By Yih-Chau Chang
“Thus, what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy’s strategy.” – Sun Tzu
One might be forgiven to believe that the fight over the Second Amendment is all but lost here in California. In fact, this is a sentiment that is echoed almost universally, not only in the gun rights community throughout the country, but also by our political opponents, who believe that the massive onslaught of unconstitutional gun control legislation that they flood the state with year after year with the intent to gut lawful firearms ownership has been unmatched in its political success.
Any efforts to restore the Second Amendment, many believe, will wind its way far too slowly through the courts to make any real or meaningful difference long term.
Take, for instance, the recent and disastrous implementation of certain elements of Prop 63. The new law required a background check and Department of Justice authorization in order to purchase ammunition starting on July 1st, 2019. One might reasonably conclude that the state government would have rolled out the new background check system, beta tested it under stress, and trained all state ammunition vendors with the new procedures prior to the law taking effect.
However, as has been widely reported throughout the mainstream media, this was clearly not the case. For instance, ABC News reports:
“I’ve had one customer, and I had to turn them away because I couldn’t get into the system,” Don Reed, owner of DGS Ammo & Airguns in Sacramento, said at midmorning. “He seemed a little bit perturbed. … There’s a lot of people feel like they’re being held hostage suddenly — punishing the people who’ve been doing it the right way.”
He was reading through dozens of pages online as he tried to log in, but he groused that “it would take a Philadelphia lawyer to figure it out…”
“So far it doesn’t work at all. My system doesn’t let me access it,” said Steve Converse, a longtime clerk at Ade’s Gun Shop in Orange, 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles.
Scott Emmett, the manager of the Ammo Bros store in San Diego, said the system was down for the first 45 minutes.
“I sat on the phone for about 40 minutes and no one answered” at the Department of Justice, he said after hanging up in frustration.
Emmett had a single customer by midmorning whose transaction took about 10 minutes instead of the couple minutes it would previously have taken to run a credit card.
“I can’t believe the amount of paper it wastes,” he said. “This one transaction for two types of ammo was almost eight pages long.”
These restrictive rules regarding the purchase of ammunition are certainly far from the only draconian gun control laws that law-abiding California gun owners have been forced to endure. Not even mentioning the hundreds of increasingly obstructive gun control laws that have already been passed in the past several decades, the new governor, Gavin Newsom, has promised to revisit gun control bills that his predecessor, Jerry Brown, vetoed.
But all hope is not lost. While the gun control Democrats have enacted may create the impression that they have been successful in gutting lawful firearms ownership in California, thanks to a narrowly-focused and strategically-executed public relations and communications campaign, legal gun ownership has actually grown dramatically by over 150% in the Golden State, even after adjusting for population growth during the past decade.
According to California Department of Justice data, the number of known firearms owners in California grew from 927,686 in 2008 to 2,516,836 in 2018. That’s a 171.3% increase in just a decade in the most anti-gun State in the Union.
So, despite the Democrat’s best efforts to discourage and virtually eliminate law-abiding gun ownership long-term in California, their efforts were effectively thwarted at every turn. Instead of gun owners becoming a shrinking political base in the Golden State, they have actually grown dramatically in number and power as a voting bloc.
The only problem is, most Americans, even within the Second Amendment community, are largely unaware of this development. It’s the duty of every law-abiding gun owner to inform them.
You might be wondering how this is possible. How did lawful firearms ownership, the one true north of all gun ownership metrics, almost triple in California over the past decade despite the annual passage of dozens of ever-more-draconian gun control bills being signed into law–laws that were specifically designed to openly discourage and criminalize firearms ownership?
To answer that question, let’s look back into the history of Second Amendment activism in the Golden State over the past decade.
Ten years ago, the hot topic regarding gun control in California raged around the Unloaded Open Carry Movement. As a refresher, the State Legislature was attempting to ban the unloaded open carry of handguns and Second Amendment advocates were showing up at Starbucks and other venues all over California in groups with unloaded handguns on their hips in order to protest this bill.
Reporters were showing up at each of these Unloaded Open Carry events and trying to interview anyone they could get in front of their cameras. Being a freshman political movement, the Second Amendment advocates featured during these early news segments were often caught off guard and the resulting coverage of these events left viewers with the impression that these gun rights activists were disorganized, not unified, and often spoke out with conflicting messages about their goals.
Meanwhile, veteran Second Amendment organizations like the NRA, CRPA, and Gun Owners of California virtually never spoke to the media and their leadership warned the fledgling movement to steer clear of the anti-gun news networks as well.
These traditional gun rights organizations had learned the hard way—with their quotes intentionally taken out of context and their video segments dishonestly edited or dramatically shortened when compared to the airtime afforded to gun control advocates within the same news story.
