Useful Lessons from the Field
Fighting gun control in real life when it comes to your backyard is very different than talking about it online - a lesson that many active PAFOA members have learned over the years. As blogger Sebastian noted, the board of commissioners meeting in Radnor was a great example of organized, effective activism.
But for those who haven't had to act locally yet, here are some tips gleaned from previous experience.
- Organize with other gun owners as much as possible before the event. First, it increases likely turnout when gun owners know there will be others there to back them up and they are part of a team. Second, there is power in numbers. While it's easy to use PAFOA's forums as a recruiting center, don't forget about other resources. You can find more bodies and voices at your gun club or via an email to friends and family, try to convince folks to come out even if they sit silently in support of our rights. Don't forget about relevant non-residents who might have standing to speak - business owners, employees in town, and those who also visit and spend money in the area.
- Dress accordingly. Not every speaker needs to be dressed to the nines, but double check that your clothes are clean and appropriate. Remember that the underlying message you're trying to send is that you're an average taxpayer who is concerned about the direction of city government getting into areas where they are not legally allowed to legislate. Just look neighborly.
- For those willing to speak, divide arguments by topic. Assign one speaker to tackle each of the primary arguments to the fullest extent possible in only a few minutes. This means each topic can be discussed at a deeper level in the limited time allotted for each speaker in many government meetings. It also minimizes redundancy which could make leaders tune out remarks. Consider working to review each other's prepared remarks to make sure each point is tackled.
- If you do have help from out-of-towners, try to keep the core arguments limited to residents. If the anti-gun leaders want to shut down debate, they may aim to limit it to residents only.
- If you're not used to speaking in public, write out your statement and print it in an easy-to-read format. It's better to read well-crafted remarks and stay on point than risk rambling on about other topics off the cuff. If you want to improve your presentation skills, practice at home in front of a video camera. Watching yourself speak on video is a harsh lesson, but it is the most honest assessment of both good and bad habits.
- Don't forget to identify yourself and how you are related to the community. Sometimes it's hard to remember to introduce yourself, but it is often required in town meetings and it serves to advance the argument that there are gun owners all around who want their rights respected.
- If you have several arguments to make on a topic, number them in your remarks. It will let councillors know that you have a well-developed argument that should be easier to follow. If time begins to run out, it also gives them a polite way to ask you to quickly make the rest of your points.
- Don't fight with city leaders. If gun control is brought up at all, it is likely because there is at least one anti-gun leader on the board. Understand that they are likely to try and defend their legislation. At best, you may want to politely rebut any stinging arguments, but do not try to pick a fight with them. Choose your battles wisely.
- Don't fight with the anti-gun leaders in the audience. We know 99% of what they will say in advance. There is a very good chance that in your efforts to divide arguments, gun owners will have made the factual arguments that defeat their emotional pleas. Unless a new argument is made, don't worry about getting up to argue again and again.
- Stick with the relevant facts. As inspiring as it may feel to talk about the importance of the Second Amendment, most local leaders don't really think about their responsibility to respect the federal Bill of Rights. Unfortunately, until we end up with a favorable result in McDonald, anti-gun advocates may argue that it doesn't hold much legal weight, either. While a lofty reference or two for inspiration won't derail your argument, keep the focus on immediate concerns they - and other residents - can identify with.
- Look to other city issues that can supplement your arguments. For example, with a major pothole problem, is it really in the city's best interest to spend money on a gun control measure that's likely to be struck down? Remind them that as much as gun control might "feel good" to them, there are bigger local issues that must be dealt with at the moment. Whether it comes in the form of potholes, schools, or taxes, most towns have more pressing needs on their agenda than gun control.
Perhaps the most important tip in all of this is to stay in touch with those who turn out and help. Connect online again. Grab some coffee or hit the range with your new fellow activists. Don't forget that while we're always trying to defend our rights, most of us were initially attracted to this issue because we truly enjoy the sports and the other people in the movement.