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I was sitting in Robert’s garage smoking a cigar last week when he mentioned that the 2015 Gun Rights Policy Conference was coming up that weekend. My immediate response whenever I smell a potential junket: “Do you want me to go?” A little back of the napkin budgeting later and I had a plane ticket to Phoenix for the three-day event. I had never been to a GRPC before (even though they have been going on for 30 years now) so I had no idea what to expect. What I found when I arrived was a conference that felt every one of those 30 years old — dated, lackluster, and something my grandfather would design if you could get him out of the nursing home long enough . . .

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The conference was held in the ballroom of a local hotel, which is pretty much par for the course. Not much anyone can do about that. And with that choice of venue comes the standard drab beige color pallet and generic interior design. I had been in line for registration no more than five minutes and I already felt like I needed a Red Bull to make it through the day. Things would not improve from there.

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Before the conference got under way the person running the sound board decided to take some liberties with the choice of music. I would expect some smooth jazz or other similarly generic white noise to be playing, but what I got instead was a mix of battle hymns (seriously, the USMC hymn was in the loop) intermixed with country style songs about Obama being a socialist. I get that the majority of gun owners seem to be Republicans, but when one of the main themes of your conference is “Expanding our outreach,” and “We need to appeal to younger voters,” that’s probably not the way to make that happen. Sure, it energizes the base, but it’s a terrible message to send when you’re trying to appear more inclusive.

Then there was the furniture. The room was laid out with rows of long conference tables and chairs, but I kept wondering why. There were a handful of people taking notes and working on computers, but the vast majority were just sitting there (and more than a few were napping). I just got off an airplane and could have used the extra leg room. The last thing I want is to be shoved into another cramped space for hours on end.

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The table did serve one purpose: it held the gigantic pile of reading material provided to each attendee. The Second Amendment Foundation distributed enough books to keep you entertained throughout the conference, and there were a smattering of leaflets and pamphlets thrown in by other organizations as well. In fact, there was so much stuff that I couldn’t find the conference agenda for a few minutes.

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Quick note for the SAF: if you’re going to publish a book, could you take the time to make sure that the title matches on the spine and the cover? It’s a little thing, I know, but details matter.

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The agenda had called for a variety of panels to present throughout the day. I was excited, hoping to see some lively discussions about current events in gun rights interspersed with some Q&A from the audience. What I got instead was one canned speech after another, a series of people giving the same old pep rally talk time and again to a crowd that was already invested in the cause.

There were some interesting presentations, mainly from the state-level pro-gun organizations. I’ve tried to keep up with everything going on in places like California and New York, but there’s just too much happening to stay up to date. I appreciated the time the speakers took to inform us about how their various court cases were progressing and the challenges they were facing on the ground, but their time was up all too soon and it was back to the pro-gun pep rally.

And that’s really the main problem with the conference. There were moments of clarity where the speakers seem to get it — that we need to broaden our appeal to a larger and more diverse audience. That an “us versus them” mentality isn’t going to get that done. And that appealing to the younger, less OFWG-ish audience is key.

But then the agenda would veer right back to what seemed like a bunch of old men sitting around bitterly bashing Obama. Too many speakers seemed more interested in cranking out applause lines than actually sharing any new or interesting information.

In the end, over the course of the entire conference I could count the interesting tidbits I gleaned on one hand. The GRPC is basically a pep rally for the gun rights crowd, appealing to the base and not really doing well on the whole spread-the-gospel side of things. It’s absolutely a problem they can fix and I hope they do for next year’s event in Tampa.

Despite all the issues, there was one silver lining: The three-day gun rights pep rally was far better attended than the abortive gun control confab scheduled for Connecticut. That says a lot about momentum and the dedication of the people involved in the gun rights movement.

19 Responses to Gun Rights Policy Conference 2015: Preaching to the Choir

  1. Every time I’ve gone to a conference where there are long tables with stacks of reading material like that, I’ve found I’m better off locating the motel/hotel pool (if there is one).

    Though once we had fun: an education conference theme for the day was “Take Charge of Your Learning Space”, so a dozen of us college-age types who arrived early took that to heart, and rearranged an entire half of the area into tables in squares with the reading material in the center and chairs shifted so everyone could see the others at the tables as well as the speaker. Guess which side of that conference room attracted the energetic attendees?

  2. Preservation of rights always draws more support than degradation of rights. With that said, policy makers are decidedly anti rights and once you lose them, its far harder to get them back if not impossible.

  3. Two thumbs down on your review, Nick.

    They spend thousands putting that event on and it serves many purposes. I know you, Robert and Dan aren’t personally all that involved in gun rights advocacy, but c’mon. Not everything at TTAG is top notch either, and last I checked none of us walks on water. Share some consideration.

    One of the biggest purposes of GRPC is networking. You must have missed out on the many opportunities to network with other gun rights activists.

    There’s also some good information, as you admit. You can compare and contrast what your own state is doing vs. what others are doing. And how they are doing it.

    Sometimes you need to energize the base too.

    Lots of good comes out of GRPC. Frankly, as I was reading this, I was wondering if I stumbled over to The Trace inadvertently.

    John

    • No one is perfect. But if there’s no criticism there’s no direction on how to improve. The GPRC is a great concept but if they want it to continue long into the future they need to broaden their audience. That’s a theme they talked about time and again at the conference and I am providing some criticism they can use to make that happen.

  4. And so the young man has the scales lifted from his eyes. The truth is that the gun community is nothing like what you read about in the screaming headlines in gun rags or on websites.

