Saturday, July 19, 2008

Guns, compromise and ... liberals?

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


Funder said...

I am a CCW-holding gun-toting one-day-I'll-learn-to-hunt liberal woman. Ridiculous opinions on both sides of the aisle scare me.

I don't really understand how gun rights ended up on the opposite end of the spectrum from the "liberal" ideology. It makes perfect sense to me to be a liberal with a gun. :)

Love your blog, especially the solstice post.

Brandon Darnell said...

I've never understood the "all or nothing" stance that some people on either side tend to go for. I am 100% for gun rights from a freedom and historical standpoint. Governments should fear the citizenry, to an extent, and while I think owning a Tommy gun might be great fun, I'm OK with regulating that.

I am also OK with the waiting period, background checks and think there should be instant background checks at gun shows. We have the technology, we just don't implement it.

I'll have to give that book a read. Great post, and I'll be clicking on your article soon.

Native said...

Great Q&As
The interview with Feldman touched upon and brought up some of the many reasons why I, as a registered Republican and firearms advocate no longer belong to nor support the N.R.A. and its sometimes radical agenda.

I lend my support to Safari Cub International, United Sportsman's Alliance and several local organizations. I was a little disappointed when S.C.I. joined forces with the N.R.A. a couple of years ago but also, I realize that we need numbers at this point in time.

The problem which all political organizations are currently having now is kind of like when you try and cut your own hair. A little too much off the left side and then you concentrate upon the right.
A little too much off of the right side and then you go back to the left and before you know it you have shaved yourself bald and you start from scratch.

First one side hired the extremists to push their agenda for them. Then in order to keep up with what had happened, the other side did the same. And then before we all knew what was happening, the political climate had changed so very radically and is now fraught with extreme positions coming from both sides.

The moral to this sordid story is just as Feldman has stated, listen to "both" parties and then make a sound decision based upon sound scientific evidence and unbiased data.

Thank you for sharing the article Holly, it brought to light some of the questions which I had about Feldmans dismissal.

Anonymous said...

First, I need to get a copy of this book and read it, so thanks for pointing it out.

Second, very interesting article. I've wondered about the NRA and their constant requests for money for some time. The fact that almost half the money they raise goes to support fundraising efforts is a bit disheartening.

I also agree that getting to your local officials is a great way to start making changes. I wish more people would take that step. Politics is about favors and relationships and you never know who may end up in a position to do you a lot of good some day.

There's a lot to think about in this interview. I'm so glad you took the time to do it.

Holly Heyser said...

Funder, thanks for stopping by and for your kind words. And Native, LOVE the self-haircut analogy! That's fantastic.

After reading this book and talking to Feldman, part of me wants to join the NRA and the Sierra Club - the NRA so I can be counted as a gun owner and respected by politicians, and the Sierra Club so the more extreme enviros there know hunters and gun owners also care about the environment (and expect a little respect).

And of course, the sheer shock value of having both stickers on my car would be entertaining.

But if I do such a wild and crazy thing, I'm 100 percent sure I'd ignore all the extra fundraising pleas from both of them, because something tells me that most organizations like these share some of the NRA's issues. I'd rather put my extra cash where I can see what it's doing.