The Great Compromise: Why I Joined the NRA

Two words: Stephen Willeford.

I joined the NRA on November 6, 2017, the morning after the Sutherland Springs church shooting in Texas.  When I had learned that the man who stopped the shooter was an NRA firearms instructor, I knew I needed to step up off the sidelines and do something.  For too long I yelled at the NRA from the bleachers about how they were too pro-gun control (I still think that) and refused to join. Other groups, like Gun Owners of America, Rocky Mountain Gun Owners and the Firearms Policy Institute have far better records on standing up for our 2nd amendment rights, but they have, whether they’d admit it or not, not even a fraction of the lobbying power of the NRA.

I decided I wanted more tactical and defensive gun training and I wanted to support an organization that provided those things.  I decided I wanted to join an organization dedicated to fighting for hunters and providing hunter education and gun safety training for kids.  The NRA does those things.  Sure, I disagree with some things they do still.  A lot of people refuse to compromise on this, I understand, but I ask those people, “Do you disagree with your wife or husband about things?  If so, why not divorce them, after all they’re not perfect and apparently that’s your standard for supporting something.” That maybe an extreme example, but all of us occasionally disagree with our pastor and don’t leave the church. And don’t get me started on political parties – I don’t know anyone who agrees with their party of choice lock-step, but they still vote for that party every two years.

I’m glad I joined the NRA and I plan on remaining a member for a long time. I have taken some tactical training in the last year and plan to take more.  Having firearms in your home is good, having your concealed carry permit is better, but having tactical training in addition to firearm ownership is the best you can do to protect yourself, your family and your community. If you’re a gun owner, I highly recommend joining this organization and having your voice heard – both inside the NRA and in your community.  There’s a lot of silent gun owners out there, especially in places like Boulder, Colorado near me.  It’s time that we’re heard, it’s time we take our training seriously and it’s time we start being pro-active in our communities.  

Concealed Carry State of Mind

Recently, over dinner with a not-so-gun-friendly-friend, I was told, “I’m glad people like you have guns, but not everyone is like you.”  While I appreciated the acceptance of my concealed carrying, I explained to him that almost every concealed carrier in America is indeed like me.  I explained that concealed carry permit holders are less likely to commit a crime, statistically, than law enforcement officers. However, it was my explanation of my state of mind about carrying that impressed him the most.

The Stakes Are Higher

It is really easy for most people to get upset at little things.  No matter how small the injustice, as humans, we want the world to be right.  This is why, to give the easiest example, we name call people who cut us off in traffic. As if that somehow fixes the cosmic forces at work.  Even worse, we may honk our horns or flip people the middle finger.  Some of us are naturally better at this than others, but almost everyone is guilty of this in some form.  However, the concealed carrier has to ask themselves two questions:

Is this worth killing or going to jail over?  And, is this worth dying for?

So many times, violent encounters are small incidents, that step by step, get out of control.  We cannot control the actions of others, which is why we carry in the first place, but we have a choice about whether or not to participate in the process.  People are going to be jerks, whether that’s on the road, or in the supermarket, but you have the opportunity to turn the other cheek almost every time before it escalates into something serious.  

Personal Security is Peace of Mind

If you are unprepared for an encounter, you can become scared, which can cause you to act irrationally.  However, if you carry, and are properly trained, you can remain calm because you know you are prepared if things do go sideways.  When things do happen to me, usually on the road because I drive a lot, I remain calm and try to avoid the situation, knowing that if the situation becomes unavoidable at any given time, I am prepared, both mentally and physically, to protect myself and my family.  While there are exceptions to any rule, I know that the odds are in my favor to walk out of any encounter alive and well.

The Cost of Freedom is Responsibility

Our God given, and Constitutionally protected, rights are constantly under attack.  I feel the weight and responsibility of being the best example I can be every day. When people meet me and find out I’m a gun owner, I have the opportunity to either prove that gun owners are responsible and upstanding citizens or I have the opportunity to prove that gun owners are mentally unstable lunatics.  This is even more of an issue for those of us who live in areas that are very unfriendly to gun owners already.  

While the anti-gunners want to paint us all as irresponsible people, leaving loaded “assault” rifles on the table next to our children’s breakfast cereals, the truth is, an overwhelming majority of us are well rounded and peaceful people.  We’re teachers, scout leaders, preachers, parents, and community leaders of all stripes who take our rights and our responsibilities very seriously.  Whether anchored by faith or philosophy, we live lives of integration, we’re not outlaws.  We have what our critics don’t have, that calm, concealed carry state of mind.

The NRA vs. the World

It’s the age-old argument.  Something isn’t right, do you tear down the whole thing, or do you work within the system? Do you focus on the trees or on the forest?  Maybe, there is no right answer.  Maybe, that’s the problem.  However, it doesn’t stop us from needing a solution.

