Summer is reading time for me because school's out, and one book I couldn't wait to get to this summer was Ricochet: Confessions of Gun Lobbyist by former NRA lobbyist Richard Feldman.
Guns, politics, the NRA? What's not to love?
The main points of the book are that the NRA is wracked with internal strife, obsessed with power and control over the gun issue in politics and sometimes more concerned with hyping political battles for their fundraising potential than with actually winning the battles. As you can imagine, this does not make the author popular with the NRA.
As a lobbyist for the NRA and the gun industry, Feldman had enjoyed some sweet successes in Northeastern states that were presumed to be hostile to gun rights. But he was exiled after brokering some compromises with anti-gun forces, one of which - his effort to avert cities' lawsuits against gun manufacturers - was a spectacular failure.
I tore through the book pretty quickly, and immediately wanted to talk to Feldman. He seemed like exactly the kind of person I loved talking to when I was a statehouse newspaper reporter - a political insider who was reasonable, someone who understood that politics is the art of compromise. As a reporter, you get pretty tired of the unyielding, always on-message folks (of all political persuasions) who never stray from their talking points and never make even the most obviously sensible concessions.
And I really wanted to know: If the NRA is that messed up, how are gun owners supposed to defend their rights?
I contacted Feldman's publisher to request an interview, and ended up reaching him pretty quickly and having a long and intriguing conversation. The article that came from that interview is now online at Jesse's Hunting & Outdoors (click here to read the story).
A couple key points from the interview:
- Feldman is still a member of the NRA and believes gun rights would be in sorry shape without it.
- There are tons of liberal gun owners who could be a really important force in gun politics.
- Feldman believes there are gun laws we can agree to that don't compromise our fundamental rights.
That last point in particular is interesting because we were just discussing (in the comment section on my last post) the notion of whether we can safely collaborate with groups whose interests sometimes conflict with ours.
Feldman readily admits he got burned last time he tried to compromise with anti-gun forces. "It’s the nature of the beast," he told me. "I love cooking, I get burned all the time, I keep going back to the kitchen. Getting burned once in a while is the nature of the beast."
And he's adamant that we should avoid assuming people with different political beliefs are the enemy. "I found out how wrong I am so many times in my life with those presumptions about people," he said. "If you start off with the attitude 'You’re my enemy,' you may be creating an enemy where there was none before."
Wise words, in my opinion.
Even if you disagree, though, I think Feldman's book is worth reading. Why? It's a really cool insider's look at gun politics that most rank-and-file gun owners will never get a chance to see for themselves.
And if you get a chance to read the interview on Jesse's, I'd love to hear what you think. You can't leave comments on the article on that site, but feel free to hit the "back" button and leave your two cents here.
© Holly A. Heyser 2008