However, something had to be done. Law-abiding gun owners had been losing ground for decades and there didn’t appear to be anything that could stop the leftist onslaught against the Second Amendment in California.
According to Einstein, insanity was doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. It was long past time for the Second Amendment community to improvise, adapt, and overcome.
But where would the 2A community focus its change management efforts? After all, it would be nearly impossible to shift the political balance of the state government from an anti-gun Democrat to a pro-gun Republican majority, especially in the short term. And while legal challenges to unconstitutional gun control laws were both critical and necessary, they were slow in moving and simply could not keep up with the pace, quantity, and intensity of the gun control laws being passed in Sacramento year after year. Something else had to be done.
So the only real opportunity left was to take the gun rights message directly to the people. There was always a significant delta between the facts surrounding gun rights and the electorate’s knowledge of that information. It was time to bridge that gap.
Doing that meant gun rights groups had to make an objective assessment of the 2A community’s current PR and Communications strategies, identify their weaknesses, create tactics to address these deficiencies, and then execute on the agreed-upon solutions.
That’s precisely what the movement did.
Like many localized grassroots political movements, the Unloaded Open Carry Movement started as disparate groups scattered in their activism throughout the state.
Law-abiding gun owners all over California were deeply concerned about the state’s plan to ban the unloaded open carry of handguns. Lacking any type of centralized leadership at the outset, they started showing up on their own at local Starbucks in order to exercise their First Amendment rights in defense of the Second.
After a few tenuous encounters with the anti-gun, left-wing media, leaders within each of these groups began to understand that the movement needed a centralized PR and communications strategy. There were simply too many people giving too many different answers to the same questions from journalists. So, the leaders contacted each other and organized meetings with the goal of unifying the movement under the same banner.
Due to initial geographical constraints, Unloaded Open Carry activists unified under the South Bay Open Carry banner in Southern California and Northern California activists came together to fly the flag of Responsible Citizens of California (RCC).
Harley Green, the President of South Bay Open Carry, led the PR and communications efforts in Southern California. Yours truly was elected press secretary for Responsible Citizens of California with Jeff Dunhill acting as the Deputy Press Secretary.
Occasionally, Adnan Shahab, President of Responsible Citizens of California and a Republican candidate for California State Assembly, would also make public statements or participate in political debates on the organization’s behalf.
Eventually, the Unloaded Open Carry Movement in both Northern and Southern California united under the banner of Responsible Citizens of California. Once this happened, all of the PR and communications messaging for the Unloaded Open Carry Movement became singularly focused, concise, and uniformly delivered by the same small circle of representatives.
Responsible Citizens of California’s PR and communications strategy was carefully crafted after long and detailed deliberation. I was elected by the Board of Directors as press secretary due to the fact that I had studied the gun control question in detail for nine years prior to speaking publicly on the issue.
I was intimately familiar with both the peer-reviewed academic studies on the subject as well as those published by gun control groups who funded and cited their own research. I had also conducted a years-long study into the history of the Second Amendment as well as achieved a solid understanding of its relevant legal developments throughout the courts, both in California and on the federal level.
This knowledge would prove invaluable during political debates and press interviews that challenged the conventional thinking on gun control.
Furthermore, Responsible Citizens of California was able to develop a PR strategy that specifically addressed each of the deficiencies gun rights groups faced when confronted with a communications vacuum in dealing with the media.
First off, Unloaded Open Carry advocates knew that they would not be receiving equal airtime with the gun control side in news coverage. So they devised a strategy that would address this reality directly–all of the messaging would be developed and refined to be delivered within nine seconds.
When the PR representatives gave nothing but a series of tightly focused and concise answers, it became difficult to deceptively edit those segments. Reporters also appreciated these short slices of truncated video as they proved to be easy to insert into their news coverage with very little if any editing required.
Secondly, in order to make certain that they were not deceptively edited, RCC’s PR representatives recorded every encounter they had with each journalist and made sure it was obvious to every news crew that they did so.
When meeting reporters, RCC usually had one person delivering the message on camera and one or two other officers recording the entire encounter on their own cell phones or cameras.
Thirdly, they made certain that activists who showed up to these events with an unloaded handgun on their hip would also be relatively well-dressed, usually in business casual clothes. As the one who was usually speaking on camera, I would be dressed more professionally, either with a tie or suit on, so as to reinforce the image of law-abiding gun owners being responsible professionals who were only there in the public sphere to stand up and defend their own sacred civil rights.
Fourth, Unloaded Open Carry advocates augmented their PR and communications strategy with the news media by also leveraging the most popular social media platforms, where they could deliver bleeding-edge political developments in real time.
