"Gun Owners of America was instrumental in mobilizing the grassroots to fight the crime bill. They generated a massive phone and fax campaign into the Congress."
-- Senator elect Rod Grams (R-MN)
An old saying says there's a silver lining in every rain cloud, that good can come out of every situation.
Well, it was certainly that kind of year. While the gun community made some important gains, this year was one of the toughest that gun owners have faced in a while.
We knew it would be a rough year considering the make-up of Congress and realizing the President we had in the White House. And a rough year it was.
After the gun grabbers in Congress passed the Brady bill at the end of 1993, they quickly set their sights on the semi-auto ban. Once that passed in August, the media then began beating the drum and calling for the registration of handguns -- the so-called Brady II bill.
After surveying all the damage that Congress inflicted upon our rights this year, it might be hard to find any bright spots. Are there any to speak of?
As a matter of fact, there are some tremors in the gun control camp which are worthy of mention. Some are obvious, as evidenced on November 8 when the gun control issue played a major role in defeating several anti-gun incumbents. (See lead article on page 1.)
Other bright spots are not so obvious, and you certainly won't read about them in the mainstream press or see it on the network news. But these tremors could be the beginning of a coming earthquake in the gun control camp.
The truth is that Bill Clinton's victories on gun control came at a huge cost. It cost him the loyalty of pro-gun Congressmen within his own Party, like democratic Rep. Bill Brewster of Oklahoma. It enraged and activated Democrat voters to work against Clinton's fellow Party members at the polls.
And finally, Congressmen this year felt pain over their wrong actions like they have never felt before. This "pain" will certainly be remembered next year when Congress considers gun control legislation.
Paul Weyrich, a prominent political insider in Washington, D.C., says the "heat" generated on Congressmen during the crime bill fight was incredibly intense and actually helped kill the health care bill. According to Weyrich, "Many [Congressmen] really got beaten up badly by the public over the crime bill. Many had never experienced anything like it."
GOA on the cutting edge
Your support of Gun Owners of America helped contribute that pain which they have "never experienced" before. This year, gun owners sent Congress a clear message that voting for gun control will cost them politically.
Your support of Gun Owners of America made it possible to send this message and has allowed GOA to be in a unique position at the national level. GOA was the only national gun group to provide its members with postcards opposing the crime bill throughout the entire summer when the fight was at its peak.
Moreover, GOA led the way in keeping the national gun rights community up to date, moment by moment, through the use of its fax alert network. GOA sent updates -- sometimes daily -- informing the grassroots as to who was working to betray us. The effect was definitely noticed in Congress.
Last August, Rep. Rod Grams noted that GOA was instrumental in generating the "massive phone and fax campaign" into the Congress. Indeed, that phone and fax campaign did have an impact. Consider what it accomplished:
* Thousands of angry phone calls poured into legislators' offices, causing even the supporters of the crime bill to remark that voting for the bill would be difficult. Gun owners then won a victory on August 11 when the crime bill was temporarily derailed in the House of Representatives.
The Washington Post called it a "stunning defeat" for the President. Clinton called one legislator after another into his office, trying desperately to save face, and to save his presidency. One Democratic lawmaker, after meeting with Clinton, said the President was indeed "selling his presidency [and] the party," trying desperately to get the votes needed to pass his crime bill.
Only after some Presidential arm-twisting was Clinton able to rescue his crime bill and get the gun ban passed. But again, at a tremendous cost. The November 8 elections are a testimony to that.
* GOA led the grassroots fight in the Senate, coming within a wisker of killing the entire crime bill in late August. The bill, despite having passed by a 90 vote margin in 1993, came within only two votes of defeat after grassroots pressure forced many Senators to reconsider their votes. GOA greatly helped in this effort through mailings, fax alerts and postings on the computer bulletin boards.
