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By Jeff Knox and Chris Knox

The 2012 Gun Rights Policy Conference will convene in Orlando, Fla., the last weekend of September. The annual gathering of the gun lobby gives activists a place to celebrate the past year’s victories, to analyze defeats and to draw out strategy for the year to come. It’s also a great way for anyone interested in getting more involved to meet people and to network with like-minded folks from all over the country. Our father, Neal Knox, attended regularly from the event’s inception in the mid-1980s and was (twice) honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Our family was again honored when Jeff was named “Grassroots Activist of the Year” in 2007.

Jeff is one of the confirmed speakers for this year’s meeting, as he has been at numerous previous events. Part of one of Jeff’s earlier GRPC presentations was even featured in last year’s anti-gun propaganda documentary, “Gun Fight,” on HBO. Of course, they edited it down to only the parts that made Jeff sound like a wild-eyed extremist, and they left out every bit of the hours of interview footage they taped of Jeff carefully explaining pro-rights positions. Jeff was disappointed, but our grandmother still enjoyed seeing him on TV. If you attend, be sure to say hello. Jeff always enjoys meeting others interested in promoting liberty, and GRPC is always a very casual and friendly event with plenty of opportunity to socialize.

This year’s theme, in keeping with the election year, is “Elect Liberty.” Speakers are typically grouped into panels to address various aspects of a particular topic, followed by a short question-and-answer period. Registration for the conference is free and includes lunch on Saturday and a generous pile of free books and literature, making this one of the most amazing educational opportunities around.

Attending a GRPC for the first time is an eye-opening, stereotype-busting experience. The first break from expectations is that the GRPC is sponsored and hosted by the Second Amendment Foundation and the Citizen’s Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, not the National Rifle Association. There are typically representatives there from at least 30 or 40 national and state gun-rights organizations. The gun lobby is not a monolithic entity, especially at the grass roots. The NRA acknowledges the GRPC, usually sending at least one VIP speaker, and always sending a representative or two. But the NRA is no more in charge of GRPC than it is in charge of the gun lobby. In fact, the NRA’s policies have more than once been “realigned” by irate grass-roots activists gathered at the GRPC.

The second surprise in store for GRPC first-timers is how diverse the gun-rights movement is. While the dominant media outlets like to portray the stereotypical gun-rights activist as a pot-bellied knuckle-dragging dullard decked out in hunting clothes, the real-life picture is far richer and more varied. Gun-rights activists – pro-rights activists, as some of us like to say – come in every shape, size, color and political or social persuasion, but with one thing in common: We support the right to keep and bear arms.

From the Pink Pistols, to Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, to Academics for the Second Amendment, to Pro-Gun Progressives, the gun lobby and GRPC, are anything but stereotypical. The GRPC does include its share of people who look like they might answer to “Bubba,” but be careful about assumptions. “Bubba” just might be a university professor. Or a doctor. Or an electrical engineer, lawyer, or CPA. We are thinking of specific people we’ve met at GRPC here, but the vast majority of people at the GRPC are exactly what they look like: ordinary folks. They are educated – they are gathering to listen to lectures. They are successful – they have the time to take a weekend off and travel to the conference. And they are passionate – many spend much of their free time in their home state capitol building. Most important, they have learned how the political system in their home state or city works, and they know how to work within the system.

The long-term results can be profound. If a Republican is squishy on the gun issue, as so many are in spite of their party’s platform, nothing will keep him in line better than a pro-gun Democrat drawing attention and attracting gun voters. Gun-rights activists can disagree with each other on a thousand different issues, but we can find common ground on gun rights, though we do often dicker strenuously over the details.

A third surprise to many attending their first GRPC is how friendly everyone is. It’s a big surprise to anyone who has fallen for the notion that the gun-rights movement is populated by “angry” or “bitter” people. In real life, gun people tend to be downright cheerful. This anecdotal observation has been backed up with remarkable documentation. During the last presidential campaign, the Wall Street Journal carried a story titled “Trigger Happy,” written in response to the infamous Obama gaffe about small-town Americans getting “bitter” and “clinging to guns or religion.” Arthur Brooks, now head of the American Enterprise Institute, but at the time of the story a professor of government policy at Syracuse University, conducted a study and found that gun owners tend, as a whole, to be among the happiest and best-adjusted people around. You can read the full article at the link above or our review of the article archived on our site.

If you have ever thought about getting more active in the gun-rights war, or just finding out what it’s all about, there are few places to start that offer a better education and networking opportunity than the GRPC. To find out more, visit www.SAF.org and follow the links to the 2012 Gun Rights Policy Conference. We hope to see you there.

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