscribers, about 77% the number of Facebook subscribers to all the gun control groups combined.

I was also surprised at the number of subscribers to the National Shooting Sports Foundation. The NSSF is the firearms industry trade group and I don’t normally think of it catering to the general public. Still, it has more Facebook subscribers than all but one of the gun control groups. The SHOT Show, an annual trade show for the shooting sports industry, is not open to the public yet still has more Facebook subscribers than the CSGV, VPC, and Mayors Against Illegal Guns and more Twitter subscribers than all but two of the gun control groups.

Glock and Smith & Wesson, both gun companies, each have roughly 2x the number of Facebook subscribers of all of the gun control groups combined. Each has more Twitter followers than all but one of the gun control groups. Ruger has roughly as many Facebook followers as all the gun control groups combined, and more Twitter subscribers than half of the gun control groups.

Even though there’s essentially no effort involved in subscribing to a group’s Facebook or Twitter feed and people can subscribe with a single click, the gun control groups have a rather poor showing: the only group to exceed 100,000 subscribers on Facebook (something achieved by every pro-gun or industry group, with the exception of the SHOT Show) was Moms Demand Gun Sense in America. They are roughly tied for subscribers as the Second Amendment Foundation, a group more normally found successfully fighting legal battles in courtrooms rather than reaching out to the public on social media. MDA has fewer Twitter followers than any individual pro-gun or industry group with the exception, again, of the SAF.

The NRA alone has more Facebook subscribers than all of the Facebook and Twitter subscribers of all of the anti-gun groups combined. Talk about the 800lb gorilla in the room.

It’s pretty clear that the pro-gun-rights side has far more popular support, not only among dues-paying members, but also among people who need only click a mouse button to register their support.

As to whether or not these levels of support hold when extended to include the general public, I leave as an exercise to the reader and the professionals.

If anyone has details on other groups, either pro- or anti-gun that you’d like me to add to the list, please let me know and I’d be happy to add them. I just picked the groups that I happened to be aware of and that had at least a moderate presence on these two social media platforms.

  1. There is no official ARS Twitter account, so this is the sum of followers for Rep. Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, as their individual accounts are mentioned specifically on the ARS website and who have 139,800 and 70,908 followers, respectively. []

On Donations

I’ve been a Life Member of the NRA for many years now and while I occasionally disagree with certain things they do1, overall I’ve been quite happy with them.

In addition to subscribing to several pro-gun blogs, twitter feeds, and mailing lists, I also subscribe to several belonging to anti-gun-rights groups just so I can keep up to date on what’s going on. In particular, I’m interested in the so-called “moderate groups” like Mark Kelly and Gabby Gifford’s Americans for Responsible Solutions which, despite their mild name and claims to being moderate, continue to promote the same tried-and-ineffective policies like bans on popular guns, limiting magazine capacity, banning private transfers, and other policies that seem to come directly from groups like the VPC and the Brady Campaign.

In the days leading up to the big Senate vote, I received several letters from ARS asking for donations and support for their cause. Instead, I donated twice the amount ARS requested to the NRA-ILA.

Budget permitting, I will continue to do so for the foreseeable future and recommend that you do too.

  1. I’m not a big fan of Wayne LaPierre and think that his constant demonizing of “liberals”, while occasionally well-deserved, is driving otherwise-sympathetic people away from the NRA and gun rights in general when our side needs them the most. []

NRA Magazines Digital Editions

The NRA offers digital versions of its various magazines online for subscribers. Every month, they send an email containing a link to the magazine.

However, they seem to make it rather difficult to access: one needs to login with one’s member information, then view the magazine via some silly browser plugin. A PDF version is available, but accessing it requires a few more clicks to download, and a few more to unzip.

Why not just provide a direct link to the PDF version? That’d seem to be considerably easier. Rather than require logins, why not just send a unique URL to each subscriber so they can ensure that only subscribers can access it? Making it a multi-step process ensures that most people will simply continue to receive paper magazines, costing more money. I’m a professional geek, and even I am a bit frustrated with them.

C’mon NRA, get with the times…

Posted in NRA

Fisking the Daily Star

The Arizona Daily Star published an article in their Sunday Edition that stood out to me when I was grocery shopping today: it had a large, above-the-fold headline entitled, “US makes it easy for gun traffickers.”

While their article is long and makes a weak attempt at appearing balanced, it has some absurdities that I really must point out. I’ve made a few statements in my response that are likely to be common knowledge to gunny folks, though I’d appreciate it if readers could point out where I might find good sources for such statements so I can cite them properly.

Also, I wrote this post rather late at night, so I’m likely to have a few spelling or grammar mistakes. Mea cupla. Continue reading

NRA Annual Meeting (May 17th, 2009)

Saturday night consisted of reviewing some of my notes from the day and getting ready for Sunday.

