I’ve mentioned before that the left has, in the long-term, won almost every political battle of the last century. The one big area where the US (and just the US) has not been moving overly left is gun freedom. The main reason for this is the NRA, but the NRA wasn’t always as powerful or hardline as it is now.
In the second half of the 1970s, the NRA faced a crossroads. Would it remain an Establishment institution, partnering with such mainstream entities as the Ford Foundation and focusing on shooting competitions? Or would it roll up its sleeves and fight hammer and tongs against the gun-control advocates? Or flee to the Mountain West? The latter was appealing, and the NRA leadership decided to move the headquarters to Colorado and also spend $30 million to build a recreational facility in New Mexico called the National Outdoor Center.
The moderates felt rejected by both the NRA hard-liners and the Washington elite.
“Because of the political direction the NRA was taking, they weren’t being invited to parties and their wives were not happy,” says Jeff Knox, Neal’s son and director of the Firearms Coalition, which fights for the Second Amendment and against laws restricting guns or ammunition. “Dad was on the phone constantly with various people around the country. He had his copy of the NRA bylaws and Robert’s Rules, highlighted and marked. My father and a lot of local club leaders and state association guys organized their troops.”
Theirs was a grass-roots movement within the NRA. The solution was to use the membership to make changes. The bylaws of the NRA gave members power on the convention floor to vote for changes in the NRA governing structure.
“We were fighting the federal government on one hand and internal NRA on the other hand,” Aquilino says.
In Cincinnati, Knox read the group’s demands, 15 of them, including one that would give the members of the NRA the right to pick the executive vice president, rather than letting the NRA’s board decide. The coup took hours to accomplish. Joe Tartaro, a rebel, remembers the evening as “electric.” The hall’s vending machine ran out of sodas.
By 3:30 in the morning the NRA had a whole new look. Gone were the Old Guard officers, including Maxwell Rich, the ousted executive vice president. The members replaced him with an ideological soul mate of Knox’s named Harlon Carter.
Carter, a longtime NRA board member, had arrived in Washington in 1975 as founding director of a new NRA lobbying unit, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA). His pugnacious approach, which rankled the Old Guard, was captured in a letter he wrote to the entire NRA membership to discuss the fight in Congress over gun control: “We can win it on a simple concept —No compromise. No gun legislation.”
The right is holding its own in this particular battle because hardliners captured the NRA (and then later recaptured it after a moderate pushback). This is how the left has always won, by capturing institutions: the academy, NGO’s, the media, the bureaucracy, etc.
If the right wants to win, it needs to figure out a way to take over pre-existing institutions. Making institutions is also good, but it takes a lot more effort. Conquering pre-existing institutions and their resource base is better.