FROM MOUNTAIN MEDIA
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE DATED MAY 27, 2001
THE LIBERTARIAN, By Vin Suprynowicz
Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory
One way America’s mainstream media reveal their rabid anti-self-defense prejudice is through their insistence on characterizing the National Rifle Association as a wild-eyed group of no-compromise, gun-rights extremists.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The NRA endorsed the original federal handgun control bill of the 1930s; the 1968 Gun Control Act; and the Brady Bill with its waiting periods and now its so-called “instant check” national gun registration (for long guns as well as revolvers.) NRA executives seem happy so long as they continue to collect dues and contributions from the outfit’s reported 4 million dull-witted members, who apparently never tire of the siren song, “We got you a better compromise than if we hadn’t been here; we only bargained away a few more of your rights this year; just keep voting for the same smiling Republican traitors so they’ll let us into their offices to ‘compromise’ with them again next year; here’s your ‘Voters’ Guide.'”
“The politicians want the NRA, they can cut their deals with the NRA,” explained gun rights activist Dennis Fusaro this week, phoning in from Northern Virginia. “The NRA has supported gun control since 1871, they admit it, I’ve got the 1968 issue of the Rifleman where [NRA] Vice President Ort is quoted saying that; the organization has never been about ‘rights.’ They were started by a bunch of darned Yankee generals who were pissed off that the Johnny Rebs shot their pants off in the Big War, it was all about improving marksmanship among the recruits so the army of the centralized state could keep its hobnailed boot on the throat of the people.”
Until March 16, Dennis Fusaro worked for the NRA’s chief competitor in the field of Washington gun-rights lobbying, the 300,000-member Gun Owners of America, training local activists to lobby against further restrictions on the Second Amendment at the state level.
He appears to have done his job too well.
“The professionals at the NRA absolutely hate it when a bunch of people start coming to the Legislature and telling the politicians what they want and don’t want, because it just makes an awful mess — the politicians can’t figure out whom they can cut a deal with. Compromise is the way politicians like to play the game; you get the lobbyists in a room and everybody shakes hands on a compromise and the lobbyists go home and tell the grassroots to vote for this guy because we can work with him. A few more rights get sold down the river and everybody goes home happy and gets re-elected.
“In Utah (GOA local lobbyist) Sarah Thompson had worked to get through a good bill that would have honored concealed-carry permits from any other state without restriction.”
In the final days of the session, however, NRA lobbyist Brian Judy arrived in Salt Lake and made a deal to accept an amendment that the out-of-state permits would only be honored for 60 days.
“They purposely kept Sarah out; he comes out like a knight on a white horse. Sarah had the senators pretty well under control and was pushing them with grassroots pressure, and then Brian Judy goes in the back room and accepts this bad amendment.”
GOA consultant Mike Rothfeld, who had worked with Fusaro since 1994 training the state-level activists, and who parted company with GOA within hours of Fusaro’s dismissal, confirms the tale: “This year he cut Sarah off at the knees with a last-minute deal to undo a recognition bill she had drafted, caused to be introduced, and shepherded through the House. He blamed Sarah for making legislators ‘angry.’
“As opposed to the old NRA game of “Let’s Make a Deal,” the way Fusaro says he was training GOA’s local activists to hold the feet of anti-Bill-of-Rights politicians to the fire “was to tell them, ‘Do what you have to do, but you know where we stand. If you vote any way but for our gun rights, we will work against you in the next election; we will rate you with an “F”; we will run people against you; we will get all the gun owners to vote against you; we will defeat you.’ Politicians respond to anyone who makes their lives miserable; if they can count on your being their friend no matter what they do, they’re going to start cozying up to Sarah Brady.”
Fusaro says it was precisely his budding success with these tactics in 20-plus states — “a decentralized movement that couldn’t be controlled; if the head went bad it couldn’t poison the whole body . . .” that finally led the GOA board of directors to attempt to pull in the reins on such effective lobbying, and — when that didn’t work — to fire him. “The local pols tell the lobbyists, ‘Can’t you control your people?’ And what’s more important to the [professional] lobbyists is to have these relationships with these politicians rather than saving your rights. And I said that, and for saying that I had to go.”