A decade ago, prior to Trump’s election campaign, it was considered taboo to talk about politics on Facebook. Activists ignored this unspoken rule and promoted their cause openly between members and organizations within the Second Amendment community anyway.
This decision helped to build support for their cause nationwide and allowed them to network with other gun rights and Open Carry groups that were also flexing their political muscle all across the nation.
Finally, one of our most effective strategies was also one of the most basic—RCC representatives greeted and treated each reporter with smiles on their faces and got to know each of them on a personal level prior to every on-camera interview. As a result, RCC was able to develop positive and friendly working relationships with each journalist and this rapport translated into more positive coverage of our movement.
The movement’s messages would be positioned specifically as educational, non-threatening, and delivered in a calm, clear, consistent, and measured demeanor.
The optics surrounding the Unloaded Open Carry Movement also played in the activists’ favor. The gun rights side of the debate was represented by a well-dressed, professional, and diverse group of individuals who were Asian, Latino, Black, and Caucasian. When news cameras cut away to our opponents at the Brady Campaign, they featured a large group of white seniors holding up picket signs while wearing t-shirts and jeans.
Even without an overt, conscious, and intentional contrast taking place in each viewer’s mind, subconsciously, one couldn’t help but to beg the question–which side better represented the demographic reality of California? Which side could most Californians identify themselves with more personally?
Whether one was comfortable admitting it or not, it appeared as if the history behind Jim Crow was repeating itself with the Unloaded Open Carry Movement, where a group of older white Americans were afraid of a growing minority population and were trying to control and restrict their diverse demographic power by attempting to restrict their Second Amendment rights and deny them their basic, fundamental, and enumerated civil right to self-defense.
The fact that this was happening in California, a supposedly liberal bastion of diversity and inclusion, stood in stark contrast to the reality of what was once considered Jim Crow’s racist South. Then, as before, this attitude reflected the positions of Democrats.
As time passed and RCC appeared hundreds of times on camera, not only in California, but also throughout the entire country, and also in Europe. This PR and communications strategy proved to be extremely effective.
Everyday Americans started to identify with the movement and realized that gun rights were really an issue about being better educated on the subject and the gun control side of the equation increasingly appeared to be outdated and monolithic while preying upon Americans’ fears and emotions.
Over the years, even after the Democrat-led California State Legislature banned the open carry of both unloaded handguns and rifles, the media still reached out to Responsible Citizens of California to have the organization weigh in regarding various gun control developments and RCC’s PR and Communications strategy remained the same. Long term, the positive effect inspired more and more law-abiding Californians to become legal gun owners.
And while Responsible Citizens of California certainly represented law-abiding gun owners publicly, there were other legacy gun rights organizations that RCC had close working relationships with in their collective goal to restore Second Amendment Rights in the Golden State. These organizations also spoke very effectively to the press.
For instance, Craig DeLuz, from the Firearms Policy Coalition, was frequently in the news and in Sacramento speaking calmly and eloquently about gun rights. Brandon Combs, from the same organization, has also done an outstanding job discussing gun owners’ concerns in the media. Then you also have Sam Paredes, from Gun Owners of California, who has always been a measured voice when talking to journalists.
In fact, it was because of this close partnership with other Second Amendment organizations in California that gun rights groups were able to defeat every single gun control bill proposed in the California State Legislature in 2010. This was a historic victory–a feat that had not been accomplished in decades.
Together with other Second Amendment organizations, this is how gun rights advocates were able to almost triple lawful firearms ownership over the past decade in the most anti-gun State in the Union, despite the Democrats’ best efforts to reduce and eliminate Constitutionally recognized gun rights long term.
So, as much as there is to despair about in California regarding the erosion of Second Amendment Rights, the Democrat-controlled Legislature has been unable to staunch the one true metric of success—the dramatic growth in the number of law-abiding gun owners in the Golden State over time.
Just make sure to remind everyone about this fact every chance you get. And that as a voting bloc, law-abiding gun owners have gained political power by almost tripling in number over this past decade and should, therefore, not be shy about asserting themselves with this newfound reality at the polls.
About the Author:
Yih-Chau Chang is the Press Secretary for the Right-to-Carry advocacy organization, Responsible Citizens of California. He has been featured in all mainstream local press in the San Francisco Bay Area and also in Southern California (KTVU 2, KPIX 5, ABC 7, NBC 3, Bay Area News Group, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Los Angeles Times, The Fred Roggin Show, etc.) as an expert in the area of Second Amendment Rights in California. He also established a national presence with NPR, Fox News, The Daily Caller, Business Insider, Opposing Views, UPI, Yahoo! News, and internationally with various news agencies in Europe. Mr. Chang graduated with a B.A. in American Studies from the University of California at Berkeley in 1998.
Follow him on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/yihchauchang/