Sometimes, it seems, there is a tendency to ignore the realities on the ground in favor of colorful rhetoric from afar. The recent passage of a raft of anti-gun measures here in Colorado, and the across-the-board-defeat of a broad-range of new federal gun restrictions in the U.S. Congress, are two prime examples.
Let’s revisit the political landscape on guns over the past calendar year. Horrific stories of public massacres in Aurora and Newtown filled the headlines. The mainstream broadcast and print media were awash with stories of tragedy, scapegoating, and despair. Grieving families demanded “action,” and the President spoke forcefully about the need to enact a tougher gun control regime at his annual State-of-the-Union address. Talking heads on both sides, including former Republican Congressman (and MSNBC morning show host) Joe Scarborough, predicted the end of the gun lobby’s influence, while professional anti-gun agitators (from groups like the Brady Campaign) bragged about “the inevitable passage of new gun safety” measures.
And it didn’t just stop there. Republican billionaire, and Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, got into the action by launching a cynical nationwide television campaign that attempted to divide gun owners amongst themselves (Bloomberg himself doesn’t really believe in private gun ownership of any kind, so his campaign is a farce).
Recently-elected Senator Pat Toomey, a darling of the economic-libertarian Right (and a favorite of the Club for Growth) joined West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin (who also had been recently elected to the U.S. Senate, in part, because of his “strong pro-gun views”) to propose a “compromise” on background checks. Even conservative direct-mail powerhouse Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Bellevue, Washington-based Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, turned tail and switched sides. The average gun enthusiast couldn’t help but thinking that it was all slipping away. Even formerly reliable pro-gun voices were “going wobbly in the knees,” as a recently departed icon of British conservatism once reminded our own Chief Executive.
Long-time proponents of a vast array of new federal gun restrictions were truly “on the march,” and it seemed, in political ascendency. The stars seemed to be aligned for a bi-partisan abandonment of Second Amendment in the federal legislature.
And then, abruptly (and somewhat anti-climatically) the tidal wave of restrictionist fervor was stopped cold in its tracks, in front of the whole country. Cable news talking heads like Chris Matthews and Lawrence O’Donnell were apoplectic, and gasping for answers. Charles Schumer lowered his head in dismay. In the days since the vote, even the oft-repeated public polling numbers on new gun restrictions has begun to swing back the other way.
So what led to this surprising turn of events, and who stemmed the tide? It’s quite simple. It was stopped by the organization that everyone (including some in the larger “gun lobby”) had written off as antiquated and ineffective. An organization that had been repeatedly accused of being either “too uncompromising” or “too quick to compromise” by its critics; the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA).
In a series of beautifully-orchestrated, and precisely-timed, tactical maneuvers (admittedly over the course of several weeks) NRA-ILA’s talented lobbying team (spearheaded by unsung heroes like Chris Cox and Senior Federal Lobbyist Jeff Freeman) laid the legislative groundwork that not only stopped the Feinstein Ban on so-called “assault rifles” (a completely inaccurate term, in and of itself) and new restrictions on high-capacity magazines, but also any new restrictions on private party transfers (that were the basis of the vaunted Toomey-Manchin sell-out). In other words, every single anti-gun measure in the U.S. Senate under serious consideration, was either tabled, or defeated, on the Senate floor.
NRA-ILA’s legislative victory stands in sharp contrast to what happened here in Colorado in March, where a flood a draconian gun control bills sailed through the Colorado legislature, and swiftly were signed into law by the Governor. So, how did two legislative battles so similar in substance, have such markedly different outcomes?
One could sum it up in two words; Dudley Brown.
After nearly two decades of self-proclaimed dominance of the gun rights movement here in Colorado, Dudley Brown, and the groups he founded (Rocky Mountain Gun Owners and the National Association for Gun Rights) couldn’t put a dent in the anti-gun juggernaut in his own backyard. Which begs the question; just how effective is Mr. Brown (and his two Colorado-based gun groups) at stopping any gun control measures in Colorado, or at helping to elect pro-gun candidates of either party to the Colorado legislature?
It’s been a rough couple of years for Mr. Brown. First Mr. Brown’s organizational competence came into question when news reports surfaced that the “uncompromising” gun-rights group he founded, Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, hadn’t filed their federal income tax returns for at least three years. Mr. Brown blamed the lack of lawful compliance on a “computer crash,” and evaded responsibility, even though he had been at the organization’s helm for nearly two decades. More recently, Brown was named a defendant in a federal lawsuit regarding misleading direct mail campaigns (from the East Coast) he allegedly orchestrated and paid for, having nothing to do with the gun rights movement. But more on that later.