“We’re just as opposed to Project Exile as we’ve always been,” responds GOA Executive Director Larry Pratt, Fusaro’s former boss. “We’re just as opposed to the instant background check as we’ve always been; it just isn’t true that we’re going to be any softer on these issues. There were some personality differences” that led to the removal of Fusaro and consultant Rothfeld, Pratt insists. “It’s a shame” that Fusaro had “a personality difference with the chairman of the board,” 73-year-old GOA founder and former California state Sen. H.L. “Bill” Richardson.
“If it had just been a personality difference that’d be great,” Fusaro responds, “but if it was just a personality difference, why did [GOA] board members come out and say we can’t lose the Republican majority in 2002; we have to get Bush re-elected? If that’s our primary objective then what can Bush and the Republicans in Congress do to us, or fail to do for us? Why should they feel obliged to do anything for gun owners?”
It’s the larger NRA which cynics have long described as the “Gun Owners’ Auxiliary to the Republican Party,” of course, since the nation’s largest gun control organization will often award its “A” or “B” rating to GOP turncoats who have voted for half the gun control laws to come down the pike, endorsing them over Libertarians or other third party candidates who vow to repeal every gun law on the books. Why? Because the third party candidate “can’t win,” of course, and the NRA lobbyist’s real game is to “retain access” to the GOP incumbent after helping him win re-election. Why insist on the plain language of the Second Amendment (“shall not be infringed”) if the end result is fewer cocktail party invitations next year? That could make your organization appear “out of the mainstream.”
“Richardson doesn’t want GOA people criticizing the NRA,” Fusaro explains. “Richardson yelled at me over the phone, he said they have wonderful relations with the NRA in California; we can’t have this public disunity” among the supposed gun rights’ groups. “Well, hell, let’s look at California,” which has some of the most onerous victim disarmament laws in the country. Let’s take the direct shuttle to the death camps, and not mess around on these winding train tracks. They don’t do anything in California, they’ve been going to hell for 10 years. That’s why I came to work for GOA a decade ago,” Fusaro concludes, “because I wanted someone who’d let me fight. What Richardson wants most, in my opinion, is to be part of that respectable conservative Republican establishment, and if that’s what you want then they own you. You have to show them you’re willing to break up the country club, you’re willing to be thrown out, you’re willing to be thrown into the briar patch.”
Insiders tell me there may indeed be a drop in GOA lobbying at the state legislative level this election cycle, though they place the primary blame on a shortfall in fund-raising — one that’s apparently affecting most conservative organizations since the Bush election. When it comes to conservative causes, “People are figuring with George Bush elected we’ve all died and gone to heaven,” sighed one frustrated, inside-the-Beltway fund-raiser this week.
* * *
Vin Suprynowicz, vin@…
Sent: Friday, March 16, 2001 4:48 PM
Subject: A N G R Y
What follows is not confidential. All views are solely my own.
Dennis Fusaro was fired today as he made his way back from New Hampshire after testifying at a committee hearing Wednesday. He was given fair severance.
It is my understanding that, at the request of California (i.e. H.L. Richardson), he was fired by GOA staffer John Velleco. Larry Pratt was traveling. I do not know the reasons for Dennis’ firing.
Effectively immediately, I resigned my consulting relationship with GOA . . . though my resignation preceded my axing by minutes.
When Dennis and I began working together to build a state-based political operation in 1994 (modeled on the National Right to Work Committee’s philosophy and tactics which Dennis learned from Huck Walther and I practiced at the Committee for five years), GOA’s presence in the states was effectively zero.
State-by-state gun owners were losing their rights, usually without a serious fight — few folks knew who GOA was, none cared. GOA was a threat to no politician.
At that time, the reigning paradigm was “Access-based” (pushed primarily by state-level sports-shooting lobbyists with virtually no grass-roots to call on and NRA reps overloaded with work and too often with a “we cannot win, so let’s cut a deal and lose slower” mentality): Find out what politicians will accept, make a deal, defend it to the grass-roots as it gets worse, and then claim victory to the press and pro-gun contributors.
Dennis and I set out systematically to blow up this paradigm . . . and to get the pro-gun movement back to fighting to win through confrontation with politicians and mobilization of pro-gun grass-roots.
And in two dozen or more states (more every year we operate), we mostly have — far better than I thought possible when we started (to God be the Glory).
