Who speaks for gun owners?

If you put six gun-rights advocates in a room, they will come out with at least seven different opinions on how we should proceed in the fight. The fact is that in the gun-rights war, as in any other endeavor which inflames people’s passions, an organization can maintain unity of spirit and clarity of focus right up to the point that the second person joins. That’s when words like “principle,” “respect,” and “communication” become extremely important – and the more people you add, the more important and complicated those words become.

While we each understand (to a degree) our own motivations, principles, goals and fears, we don’t always communicate them clearly, and we often don’t understand at all what is moving the other guy.

My father used to express the phenomenon by saying, “Everybody in this outfit is crazy except you and me. And I’m not so sure about you!”

Unfortunately it is all too often an accurate sentiment. When people feel passionately about something – particularly something which can not be scientifically quantified – they tend to either develop their own belief structure around the subject or cling tightly to a structure advocated by someone else – to the exclusion of all other opinions, theories, approaches and ideas.

The fact is that anyone who identifies himself with a movement – regardless of the movement or its objectives – has already separated himself from the herd. By their nature, movement people are oddballs. They think independently and will follow a leader as long as that leader is going in the “right” direction − as they define it.

Movements, and movement people, work best when they are dealing with generalities. They can unanimously call for gun rights, lower taxes, limited government or whatever. Start getting down into the particulars of the rallying cry, however, and the movement tends to lose focus.

Some always want to charge on to total victory, while others advocate a more cautious approach and few can completely agree on fundamentals − like specifically which guns where, what taxes, how low, and to the detriment of what government services, or how “limited” government should be.

The devil is in the details.

Specific questions are not easy for one person to answer, and it’s even harder to bring a group to consensus. Reaching full agreement on the specific strategies and tactics a movement should employ to achieve its memberships’ diverse goals is utterly impossible. That means that the best any group can hope for is to move in the right general direction based on a clear set of principles and objectives. When a movement fractures into sub-groups, cliques and factions, keeping those diverse interests from stepping on each other – and damaging themselves and the movement – is the great challenge.

The key to meeting that challenge is clearly enunciated principles and goals, straightforward communication, strong principled leadership and respect with a real commitment to cooperation.

If various groups within a movement – whether the gun-rights movement, the tea party or any other movement – put themselves in a position of competing with one another rather than cooperating with each other, they harm their potential. When they begin tearing down one another over disagreements on strategies, tactics and fundraising, they set the stage for lots of wasted energy at best, and implosion of the movement at worst.

Within the gun-rights movement there are numerous organizations and key individuals who deserve a certain level of respect due to their position, experience and demonstrated expertise. These leaders have an obligation to perform, communicate and cooperate at a certain level of professionalism and selflessness, placing the good of the movement over their own egos or interests and even the immediate interests of their organizations.

In the 40-plus years that I have been observing and working in the rights movement, I have only seen a few people who would stand in defense of personal enemies or in opposition to friends, based on principles and the good of the movement. My dad was one. Such leaders should be sought out, elevated, and supported whether they are leading a one-man crusade in a small town or heading the National Rifle Association with its millions of members.

No one organization or individual has a monopoly on being right. Not only is disagreement acceptable, it is desirable. But that disagreement needs to be civil and respectful and should focus on actions and effectiveness, not assumptions and gut feelings.

Established leaders must recognize that others, including people new to the arena, have good ideas. Newcomers to the fight need to recognize that the current leaders weren’t just handed their positions, they earned them, and their knowledge and experience should be respected – though it should never be followed blindly.

Respect, communication and principles are the glue that gives power to numbers. This is true whether we’re talking about the gun-rights movement, the tea party, the church, or any other movement.

So who speaks for gun owners? Gun owners do. They speak with many voices and in many tones. Some are more right than others − according to me − however they are all more effective when they are speaking in harmony. Like Aretha Franklin said, it all starts with a little respect.

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