I remember as a kid, after random childhood disappointments, I would often complain that something “wasn’t fair.” This lament usually netted a response from my mom along the lines of, “Get used to it. Life isn’t fair,” but I never accepted that explanation. If something isn’t fair, make it fair. If something isn’t right, make it right. Anything less seemed nonsensical.
The other predominant complaint that I used to levy at my mom was that, “I am bored.” Sitting around, doing nothing … I couldn’t stand it. I always had to be doing something. I think that was the recipe — a passionate sense of fairness and making things right combined with a burning desire to always be doing something. It’s a safe conclusion that being an activist is in my DNA.
Now, 30-plus years later, I can say that my mom was right: Life isn’t always fair, and things are not always as they should be. As the president of Wisconsin Carry, Inc. (WCI), I still haven’t given up trying to drive change. On a daily basis, we seek to find others who share that desire.
The Good Old Days?
Many reflect on the circumstances in their lives that brought them into the concealed carry movement. Some people were raised in freedom-loving, firearms-owning families. Others joined the carry movement as the result of life-changing moments in which they were exposed to circumstances when crime and personal safety weren’t just topics they heard discussed on the nightly news but realities they had to confront.
For many, firearms and carry became moral imperatives after the experience of having kids and instantly feeling the parental burden of being the providers for and protectors of their children.
My stepdad introduced me to hunting at a young age. I enjoyed the pursuit of game and the power of shotguns and rifles as well as the reverence and care that handling a firearm required. From following firearms safety rules to the precision of a well-placed shot to cleaning the guns at the end of the season (the smell of Hoppes No. 9 still triggers fond memories), there is so much to like about guns.
America owes its existence to patriots and guns. Patriots with guns. Do you think that message is still communicated in public schools across this country?
In elementary school, I was particularly fond of stories of the birth of our nation, from the Pilgrims to Paul Revere and George Washington. Have you ever stopped to consider the foundational role firearms played in our country’s founding, survival and success? Guns, in the hands of honest, everyday citizens, provided protection for families, put protein-rich food on the table and, most importantly, secured our country’s independence. The pioneers and settlers of this country, as well as our Founding Fathers, would not have survived without the incredible services that guns provided.
America owes its existence to patriots and guns. Patriots with guns. Do you think that message is still communicated in public schools across this country? Many of us have heard stories from our grandfathers about taking guns to school in the first half of the 20th century and leaving school to go hunting before returning home for dinner.
How did we go from such a welcoming gun culture to a place where you get punished for using your fingers as a make-believe gun on the playground or suspended for chewing a Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun in the school cafeteria? The right to carry, and American gun-related heritage in general, has been under attack in this country for the past 50 years, and it’s taken activism, lobbying and a strong grassroots cultural push to restore that heritage.
Get In The Fight
In 2011, after more than a decade of effort, Wisconsin became the 49th state to legalize concealed carry. The struggles we faced in Wisconsin mirrored those faced in states across the country. Accomplishments are one thing; the challenges we continue to be up against in Wisconsin exist in every state across the country.
Just a few weeks ago, I watched a YouTube video posted by an Iowa gun rights leader. As I listened to his frustrations with the legislative process and Republican leadership, I could have substituted “Wisconsin” for “Iowa.” With virtually every revelation, he could have been referring to my home state, and I suspect that is the case in dozens of states across the country. As I go into more detail about Wisconsin Carry’s efforts and strategies, please remember that other non-NRA-affiliated, state-based groups across the country carry out a similar mission.
WCI is an all-volunteer organization founded in 2009 and supported by dues-paying members. The passage of concealed carry in Wisconsin in 2011 wasn’t the end of an effort but only the beginning. Wisconsin Carry takes an “all-of-the-above” approach to protecting and expanding gun rights in Wisconsin, including grassroots legislative activism, public relations, education and litigation.
On a day-to-day basis, Wisconsin Carry deals with dozens of issues, from remaining available for media interviews in response to current events to responding to circumstances brought to our attention by members and the general public to assisting concealed carry license holders in obtaining the return of their guns after police seizures. We also offer free concealed carry license training classes, promote the right to carry through social media, establish precedent by litigating important gunrights issues and advocate for gun rights legislation at the state level.
