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The people of New Hampshire did not get a constitutional carry (no permit required) bill passed this year, and a state grass-roots group called Pro-Gun New Hampshire is putting the blame for this on the local National Rifle Association legislative liaison and the state affiliate group who they say effectively killed the bill as it was poised for passage.

The core of the allegation is that the NRA liaison did not participate in the process as the legislation (H.B. 330) was being developed and moved through the committee process in the New Hampshire House – including several public hearings – but then in the eleventh hour submitted an all-encompassing, replacement amendment that included what some see as anti-rights provisions.

The House Criminal Justice & Public Safety Committee rejected the NRA amendment, suggesting that it should be offered as a stand-alone bill in the next session, and the full House overwhelmingly passed H.B. 330, sending it on to the Senate. In the Senate, the NRA liaison again offered the replacement amendment and made a deal with a friendly senator to slip it in through a side door. This immediately caused confusion and conflict among the pro-rights senators and the opposition was quick to exploit this. In short order the original bill and the amendment were tabled and dead for this session – until the gun-rights guys can find a bill they can agree on.

This whole debacle lands squarely on the shoulders of a fellow named John Hohenwarter, the NRA legislative liaison for New Hampshire.

When outraged grass-roots leaders in New Hampshire began loudly complaining about Hohenwarter’s actions, NRA put out a statement claiming that the NRA bashers were making misleading statements and misconstruing the facts.

That statement was answered in an open letter to NRA from gun rights-advocate and Chairman of the New Hampshire House Criminal Justice & Public Safety Committee Elaine Swinford, who lambasted the NRA statement as patently false and misleading. She cut NRA headquarters a huge amount of slack by suggesting that they were being duped and mislead by Hohenwarter and then laid out the facts of the case as described above.

This is not a case of reasonable people disagreeing about policy or practice. This is a case of respected political leaders and activists being called liars by an NRA employee, whom these same leaders say singlehandedly scuttled their carefully crafted rights legislation. There can be no middle ground in a situation like this. If New Hampshire is ever to get its activists working together on needed reform legislation, some serious changes must be made. Hopefully that will happen before the next legislative session.

The situation in New Hampshire is unfortunately not unusual. There is a long history of such damaging conflicts between state grass-roots groups and the NRA representatives sent into their states.

Perhaps this history, and a desire to stop repeating it, is behind some recent rearranging within the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action (their lobbying division), which included the reassignment of both the director of Federal Affairs and the director of State & Local Affairs.

Randy Kozuch, long-time head of NRA-ILA State & Local, moved to new duties with the NRA Foundation – the education/charity wing of NRA. To fill the vacancy, State & Local was taken over by Chuck Cunningham, who has been heading up Federal Affairs for the past several years. Former NRA-ILA Executive Director James J. Baker was then installed as Director of Federal Affairs.

Baker has been pulling down a couple of hundred thousand dollars a year as a consultant for NRA-ILA for the past several years, but that has probably at least doubled with his return to the official family. Chris Cox remains at the top of the ILA food chain as executive director – overseeing all ILA operations for about three quarters of a million dollars per year (roughly half what his boss, Wayne LaPierre, takes home).

Don’t expect to see much change in philosophy or effectiveness on the Federal Affairs front, as this area is actually dominated by Cox and LaPierre with the director of Federal Affairs being more of a high-level functionary than a policymaker.

State & Local could be a different story. Cunningham is much more politically conservative than Kozuch and has a very different management style. He got his start with NRA as a state legislative liaison, so he is well aware of the challenges of the job; but whether he will effectively push his liaisons and state affiliates in the right direction is yet to be seen.

Cunningham has had his own difficulties working with groups beyond NRA, or with ideas that originate from outside the organization. The situation in New Hampshire, along with similar problems in Oklahoma and an even trickier situation in Texas, will really put him through a trial by fire. Here’s hoping that he is up to the challenge and we will see a more cooperative NRA working together with grass-roots groups around the country rather than more turf wars and lost opportunities.

One thing that is important for everyone concerned about Second Amendment rights to understand is that it’s a bad idea to ever put all our eggs in one basket – especially a basket that has proven to be as unreliable as the NRA. We must always be vigilant and personally involved to keep the politicians – and the NRA – in line and on point.

Participation by knowledgeable grass-roots activists in a strong and principled local rights organization is critical. Strong local activism always trumps outside interference and, if it’s strong enough, it can also force cooperation that might not otherwise be possible.

The best legislation at the state and local level almost always originates, and is driven by, committed local activists. Are you one of them?

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