On Sunday, I decided to be a bit adventuresome and take the metro light rail train into downtown Phoenix, so as to avoid the high parking fees. After getting horribly lost (which included driving through a shady looking trailer park whilst looking for parking — they need better signs) for a short period, Louis and I arrived at the train station, parked, and were off to the convention center.

Once there, we met up with a few other bloggers at the NRA Press Office and went out to lunch. Going off memory, we had Sebastian and Bitter, Eric, Mike, Bradford, and a couple other folks who I seem to have forgotten (sorry guys!).

From left to right, we have Sebastian, Bitter, Eric, Mike, and myself.

After experiencing the silliness of Arizona gun laws relating to carrying in establishments that serve alcohol, we had a tasty lunch, and most of us (Jason was going back to the airport) headed back to the show.

I really wanted to ask the Ruger reps some questions about the SR-556, but they were quite busy when I first checked, so Louis and I perused the exhibit floor and managed to get our hands on some things that we didn’t get to see the previous day, including the FN SCAR:

The SCAR had some different ergonomics than the AR platform (which I’m used to), but still seemed to be reasonably lefty friendly. One notable feature was the folding stock — a simple button-press released the stock, which folded around to the right. It snapped into a notch on the brass deflector and so could be secured in the folded position. The stock didn’t end up blocking the ejection port when folded, and since no operating parts were in the stock the gun could be fired while folded. Very cool.

One booth was run by a few skilled craftsmen who made very tiny, functional pistols. The gentleman (whose name I can’t recall) from the Pennsylvania Firearm Owner’s Association who was walking around with us mentioned that on Saturday the booth had a tiny, fully working 1911 that fired itty-bitty cartridges, but that exhibitor was not present today. That would have been really interesting to see.

Finally, I saw a break at the Ruger booth and struck. Fortunately, my questions were not terribly time-consuming, and I got most of them answered in just a few minutes.

Moving on, we found some very cool rifles at the Bushmaster booth — I’m very familiar with the solid, triangular front sight post on AR-pattern rifles, and I’ve seen and used various flip-up iron sights, but I’ve never seen the two combined into a flip-up, triangular front sight post:

This sight was remarkably rigid when extended and was quite compact when folded. The only problem I could see was that there wasn’t any sort of detent that would keep the sight folded — if one were to bump or brush the front sight against something, it’s possible that the sight could flip back up. There wasn’t a detent to lower the sight, but it required force applied in a specific manner, so I don’t think it’d be likely to fold down on its own. This particular front sight post also included a bayonet lug, though they have models without the lug if one wishes.

One can buy such a front sight assembly from the manufacturer here.

The .410 Shotshell/.45 Colt Taurus Judge revolver is an impressive beast, yet still fit comfortably in my hand. I’d really like to give this revolver a spin at the range sometime.

The Glock booth was near the Taurus booth, so we handled a few of the 4th Generation pistols and spoke with some of the reps.

Louis and I then went and lusted over the shinies at the CZ booth, where I was happy to learn that I could order a left-handed CZ-452 American direct from CZ, have their custom shop replace the ordinary barrel with the 16″ pre-threaded barrel found on this model, and have it sent directly to my FFL for pickup. Basically, I’d have a lefty, 16″, pre-threaded 452. Since I love shooting my .22s suppressed and have ammo that’s just barely subsonic out of a 16″ barrel, this is excellent news indeed. They gave me a card and asked me to call in the next week or so to work out a price.

We then headed over to the Leupold booth, where we got to play with their scopes. Compared to the other optics available at the show, the Leupold ones were far and away the brighter and clearer. Louis is an astronomer, and so has developed a great eye for optical aberrations and flaws…and found none in the Leupold optics, while detecting a few minor things (mostly chromatic aberration) in scopes from other brands like Nikon.

While their scopes are made in the US, I was a bit dismayed to discover their laser rangefinders are made in China. Even so, the different models were extremely consistent when ranging to the same object (the far wall of the exhibit hall), and were within one yard of each other. Several of the models took into account the elevation angle, showing both the actual range and the range that one should set one’s sights at when shooting at that angle. Very neat.

A few of the Leupold scopes also had illuminated reticles, and several of those went to eleven1.

After Leupold, we briefly stopped by the Dillon booth and ogled their progressive presses. Alas, while we were doing so, 5:00pm rolled around, and an announcement was made that the annual meeting was over, and would people please make their way to the exits.

In conclusion, while I didn’t get to see any of the various meetings and presentations made by the NRA (with the exception of the one on Jeff Cooper, who was a truly amazing man), I did get to meet with several of the vendor reps, get some information about new products they were offering, handle many of their products, met with a bunch of gunbloggers, and generally had a great time.

I’m not sure if I’ll be able to make next year’s annual meeting and Blog Bash, but I’ll definitely make an effort to do so.

  1. From This is Spinal Tap. []