Sen. Bob Dole admitted on the Senate floor in August that GOA's work in picketing him and in generating phone calls into his office was putting incredible pressure on him. He lamented that his office was being "deluged" with calls. In addition to Dole, GOA targeted other key Republican leaders and generated thousands of calls into those offices as well.
* Members on the GOA fax alert network helped drop contributions to the Republican Party when prominent party leaders began seeking a "compromise" on the crime bill. GOA faxed its members, asking them to call the Republican National Committee. Within minutes, the RNC was deluged with calls. Syndicated columnist Tony Snow said that "angry callers tied up the switchboard at the Republican National Committee and 'direct response' contributions to the party fell a heart-stopping 80 percent."
* GOA's fax alert network also helped punish the Congressmen that betrayed gun owners. GOA members were the only ones being asked to put pressure on Representatives Jack Brooks (D-TX) and John Dingell (D-MI) and on Senator Bob Dole (R-KS). Brooks' frank admission that GOA's faxes hurt him led NBC news to interview GOA about its fax alert network in October.
* Congress tried to prevent another phone call blitz from ever happening again by pushing the so-called Lobby Reform bill in September. Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) called this bill "Hillary's Revenge" because it would have been her way to pay back the grassroots who helped kill her health care bill, and who made it so difficult to pass the crime bill. While the bill was subject to conflicting interpretations, opponents charged the bill would have had a chilling effect on grassroots activities, threatening fines of up to $200,000 for people who fail to comply with the registration provisions before contacting a legislator.
* Finally, the pressure generated by the fax alerts and the computer bulletin boards was so intense that Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-MD) actually introduced a bill, HR 5015, to punish individuals if they "annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any person" by fax or modem. Annoy? Harass? Imagine being dragged into a federal court just because your letter to your congressman annoys him. Interestingly, Mfume introduced the bill the very day the crime bill passed last August.
One can easily see that legislators do not like reaping the consequences for their wrong actions. Grassroots pressure is an irritation to many of them. And instead of voting right, many just chose to attack the source of their irritation.
But GOA's goal is not to be liked by Congressmen, it is to get them to vote right. And to do that, one has to turn up the heat sometimes and apply the grassroots pressure. The key is to always hold them accountable. That is what GOA did in 1994, and what we will continue to do next year.
GOA in 1994
Because of your support, GOA was able to provide its members with the information necessary to fight in the trenches. The emphasis on grassroots involvement has placed GOA's members in the unique position of being a part of the only group doing many of the things listed below. For instance, this year Gun Owners of America:
* Distributed over 150,000 postcards opposing the crime bill and the gun ban to grassroots activists around the country. Tens of thousands of postcards were directed to Sen. Bob Dole alone.
* Kept GOA members up-to-date on the status of important legislation. To this end, GOA sent mail-updates to its members every three weeks and informed thousands of other gun owners through countless fax alerts, which were supplied daily in some cases.
* Placed ads in The Washington Times attacking the ban on semi-automatic firearms. The Times is delivered to nearly every office on Capitol Hill and is a great way to deliver a message to Congressmen and their staff.
* Spoke on over 200 radio talk shows in 50 states, both urging listeners to call their lawmakers in opposition to the crime bill and educating thousands of other Americans on the wisdom behind defending the right to keep and bear arms.
* Delivered a powerful message to the Republican Party by leading a phone call blitz that tied up their phone lines and dropped their contributions for several days. According to syndicated columnist, Tony Snow, this message was instrumental in getting the Republicans to oppose the crime bill in the Senate.
* Organized pickets and led the grassroots campaign against Senator Bob Dole and others. The incredible success of this grassroots pressure forced many in the Capitol -- including Sen. Dole -- to change their fax numbers. And the number of phone calls generated was almost unbearable. Dole later admitted on the G. Gordon Liddy show that he even had to get a private phone line put in his office so his personal calls would get through.