Our most successful method by far has been civil litigation; WCI has filed dozens of successful lawsuits. In some cases, we seek damages for individuals who were unlawfully detained or arrested for openly carrying. Our most notable case was Wisconsin Carry, Inc. v. City of Madison, in which we sued the city for defying state law and banning concealed carry on Metro Transit buses. In a 5-2 decision in March 2017, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in our favor and forced Madison to change its policy.
Occasionally, our attorneys represent people in criminal cases involving carry rights where the opportunity to set legal precedent exists. This past year, Wisconsin Carry defended a teacher who had lawfully stored a firearm in his personal vehicle on school property as well as a truck driver who violated no law but was arrested for a concealed weapon violation for having an openly carried handgun visible in his semi cab. In both cases, our attorneys were successful in having the charges dismissed. The vast majority of the funding provided by our members goes toward litigation.
As surprising as it might sound, the primary legislative task of a pro-gun lobbyist in 2018 is to persuade republicans to be as pro-gun as their campaign commercials.
Legislative action is the most difficult and controversial aspect of Wisconsin Carry’s mission. Unlike professional lobbyists who are often disinterested third parties paid for their ability to access and influence legislators, WCI focuses on building a network of grassroots activists who leverage their power as voters and constituents to advance gun rights in Wisconsin. While this may sound like a straightforward proposition, the reality is that all stakeholders in the legislative process — from elected legislators to constituents — bring individual priorities, life experiences and belief systems to the table. Even within the pro-gun community, there are significant differences in opinion.
For example, some Second Amendment supporters believe open carry is a convenient and comfortable method of carry that acts as a deterrent to criminals and also serves to demonstrate to the non-gun-involved segment of the population that “good guys have guns.” Other pro-carry individuals believe concealed carry is the best method of carry and that open carry is unnecessarily brash and not helpful to the overall pro-gun movement. A key function in the fight for gun rights is an internal struggle within the pro-gun movement to bring these conflicting viewpoints together. Before we begin to push back against the tactics of the anti-gun crowd or address the priorities and challenges of influencing elected legislators, we have to unify support.
Hold ’Em Accountable
On the legislative front, many average gun-owning voters may be surprised to learn how many legislators campaign as supporters of gun rights but, after elected, dismiss pro-gun efforts and focus on getting re-elected or seeking higher office (and often both). Candidates who courted the Second Amendment crowd during their campaign often have to be begged, pleaded and sometimes even ridiculed into following through on their support for the right to keep and bear arms.
For years, I’ve stated that we don’t lose our gun rights to the anti-gun crowd. We lose our gun rights when Republicans who campaigned as pro-gun advocates get squishy and cave to the altered reality created by the anti-gun mainstream media. The gun-control laws proposed and passed by Republicans this year validates this assertion. As surprising as it might sound, the primary legislative task of a pro-gun lobbyist in 2018 is to persuade Republicans to be as pro-gun as their campaign commercials.
Unifying and motivating pro-gun citizens is equally crucial to legislative success. The risk of a successful organization is that individuals stop taking action on their own in expectation that the organization can do it all on their behalf. While there are many things an organization can do, it is crucial that individuals stay motivated and active. This includes being willing to pick up the phone and make a call or send an email to your representative when pro-gun bills are moving through the legislative process. As ironic as it sounds, the more successful an organization becomes, the harder it is to pull action — not just funding — from its supporters.
Never Give Up
While gun rights ultimately have to be restored with legislation, the cultural war is just as important to the fight. Gun-rights leaders and lobbyists work to find individual legislators willing to author, introduce and then drive support for pro-gun legislation, but without the support of a robust “well-regulated militia,” success can be hard to achieve.
The greatest thing you can do is “be the change you seek.” Teach your children about the history of the gun and what it means to our country. Bring a family member or friend to the range with you. Dispel gun myths. Support gun lobbyists and activists who produce results, but don’t outsource the fight for freedom to someone else. The mainstream media portrays guns as nothing but weapons for criminal use and blames gun owners for our country’s problems when, in truth, the greatest aspects of American society came about because of guns in the hands of average citizens. We should be proud of our guns and our heritage and do all we can to protect and preserve both.