On Facebook, there is a discussion of some upcoming ballot initiatives in Washington State. The initiatives are I-591 and I-594. 591 is Pro-Gun and limits the state’s ability to confiscate firearms, and 594 is anti-gun, and sets up a draconian background check law that would make Bloomberg proud. There are some complaints that NRA isn’t getting involved, because a lot of gun owners tend to view NRA as this giant, monolithic organization with nearly unlimited resources. Of course it’s not, but it seems that whenever there is a local gun rights battle at the state level and NRA doesn’t get involved, people are quick to scream “where is the NRA?”
The truth of the matter is that some battles are better left to state level organizations. When you’re talking about gun rights, there are two board sorts of fights, the strategic level stuff, such as national legislation and Supreme Court cases. Victories or losses at the strategic level strongly influence the fights at the tactical level; state wide initiatives, state and local elections, that sort of thing. For example, Heller and McDonald, both big strategic wins paved the way for tactical wins in Illinois, DC, etc.
NRA’s role at the state level is dependent on a multitude of factors. First, ILA employs lobbyists for each state, but those state level lobbyists are usually assigned to more than one state. For example a lobbyist could be responsible for state legislation in Indiana, Missouri, and Oklahoma. The lobbyist in WA is probably responsible for California and Oregon as well (talk about a rough gig).
The second factor for NRA’s effective at the local level is dependent entirely on the volunteer network, which is run by Election Volunteer Coordinators. EVCs are the backbone of NRA in local fights, because they’re the volunteers on the ground that actually get people together to make phone calls, do door knocks, and distribute political information. If you don’t have good EVCs on the ground, you don’t win.
A third weapon in the NRA’s bag are contractors, usually called Campaign Field Reps. I was a CFR for NRA in Washington State in 2010. CFR’s primarily responsibility is Get Out the Vote activities. They’ll organize phone banks, distribute literature, organize door knocks, etc. They’re limited in scope to only representing the campaigns that NRA has endorsed in their area. A good CFR can have a huge impact on an election or initiative.
Speaking of initiatives, those represent an interesting problem. Fighting for or against a ballot initiative is like trying to win an election. It’s all about boots on the ground, traditional GOTV (get out the vote) activities. It’s different from fighting a piece of legislation, because a lobbyist fighting for or against legislation has a pretty good idea of where the votes are going to come from. To win an election or fight a ballot initiative, you have to make sure that your base, the people who are motivated on your topic are 1) aware of the issue and 2) motivated to vote.
Washington is a special case for gun rights; while the state west of the Cascades trends blue/liberal, there is a strong gun owning community in what is a democrat stronghold. East of the mountains, the political landscape is largely conservative. But that conservative population frequently feels disenfranchised, because many of them have bought into the narrative that they can’t outvote King/Pierce Counties. That’s sort of true – with average voter turnout numbers, they can’t. But if the east-range area were to have, say 80% voter turnout and the King/Pierce area were to have its regular turnout, Washington would be a red state.
Which is why GOTV activities are so important. It’s really not about winning people’s hearts and minds. This is ground level tactical stuff: 1) find the people who would vote for you, 2) make sure they do. That’s it. That’s how you defeat or win a ballot initiative. One of the best examples how to do this in Washington was put on a couple of years ago by Cosco, who successfully had a ballot initiative go through to allow for liquor sales by private companies. It took a ton of legwork and a ton of money, but they got it done.
If you want to defeat a ballot initiative, or get a ballot initiative passed, the question isn’t “where is the NRA.” The question you should be asking is “how can I set up a phone bank?” Get a skype account, get a list of gun club members or something, and start calling people. No one is stopping you from doing that. Local elections and ballot initiatives are tactical fights, and they’re won and lost at the grassroots level.