* Supported pro-gun legislators like newly-elected Rep. Steve Stockman (TX). GOA was the only national gun lobby to support Stockman and oppose Rep. Jack Brooks -- the powerful Judiciary Committee chairman who worked tirelessly to pass the crime bill with its ban on guns and magazines. Without GOA, pro-gun voters in this district might only have heard that Brooks was our "friend." Not only did other pro-gun groups defend Brooks, so did gun manufacturers like O.F. Mossberg & Sons, Colt's Manufacturing Co., and Smith & Wesson.
* Ran radio ads in early November to pressure anti-gun incumbents. Also, the GOA Political Victory Fund raised thousands of dollars to help elect pro-gun challengers, including Rod Grams in Minnesota, Randy Tate in Washington and Joe Scarborough in Florida.
* Remained steadfast in standing for principle above politics. This unwavering determination has now helped elect several more pro-gun stalwarts into the Congress, similar to two years ago, when GOA was the lone gun lobby fighting to elect Roscoe Bartlett, the current champion of our gun rights. This November, GOA was the lone gun lobby supporting pro-gun stalwarts like Steve Stockman in Texas, George Landrith in Virginia and Linda Smith in Washington -- to name a few.
* Provided hundreds of thousands of gun owners with a federal rating of candidates in the Guns & Ammo magazine. These ratings are the ultimate way to hold legislators accountable for their voting record. GOA refused to inflate candidates' grades to make them more "electable," but rather, rated every legislator solely on his or her votes pertaining to Second Amendment issues.
* Helped organize state rallies around the country, in addition to the first ever national pro-gun rally in Washington, D.C. this past August.
* Introduced bills in several states to undo the Brady bill and the instant background check. GOA has long opposed the instant check because of its potential to register gun owners. The NRA Board of Directors joined GOA this year in opposing the instant check, citing the registration problem and the potential for government officials to arbitrarily deny handgun purchasers.
* Alerted gun owners to the growing push by the United Nations to impose stricter gun control on countries like the United States.
* Published several opinion editorials in newspapers around the country, and thus, countered much of the media bias regarding our gun rights.
* Distributed thousands upon thousands of books, tapes and other educational materials defending our right to keep and bear arms.
* Spoke at dozens of rallies and gun meetings across the country, encouraging and organizing the grassroots for action.
* Organized efforts to distribute tabloids and fliers exposing legislators for their anti-gun voting records. This effort began in September after the semi-auto ban became law. GOA members distributed thousands of fliers in selected districts, holding accountable those legislators who betrayed gun owners this year.
* Debated anti-gun leaders including former New Jersey Governor Jim Florio and top spokesmen from Handgun Control, Inc. Those having witnessed GOA Executive Director Larry Pratt debate people from the other side know that he is an effective and uncompromising advocate for our Second Amendment rights. One HCI spokesman even got up and walked out in the middle of a debate this year.
* Remained the leading organization pushing for passage of the Citizen Self Defense Act. This bill, introduced by Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, would prevent anti-gun prosecutors from persecuting honest citizens who use a gun to defend themselves and their families.
* And last, but not least in importance, GOA provided a no-compromise voice on Capitol Hill this year. GOA regularly communicates the views of its members to Congress, and opposes all legislation that would restrict our Second Amendment rights. Moreover, GOA reminds legislators of their oaths to uphold the Constitution and stresses that the Second Amendment precludes them from infringing upon our rights.
In 1995, GOA plans to keep delivering the same no-compromise message to Capitol Hill. Our rights are not negotiable, and we will continue putting the heat on legislators who disregard their oaths to uphold the Constitution.
We will vigorously oppose the Brady II bill, with its registration, licensing and much more. We will oppose Congressional efforts to give BATF more authority in regulating our Second Amendment rights. In short, we will oppose any bill that limits our Second Amendment freedoms.
But we also plan to reclaim lost ground. We will continue pushing the Citizens Self-Defense Act which should be reintroduced by Rep. Roscoe Bartlett when Congress reconvenes.