There are far fewer deals made now, because politicians have learned GOA will not support them … and, more importantly, that we will rally the troops to make the politicians pay who agree to the deals.
In addition, the lobbyists who cut the deals are far more hesitant. They lose credibility when they make a deal and it blows up.
Occasionally, this necessitates direct engagement with pro-gun lobbyists (for example, the NRA rep who threatened an “A” State Senator in Oklahoma with an “F” if she worked with us to force a vote on Vermont-style conceal carry). More often, it requires a simple generic report (“some misguided pro-gun lobbyists”).
Most of the time, success is achieved without ever mentioning the pro-gun deal-makers directly or indirectly.
Of course, there are fights where we are all on the same side (for example, the Washington State initiative two years ago).
More often, GOA and our state-level allies fight alone now. But, that is a vast improvement over five years ago.
Now at least, most of the time, we do not have to openly fight other pro-gunners (though their sniping is ceaseless).
However, to be blunt, the “Access-based” pro-gun lobbyists’ paradigm has not changed (in fact, the current NRA leadership seems even less confrontational than the previous).
But the price they pay for engaging their paradigm has risen steeply.
In addition to all this, Dennis and I have trained THOUSANDS of pro-gunners in twenty-plus states the tactics that have brought victory — OK, I admit, in the current environment we mostly have stopped defeats — far beyond what GOA’s current resources can achieve.
Many of these pro-gunners have founded and built independent groups which now have thousands of supporters, state media presence, and annual budgets of tens of thousands of dollars or more.
This is a force-multiplying program that even National Right to Work does not have.
So what will the future bring ?
I cannot say for sure. I predict more compromise, more negotiation, more mush. Of course, no one will call it that. But those of you who have fought to win the last few years will know the difference . . . and pay the price.
Sitting down with anti-gunners and pro-gun compromisers to negotiate implies agreement at some level. Secret meetings are only secret until someone decides to call the press.
Even if most pro-gun organizations peal off a deal in the end, anti-gunners and the media will not . . . and the press will continue to claim there is support from “even some pro-gun leaders”.
I especially want to warn about an NRA representative named Brian Judy. Last year, without telling us, he put out a letter defending Governor Mike Leavitt of Utah when GOA had Leavitt in our sights due to his outspoken push for gun control the previous year. When confronted by GOA’s Utah allies, Judy claimed he was ordered to send the letter by Washington, though he insisted that he had told them it was the wrong thing to do. I do not believe him. Sarah Thompson can clarify the details.
This year he cut Sarah off at the knees with a last-minute deal to undo a recognition bill she had drafted, caused to be introduced, and sheparded through the House. He blamed Sarah for making legislators “angry.”
Judy has the ear of California.
Playing confrontational politics demands strong nerves AND a solid front.
Many of you know Mark Mix, Senior Vice President of the National Right to Work Committee. Mark does an excellent presentation on what happens when deals go bad and politicians and the access-based lobbyists who protect them start to whine. In some ways, I confess his description is better than my own.
But we both agree, making the problem go away by finding a shut-off valve at the group’s HQ is always a strategy.
Through Brian Judy and others (probably Chuck Cunningham), this seems to be what has happened to Dennis and GOA’s state program.
All over the country, grass-roots pro-gun activists have looked to GOA generally and to Dennis (and, to a much lesser extent, me) specifically for tactical leadership.
They know the “Access-based” paradigm is wrong; some because Dennis or I explained it and they understood, many others because they recognized without being told the political poverty of the approach that brought loss-after-loss in their state.
Regardless of what happens now with GOA, I hope those of you whom Dennis and I have trained and helped will fight on. I sure plan to.
As you well know, for hundreds and hundreds of the best activists in America, GOA’s program has been seen as the last-best-hope. Many had quit or were ready to quit, before Dennis and I showed them there was a way to fight to win over the long-term.
These pro-gun grass-roots leaders have been taught by us, and through his writings, that H.L. Richardson is a hero and a father to all we have achieved.
Although it may seem faint and late praise, I want to state that Larry Pratt is a man of honor and faithfulness. I sincerely thank him for the opportunity to work through GOA for values shared. I am persuaded that my time was not wasted.
Use this memo as you see fit.
For freedom . . .
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