In March of 2016, a local radio show mentioned that my town was considering gun control laws and these proposed laws would be voted on at the town meeting in May. Immediately, I checked online news sources, which confirmed that there were warrants added to our Town Meeting that would enact restrictions far beyond what the state already had in place, and the state’s were already some of the toughest gun laws in the nation. My heart dropped from that first moment when I heard the news of these proposals, and I have only briefly recovered after the victory against the warrants at the town meeting. The threat of enactment of legislation on the local governmental level is still there and will remain, unless further legislation at the state level is successful; that is a work in progress. Until that happens, the gun-owning residents of my town will continue to remain vigilant and be ready to aggressively fight any gun control advocates proposed legislation, which we have already been warned will continue. This article addresses how we beat the proposed legislation and is offered as a blueprint to all towns who will face similar attempts. Make no doubt about it, if the gun control advocates cannot enact legislation at the federal and state levels, they will try to do it at the local level. Your community may be next. They will not stop trying, and they feel it is completely within their rights to take your rights away from you. They feel they know what is best for everyone, and they will attempt to force their value system on you and your community. It is extremely difficult these days to get people to act. Everyone has family and job commitments that seem to eat up every moment of their lives. What we faced, we thought, was a complacent community, consisting of only about 8% gun owners, in a beautiful suburb outside a major city. In general, it’s a very liberal, Democratic community. We thought we had a huge battle ahead of us, waking up the gun owners while letting the liberal side of the community sleep. Here’s what we did as a group, which was formed to fight the gun law advocates, that ultimately led to success, along with a few surprises:
Email the Town Select Board or Town Council
My first response was to email the town’s Select Board to verify the warrants were legitimate and to express my extreme displeasure and disgust with what they had allowed. I was extremely ignorant of how the town operated, the committees, meetings, rules of order, and all of it. I thought perhaps by emailing the Select Board and having other gun owners do the same the whole matter would be dropped. Needless to say, I was rather naïve. Out of five Select Board members, I received a response from three– one who tried to reassure and say he did not support the legislation, another who quoted town rules and stated they could not stop the submission of the warrants, and the final response was from the Select Board member who was the lead petitioner. Yes, that’s right; the lead petitioner who drafted the warrants was a member of the Select Board. He hastened to say he was signing the petition as a town resident and not as a Select Board member, but it is extremely difficult to separate the roles he was playing. In fact, it made it appear that the Select Board supported the petitions. His email made no mention of my comments in my email, but he did invite me to debate the issues on local television. I was actually tempted to do this, until I found out that he was also a federal prosecutor– a Department of Justice employee. All my antennae were up now; here’s a federal employee with the Department of Justice petitioning for local gun control. We were in trouble.
Contact the NRA
After receiving the Select Board responses and beginning to get very worried about the prospect of fighting a lonely battle with a federal prosecutor, I contacted the NRA for assistance. I asked them who to contact to help us fight, and they directed me to GOAL (Gun Owners Action League). They even supplied me with the name of a GOAL member who had offered to coordinate my town’s battle.
Contact the Individual Who Will Coordinate the Fight (this may end up being YOU)
I was relieved. Thank God, someone was in charge and would take care of this. I joined GOAL as a member and emailed the contact. He emailed back almost immediately and said that he was in the process of establishing a meeting place with all the residents who were worried about the legislation and would let me know when that would be. He then directed me to a website that was just being established and where postings regarding meetings and other items of interest would be listed. He began a list of emails of interested residents, and I received email notification when the first meeting was setup.
The Initial Meeting
It was a pleasant surprise. The meeting room was packed. Everyone was outraged. Don’t we do enough to comply with strict state laws already? How could this happen? These laws were unconstitutional! It’s ridiculous! So poorly drafted not even the police could legally carry on town property! When the individual in charge (who I’ll call the coordinator) began to speak, we all went quiet. He mentioned another town that had just fought a similar battle. He said the demographics of our town indicated we had a heck of a fight in front of us. These warrants weren’t going away, and we’d better get ready for the long haul. He then set up committees and gathered volunteers to serve on each committee. These would be the people who would be working the hardest. Although there were a lot of people in that first meeting, not very many volunteered. The committees established that night were the public relations (in charge of determining our media and community campaign strategy), finance (to handle donations and pay bills), and legal (to determine whether the warrants were legal, the petition format and signatures were legal, and to answer any further questions that arose). There were two other established “committees”, which he did not acknowledge at that first meeting, but they were the Administration committee (which I considered to be him, as head coordinator of all committees) and then the Technology committee (which was comprised of the coordinator’s right hand man, who was in charge of Facebook, our organization’s website, GoFundMe, and other electronic tasks). The coordinator then requested donations to begin the monetary battle chest, because this was going to cost some money! He had already ordered and paid personally for lawn signs, since he felt that the need for action was immediate.
We had about a month to coordinate and accomplish our campaign, only a month. What we quickly found out was that the lead petitioner was skilled at media use and manipulation. He knew how and when to place interviews, articles, and letters. None of our group were as savvy and experienced as he was. This is what each committee was able to accomplish:
Accomplishments of the Public Relations Committee
This is one of the hardest working of all the committees and extremely important. The PR committee met outside of the regular meetings, so they were meeting twice as much as the other committees. They had many false starts and disagreements. Some people wanted to attack the lead petitioner; some wanted to appeal to the residents with logical, calm, and rational arguments. The method of addressing the public was a matter of contention also. Do we use radio (costing a lot of money), do we write articles to the local papers (one local paper was well known as a liberal paper that would probably not print our letters), and/or do we go door-to-door? We tried to obtain a list of the NRA members in town, but the NRA would not supply that list due to privacy laws, which actually worked very much in our favor as is detailed later in this article. They did email all local NRA members twice during the campaign to notify them of the warrants. We obtained a list of conservative voters, but many members of the PR committee objected that this issue crossed political lines. There were many people in town who would vote with us, if they truly understood the issues and the potential costs to the town in terms of legal fees to defend against constitutional lawsuits. Ultimately, what happened was we did:
- a series of letters, usually in response to the false information fed to the media by the lead petitioner,
- radio advertisements on a local radio station that had a very large local audience,
- lawn signs that said “Vote No for Articles XX, XX, XX” and also contained our website address,
- advertising on local electronic media (the online version of the local newspaper),
- an insert into the local newspaper,
- station volunteers at the major entrance and exits of the town who held our lawn signs and waved to motorists,
- interviews on the radio and with local television stations, and
- print brochures that we handed out to anyone asking us questions.
It’s difficult to determine what was most effective. Each advertising venue was impactful in different ways. The lawn signs, both on resident lawns and being held at the entrance and exit of town, alerted residents that there was an issue to be voted on that was important enough for people to spend their hours waving and putting up signs. The radio interview was heard widely. The insert into the local newspaper woke up the older residents to the proposals. The online ads alerted the younger residents that there were gun control issues to be voted on. The letters to the local and online newspapers and town publications sought to educate the residents about the facts about the warrants. The potential costs to the town were highlighted as well as unenforceability by the local police department and constitutional violations. On the night of the town meeting, the PR committee had lined up speakers against each warrant and rehearsed the speeches, set up information tables, and handed out all the brochures they had brought with them.