And we are already working with legislators to get proactive legislation introduced. We want to see the repeal of the semi-auto ban which was enacted last September, and the repeal of the "sporting purpose" test which treats some firearms as if they're not covered by the Second Amendment. We will continue to maintain an offensive push, not just settling for putting out Sarah Brady's fires.
We need to put the gun ban crowd on the defensive, to be proactive and not just reactive. This upcoming year has much potential. We hope you will support GOA and work together with us in 1995.
Pro-Gun Voters Remake Congress
Gun Lobby Alive and Well
"GOA's support made the difference in my election."
-- Rep. elect Steve Stockman (TX)
The American people have spoken. From coast to coast, the message was clear: no more gun control.
This was probably not the lead story in your newspaper the day after the election. Both Bill Clinton and the anti-gun news media have no interest in this story. After all, they do not wish to admit that by carrying out Sarah Brady's anti-gun agenda, the Democratic Party in Congress suffered stunning losses.
The news media suggested that the American people were mad at incumbents. If that were true, then the anger was highly selective. Congressman Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) is an incumbent. Yet this staunch pro-gun leader was easily reelected.
If Bill Clinton had a secret plan to replace the somewhat conservative Democratic leadership in Congress, he could have hardly done better by forcing them to walk the plank on behalf of his crime bill. House Speaker Tom Foley became the first Speaker to be defeated since the days of the Civil War. Jack Brooks, who was a member of Congress when Newt Gingrich was in grade school, was punished for his support of the crime bill.
Anti-gun militants like Sam Coppersmith of Arizona and Tom Andrews of Maine chose to run for the Senate and were handily rejected by the voters. Representatives Rod Grams (MN) and Rick Santorum (PA) have moved up to the Senate and will be hard chargers for the pro-gun cause in their new positions.
While the results were certainly enjoyable, it must be said that the Congress was not transformed. GOA calculates that the House has gone from a D/D+ average to a C- average. The Senate rose from an average of D+/C- to an average of C.
Most of the incumbents are back. Only about one out of ten incumbents who chose to run for reelection was defeated. The most anti-gun militants, people like Charles Schumer, Major Owens, et. al. will be setting up shop in Congress once again.
Many of the open seats that the Republicans picked up were held by fairly pro-gun conservative Democrats. The net gain, therefore, was minimal. On the gun issue, there is not much difference between a Democrat like Harold Volkmer and a Republican like Steve Stockman. This means that the switch of party control in the House of Representatives does not mean that gun control measures are doomed. In fact, the House Democratic Caucus is likely to be more anti-gun, rather than less, because of the views of those who remain in it.
Gun control costs many their jobs
But the good news is that gun control cost many incumbents their jobs.
"We warned these Congressmen that voting for gun control would cost them in November," said Larry Pratt, Executive Director of Gun Owners of America. "They didn't listen, and now they must join Mary Sue Terry of Virginia and Jim Florio of New Jersey in the unemployment lines."
Before the election, The Washington Post stated there were 13 races where gun control was a top issue. Of those races, the pro-gun candidates won in 12 of them -- Rep. Bernie Sanders, who was the lone gun control advocate to win, did so by a narrow margin.
"Remember that the gun ban passed by two votes last May. That shows how significant these 13 races are," Pratt said.
Other media sources also revealed the importance of the gun issue on November 8. The day before the election, Charles Cook reported in Roll Call that eighteen Democratic incumbents were in trouble. Seventeen shared something in common -- a gun control record.
Roll Call's Pre-election "Endangered Species" List --
All but one supported gun control
AZ-06 English* F-
CA-19 Lehman* F-
CA-49 Schenk* F-
GA-10 Johnson D-
ID-01 LaRocco A
IN-04 Long D
IN-08 McCloskey* D
IA-04 Smith C
NC-03 Lancaster D
OH-01 Mann* F-
OH-19 Fingerhut* F-
PA-13 Margolis-Mezvinsky* F-
TX-13 Sarpalius B
UT-02 Shepherd* F-
VA-11 Bryne* F-
WA-03 Unsoeld C
WA-04 Inslee D-
WA-09 Kriedler F
Note: GOA's rating of each candidate is included. An asterisk (*) denotes candidates who have received money from Sarah Brady's PAC.