    There isn’t an “explosion” of new blood. The country has 330 MILLION PEOPLE. There ain’t millions joining IDPA or SASS or Zoot Suit matches. The CCW demo is in fact old folks. Hunting is declining. An elk hunt in Colorado will cost you 20k. A dove hunt in Argentina 15k. Pheassnts in SD 8k. this is the money of Doctors lawyers and CPAs. Not the avg guy. There a six good looking women who shoot. Who have brain wattage in the upper double digits. Owning a gun doesn’t make you a John Madison. 90% of guns sit in drawers and closet 99% of the time. 98 % of folks will never get any training. A substantial number of gun owners don’t know what ammo to put in their gun. A vrry small number of gun owners work for maintaining or expanding 2A rights. Those OFWGs that are laughed at are the ones who have gotten us to this point. They pend the time, the money you young snots don’t have. 80 year old Marion Hammer did more for 2A than the next 10k youngins. How old were Heller or MacDonald ? Bob Levy ? Name one millenial who has donated thousands of dollars or had a law passed ?

    Bitching is easy Nick.

  5. not seeing this as a good report on the state of the POTG. stagnation is the first condition prior to retrograde advancement.

  6. Nick,

    Obama is a socialist. (Heck, the second most popular Democratic candidate is an admitted socialist!). And most gun owners are Republicans because most Democrats (or shall I say leftists) hate guns and want to outlaw any legal use of them. Furthermore, any “conference” is going to be boring especially one with the term “policy” in it’s name. What were you expecting, dancing girls and LBGTQ outreach kiosks?

    The fact of the matter is that OFWGs are one of the few racial groups that still understand and fight to protect our god given rights. The leftist, millenials and the illegal immigrants won’t do it.

  7. I have never been to any policy conference of any kind anywhere (and I’ve been to more than I can count) that wasn’t, ultimately, boring. And I’m not a “short attention span” guy.

    Here’s my list of suggestions for the 2016 GRPC: hip-hop music, pyrotechnics, maybe a little Maya Angelou reading followed by strippers. Just to liven things up.

  8. Every politician that votes or sign a gun control law violates his oath of office and he is subject to a tort action. Start suing these people and costing them money and time. Gun control = TREASON. The school shooting is tragic and about as far away from Texas with its lawful campus carry. Why didn’t this dirtbag go to Texas to show how tough he really is? THIS is why people should not be harassed about carrying guns.
    No double standards put DC politicians on Obamacare and SS.Thanks for your support and vote. Pass the word. mrpresident2016.com

  9. As gun ownership approaches 50 percent of the population the ability to ban outright diminishes greatly. Restrictions on form and function and method of use are still doable. These conferences should focus on getting us towards a national carry permit with more places to CCW so that the gun free zones are rare.

    • National permit? How about national constitutional carry? Some of us object to having to be treated like criminals in order to exercise an inherent right.

  10. On the one hand, most conferences are terribly boring. OTOH, the author alludes to one, very valuable and important point: Endless streams of mindless, right-wing insults hurled at those currently working to refine and expand firearms legislation are counterproductive.

    Such behavior makes all of us who favor firearms ownership sound stupid, and it casts doubt on the validity of our beliefs and opinions.

    If the pro-firearms movement persists in its insulting, arrogant, demeaning approach to what __should__be__ a well-reasoned, respectful conversation, I predict sub-optimal results.

    The old saw is still true: You will catch more flies with honey than you will with vinegar.

    It is well past time to begin a serious effort to engage American youth in a conversation that will lead, ultimately, to a broadening of interest in hunting, target shooting, and self-defense.

    If you want someone to agree with you, you must begin with a smile and a handshake—not a sneer and a slap in the face.

    I want nationwide, concealed carry with no penalty for casual or unintentional display. I am intelligent enough to realize that spitting in the other fellow’s face is not the way to get what I want.

  11. Nick, It’s important to remember that the GRPC itself is not an outreach project, it is a gathering of committed activists, intended to share strategy, tactics, and email addresses. Networking is the single-most productive aspect of GRPC. There were some 70 presenters from all over the country. That’s probably too many for a really instructive conference since it limits most speakers to 6 or 7 minutes, but it’s enough to give attendees a taste of what that person has to offer, and lets them follow-up on that taste with a quick chat in the hall or at an evening reception, and an exchange of business cards for more detailed followup.
    Yes it’s pretty dry, and yes, there are a lot of partisan jabs and “red meat” applause lines, but it is a gathering of the choir, so preaching to the choir is a big part of it.
    I’ve been to almost every GRPC over the past 20 years. They were all almost exactly the same as this one, and one of the laments I have heard every year is that we’re almost all old fat white guys. What you, and those others don’t seem to get, is that after 30 years, the current crop of OFWG’s is different from the past crops of OFWG’s. You see, while it’s OFWG’s that dominate at conferences like this, all of those OFWG’s were young, energetic, white guys a few years ago who were too busy to be bothered with boring conferences.
    I’d love to see GRPC filled with more younger people, more women, and more people of color and diversity, but I know that our movement is dominated – by default – by OFWG’s, and I’m very thankful that they are committed enough to spend a couple of days cooped up in a hotel ballroom listening to endless speeches in order to harvest the useful nuggets and make useful connections to advance the cause.
    While I think that much of your criticism is valid, much of it misses the mark, because you missed the point of the conference.
    I’d love to hear your ideas for improving the conference, and I’m sure Alan Gottlieb would be interested to hear them as well.
    By the way; If I was going to give away hundreds of books to “the choir,” I think I would start with the ones with the printing errors that preclude me from selling them.
    Jeff Knox, Director, The Firearms Coalition, http://www.FirearmsCoalition.org

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