As if that wasn’t enough, recent new reports have surfaced that Mr. Brown has been misrepresenting his academic credentials (perhaps, for many years). Come to find out that the “B.A. from Colorado State University,” is a complete fabrication. Mr. Brown actually never graduated with any degree, from any college or university (attending college is not the same as holding a degree from a college).
Once again, instead of standing tall, and accepting personal responsibility, he chose to blame others for his own actions. When asked to respond, Mr. Brown claimed that not only had he “not written” his own bio, but even more incredibly, that he had never actually read his own bio on the groups’ website. He failed to mention that the same false claims had been “un-corrected” on his Wikipedia profile, and in written RMGO materials, for years.
But gun activists in Colorado haven’t just been let down by Mr. Brown’s managerial incompetence and ethical gaffes. Lately, his political tactics and legislative strategy have also come into question. The evidence, in part, comes not only from his poor personal reputation in legislative circles (perhaps due to a striking deficit in what experts call emotional intelligence), but also from how Mr. Brown spends his groups’ grassroots financial contributions.
RMGO’s expenditures during the 2012 election cycle (and many other cycles as well), tell the tale. How much did RMGO spend attacking anti-gun Democrats? The answer is, very little.
None of it made very much sense to me over the years, until now.
Thanks to recently released emails (uncovered during the federal lawsuit discovery process) between Brown and his third-party direct mail groups in the D.C. Beltway, we know a little more about where Brown has been directing RMGO’s money, time, and energy over the years. Here’s a hint: it hasn’t been spent defending the Second Amendment.
Apparently, Mr. Brown has been (for many years) using third-party “front groups” that claim to represent hot-button social issues (like abortion and gay marriage), but in reality, are little more than direct mail operations designed to “punish” Mr. Brown’s opponents. When voters receive these last-minute attack mailers they get the impression that the candidate in question (whichever candidate Mr. Brown opposes at the time) are also opposed by a “wide spectrum” of other conservative groups. The mailers are often completely false, as with my own legislative race, where Dudley’s Beltway minions sent pieces that claimed that I was pro-gay rights and “soft” on Pro-Life issues. Anyone that knows me, knows these claims are laughable. But by then, the damage has been done.
I use the term front group intentionally because there is little evidence these groups do anything except serve as a sort of “ideological back channel,” for operators like Brown. These “groups” have no real influence of their own (at either the state or federal level), they produce no publications of any substance (either in the policy or legislative arena), and their money (and direction) comes primarily from other conservative groups seeking to use them as “cover” for their electioneering (excuse me “voter education”) activities.
One wonders what long-time RMGO members, some of whom could care less about such hot-button social issues, might think about their money being diverted away from the defense of the Second Amendment. And more importantly, might his side-job (as defender of conservative social values) explain why he has so little influence in the Colorado legislature on the gun issue?
Many conservative leaders are beginning, for the first time, to question his leadership. So much so that RMGO has actually made a plea to supporters on YouTube saying that they will “target anti-gun Democrats in the 2014 elections.” Huh? Why wasn’t this RMGO’s strategy in 2012 in state legislative races or in 2010 when the Governorship was lost? Or the ten election cycles before that?
While NRA-ILA was busy demolishing perhaps the biggest legislative assault on gun rights in two decades at the federal level, Dudley Brown’s “extra-curricular activities” had been laying the groundwork for substantial setbacks to the gun rights movement in Colorado. While Dudley Brown was accusing NRA-ILA of “selling us out,” NRA-ILA was busy fighting tooth and nail in the legislative trenches, where it distinguished itself with class, poise, and a single-minded determination.
NRA-ILA produced a substantial defensive victory, when the odds were heavily stacked against them, while Brown failed to stop any of the major gun control bills this spring in a state where he has been dominant for two decades. Measurable results versus hollow rhetoric.
These are dangerous times for supporters of the Second Amendment, both in Colorado, and across the nation. The next time you hear criticism of the National Rifle Association, by people on your own side, ask yourself one question; what is the actual record of victories and defeats between NRA-ILA and self-styled “no compromise” activists like Dudley Brown? The answer is, it’s not even close.
Jeffrey Hare is a successful small businessman, life-long gun owner, and member of the Weld County Council. Hare lives with his wife of 20 years, and three children in Greeley, Colorado. He was not endorsed, or supported, by NRA-ILA in his 2012 legislative race.
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