Ron Paul, who is a libertarian hero, ran as a Republican for most of his life in public service.  His son Rand Paul, who is perhaps more conservative than his father, is a sitting U.S. Senator and also is a Republican.  While these two men are out of step with many Republicans on a number of issues, they feel the ideals of liberty are better served with them in Congress than with them running as Libertarians and gaining somewhere around 3% of the vote.  They know that simply running as a third party means having zero influence on national policy. The Gun Owners of America and the Firearms Policy Coalition, as well as many others, are always criticizing the much, much larger National Rifle Association for being too lenient on gun control, much as Libertarians are constantly criticizing Democrats and Republicans.  

Much like both Dr. Pauls, I have chosen to focus on the forest, rather than every individual tree.  I criticized the NRA for years, and still do when it is warranted, but two years ago, after the Sutherland Springs shooting, I broke down and joined.  When I saw an NRA instructor take down the lunatic shooter, I knew which side I wanted to be on.  I wanted to get more involved and be a part of the solution rather than sit on the sidelines and hurl insults that no one will hear.  

I have written about the need for solidarity amongst outdoors people in spite of our differences, but I think it is equally important that all firearm owners band together as well.  Sure, we can debate our differences, but the in-fighting, insults and division need to be mitigated by our common goal of protecting our God given and Constitutionally protected rights.  We all know the gun grabbers’ agenda is “death by a thousand cuts” and I don’t think posting memes of elephants defecating on social media is going to hold back the tide of the emotional, illogical, fear mongering gun control zealots.  

As much as I respect the work of these smaller, more hardcore, gun rights groups, the reality is the NRA is the only organization that has a voice on a national level.  Furthermore, the NRA does an overwhelming amount of good work from the Eddie Eagle program to free hunter education programs to its legislative work.  For example, do I agree with their support of a bump stock ban?  No, but thinking a libertarian or anarcho-capitalist utopia is possible is just as naïve as the Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Ortez’s idea that socialism would work if we just tried it one more time.  

Much like other parts of life, it’s complicated, nuanced and sometimes contradictory, but would you rather slow the erosion of your rights to a trickle or lose them altogether?  No organization is perfect, especially an organization as large as the NRA. However, gun owners criticizing the NRA for not standing up for every little thing while going to the polls and voting for constantly compromising Republicans every two years is a bit of a contradiction all to its own.  

The Politics of a Western Hunter

According to Fox News, Sen. Jon Tester (D) of Montana is campaigning as a hunter but hasn’t held a hunting license for six years. Once upon a time this was a common story, both Republicans and Democrats touted their outdoor skills, well maybe not Dick Cheney, but most politicians did.  Nowadays, hunters are not a big enough demographic to kiss up to in most parts of the country.  

Sen. Tester is a perfect case study for the politics of the western hunter. He is known for being very pro-public land, however, he’s also known for supporting gun control. Western hunters and fishermen depend on public lands, but western hunters also depend on their rifles, shotguns and muzzleloaders, as well as large handguns while in grizzly country. As is too often the case, Democrats support public lands, but not gun rights. While Republicans, at least most of them, support gun rights, but want the federal government to lease every acre for mining or energy development. The Western hunter does not have many politicians, if any, who truly represent him in Congress.  

This is not a new problem but there are still no easy solutions in the current political climate.  

Organizations like Backcountry Hunters and Anglers have been successful, particularly in the west, in bringing together conservatives and liberals on the issue of public lands. However, there is still a great divide even within that organization on many other issues, including guns. Many outdoor enthusiasts will say they don’t believe in doing away with the Second Amendment, but you will hear things like, “but you don’t hunt with an AR-15.” These people obviously have never hunted feral hogs or coyotes.  

Other times you have hunters themselves contributing to the problem. Whether it is a group like Hunters Against Gun Violence who believe in gun control, or the hunters who show up at protests with signs like, “All you need to hunt is a shotgun,” hunters are undermining other hunters. A waterfowl hunter who hunts on private land in the Midwest is thinking only of himself if he is not actively engaged in both of these issues on behalf of his fellow hunter. Different animals and different terrain require different tools for the job. If the Midwestern hunter doesn’t protect the rifle of the western hunter, then the western hunter will not stand up for the Midwesterner when they come for his shotgun next.  

Politically, what has changed? Where have the Blue Dog Democrats gone? Where have the Teddy Roosevelt Republicans gone? Perhaps the solution is to go backwards, to a time when there were issues that would cause rural Democrats to cross the aisle to work with rural Republicans. The 2016 election showed that rural America is still a political force to be reckoned with, but it also showed that the partisan divide has never been wider.   

That divide extends to Western hunters. Some, who either are bow hunters or support some form of gun control, will vote Democrat. Others, who love public land but love their Constitutional rights more, will vote Republican. This is par for the course for hunters who love to pit themselves against their fellow hunters: traditional bow vs. compound; bow vs. gun; one caliber vs. another; or Western vs. Eastern. Hunters have needlessly attacked each other for generations.

However, if hunters do not find a way to unify on many of these issues, they may find themselves in a position of having guns and no place to hunt or having plenty of places to hunt but no guns to hunt with.