The accompanying box shows that there is just one candidate on this list who cast zero votes for gun control. He was defeated by even more of an activist pro-gunner. At least half the candidates on the list were deemed worthy of a direct monetary gift from Sarah Brady's PAC, the Handgun Control Voter Education Fund. And 17 of the 18 lost as of this writing, with one race too close to call.
Certainly there were other factors in these races than the gun control issue. But the fact remains that gun control proved to be a political death sentence in more than one close race.
Stockman, Brooks and the NRA
Perhaps the biggest upset in November occurred in Texas where Steve Stockman defeated Judiciary Chairman Jack Brooks. This was truly the "David and Goliath" rematch.
Brooks angered gun owners by pushing the crime bill with its ban on guns and magazines. Moreover, Brooks displayed an attitude compatible with those found in the BATF when speaking to some agents during a hearing last year.
Brooks only criticism over the way the BATF handled the Waco debacle was that they took so long in getting the job done. Brooks said, "I would have run [the media] off . . . put a bomb in that damn water-tank. . . . It'd been over by 12:30. That's what Brooks would have done."
GOA endorsed Stockman after it became clear that he was the truly the only pro-gun candidate in the race.
Nevertheless, Stockman -- a Republican -- had a lot of factors to overcome. His area is one of the most heavily-populated Democratic districts in the country. It is arguably the most pro-gun district in the nation, and the NRA was doing all it could to get Brooks reelected.
The NRA initially supported Brooks, but then ran into problems when grassroots members loudly protested. Tanya Metaksa, head of ILA, went down to the district in October to quell the anger, but the effort backfired.
Outraged gun owners refused to tolerate any support for Brooks. And thus, NRA had to officially rescind their support. But that did not prevent the NRA from later sending favorable mailings into the district pumping Brooks. Nor did it stop Metaksa from personally endorsing him.
Brooks used Metaksa's endorsement to his advantage, running T.V. commercials exploiting the endorsement to counter GOA's support of Stockman.
Stockman reports that the NRA counted him out from the start. "They told me I was just a lightweight and that I had no chance of winning," Stockman said. "But GOA's support made the difference in my election. I couldn't have won without them."
Indeed, GOA "pulled out the stops" to get him elected. And in doing so, gun owners have sent a powerful message to lukewarm "pro-gunners" in the Congress: "We will not tolerate betrayal; we will hold you accountable in November."
Principle v. Pragmatism?
One of the chief arguments some pro-gun groups used in supporting Brooks was that his defeat would mean that Rep. Charles Schumer could become the next chairmen of the Judiciary Committee.
While this was certainly a concern, one could make a strong argument that little else (gun control) could have been passed under a Schumer chairmanship as was passed under the Brooks chairmanship.
Nevertheless, some felt that endorsing Stockman was putting "principle over politics." They felt that Stockman couldn't win, and so we were accused of putting aside the "political realities" and doing what feels good.
And yet, Stockman did win. The November elections clearly show that the principled position was the best course of action to follow. Brooks lost, but Rep. Schumer is not going to be Judiciary Committee chairman. Someone on the Republican side of the aisle will be.
Who could have predicted this? A few did, but most people did not think the Republicans would actually take control of the House. This just underscores the fact that "political experts" cannot always predict the future, nor can they control it.
For this reason people should not compromise their principles based on what they think might happen. If one assumes that Congress will always remain in the Democrats' hands, then one might be tempted to compromise -- to endorse, say, a C or D rated congressman -- to ensure that someone like Rep. Schumer does not become chairman.
But those very compromises then prevent us from working to elect truly pro-gun congressmen who will act as agents of change in Washington, D.C. -- agents who will work proactively to repeal gun control laws and pass laws protecting our Second Amendment rights.
There is another problem with compromising our principles. Rewarding legislators after they have stabbed us in the back only encourages more of the same. It reinforces bad behavior, just like rewarding an unruly child teaches him that it's O.K. to disobey. If Brooks had won, it would have sent a terrible message to Congress that they can push gun control and still be backed by the gun lobby.
For the above reasons, GOA is committed to putting principles above politics. GOA believes that the principled position is pragmatic, and that doing the right thing -- in the long run -- will yield the best results.
GOA helps put Scarborough over the top
Quite often, sticking to principle means supporting the best candidate in the race, even if he is not favored to win. Such was the case in Florida with Joe Scarborough.
GOA supported Joe Scarborough in the Republican primary against Lois Benson, a City Councilwoman who had voted for a ban on semi-automatic firearms.
Scarborough had no prior legislative experience, and thus, was the longshot in the primary. Benson used this experience to her advantage, touting her name ID and the fact that NRA was backing her candidacy.
While legislative experience certainly makes a candidate more viable, GOA refused to endorse Benson because of her gun control record. The GOA Political Victory Fund heavily supported Scarborough and mailed into the district to clear the record between the two candidates.
Happily, Scarborough won both his primary and the general election, giving gun owners another solid friend in Congress.
The Importance of Watching Every Vote
There were actually candidates who complained that GOA was holding them accountable for every anti-gun vote. They felt that it did not matter if they voted to bring an anti-gun bill to the floor of the House, as long as they voted against the bill on final passage.
A typical example is Congresswoman Jolene Unsoeld (D-WA). She was defeated by Linda Smith, a pro-gun state legislator who was endorsed by GOA.
Now Unsoeld would vote pro-gun sometimes. But she was careful to make certain that her vote did not matter. Consider the August 11th vote on the rule to allow consideration of the so-called crime bill. The rule failed by a vote of 225-210, forcing Bill Clinton and the gun control crowd to make concessions. Jolene Unsoeld voted against the rule. You may have thought that was because she was pro-gun. But Roll Call, the newspaper of record for events in Congress reported on August 15, 1994 (page 16):
The Democrats lacked only eight votes for victory, and at least two -- Reps. Jolene Unsoeld (D-Wash) and Greg Laughlin (D-Texas) -- were apparently given a pass by the leadership to vote "no" when it became clear that the rule was dead.
When the anti-gun crowd thought they needed Jolene Unsoeld's vote, they got it. For example, on May 5, 1994, Rep. Unsoeld voted for the rule on the Schumer version of the Feinstein ban on so-called "assault weapons," a rule that prevented an effort to strip out the ban. The rule passed by just 11 votes, meaning our side just needed to switch six votes. The rule that day prevented an amendment to strike the assault ban from being offered.
This trick worked so long as everyone agreed to pretend that some anti-gun votes did not matter. Obviously, if Democrats are the majority party, they will be asked to support their party leadership on these sort of essential, but often overlooked votes. Yet Congressman Harold Volkmer proved yet again that it is possible to be both a good Democrat, and a staunch pro-gunner. Harold Volkmer voted correctly on every rule, every amendment, and every bill. If other Democrats wish to sing the Gilbert and Sullivan refrain, "I always voted at my party's call, and never thought of thinking for myself at all," they have no right to expect gun owners to enjoy the tune.
A fascinating statistic emerged just prior to the election: those who watched C-SPAN regularly and followed Congress closely were more likely to vote against incumbents than those who did not keep an eye on Congress. Incumbents were not thrown out by unthinking voters, but rather by the most thoughtful voters.
GOA will begin the next legislative year with many new friends in the Congress. Considering that both Judiciary Committees will be in new hands, there would appear to be many promising opportunities on the horizon. Please stay tuned.