Several years ago I began to question some of the candidate ratings the NRA was awarding politicians whom I was certain did not share my reverence of the Second Amendment. I thought to myself “how in the hell can that be”. Something was wrong, either the candidate was lying to the NRA or the NRA was lying to me. What I discovered not only surprised but saddened me, it lead me to joining Grass Roots North Carolina (GRNC) where today I serve as their Director of Volunteer Services and on the Board of Directors.
It was 1994; Republican Ham Horton was challenging incumbent Democrat Ted Kaplan for his senate seat. Mr. Kaplan had a rather extensive record of supporting anti-gun legislation. He favored of the ridiculous assault weapon ban, supported hand gun registration, and a one-gun a-month purchase law. In contrast, Horton recognized that banning semi-automatic sporting rifles because of cosmetic features like thumb-hole stocks was absolutely absurd. Horton held the Second Amendment in high esteem which was diametrically opposite to Kaplan’s indifference to the Founding Father’s intention that, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”.
Horton entered the race with several political “positives”; he had previously been elected to public office, was well respected within the community and as such enjoyed established name recognition. You can only imagine our shock as the race tightened up and the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action issued their candidate ratings. Kaplan’s rating had been upgraded from a “C” to an “A”. To add insult to injury, the NRA actively campaigned on behalf of Kaplan by mailing orange alert postcards to every NRA member in the district. I was dumbfounded; the NRA was endorsing Ted Kaplan. In the end, things worked out. Ham Horton and fellow state senate candidate Mark McDaniel were both elected against the wishes of the NRA. Both senators went on to support North Carolinians’ right to carry concealed weapon (CCW), a law that was written by GRNC, and both fought for its passage.
Two years later, in 1996 the NRA and GRNC would again lock horns regarding candidate ratings. During the 1995 legislative session Democrat Senator Fountain Odom was attempting to seriously gut the CCW bill in his subcommittee. He proposed onerous provisions that would require individuals to repeat mandatory training when permits were renewed. He fixed it so that concealed carry would be prohibited in financial institutions and state parks. He attempted to fix it so that only police firearm instructors could teach the mandatory course; in fact he actually proposed prohibiting NRA Instructors, such as myself, from teaching the course. He later reversed direction on the Senate floor by removing his objection thus allowing NRA Instructors to teach the course. It was apparently this single act of compromise that endeared Odom to the NRA.
During the 1996 election cycle the NRA’s lead lobbyist Tanya Metaksa gave Odom an A rating, issued one of their, now suspect, orange “ALERT” postcards endorsing him with a glowing recommendation with the following comments to NRA members, “Senator Odom has demonstrated his commitment to our right to self-defense…Here’s how you can help re-elect Fountain Odom – a dedicated supporter of your Second Amendment rights. Help the campaign…make a contribution…spread the word to family, friends, and fellow gun owners…” Gun owners who knew of Odom’s flagrant opposition to the Second Amendment and his history of supporting ever increasing gun restrictions were shocked.
GRNC countered with their own “Election Alert” postcard mailing besting the NRA by reaching out to nearly twice as many gun owners in Odom’s district. The mailing detailed Odom’s Second Amendment transgressions in order to set the record straight. The mailing was complimented with radio spots targeting gun owners and the tactics successfully neutralized the NRA’s endorsement. Fountain Odom was defeated by Robert Pittenger who acknowledged that GRNC had made the difference in a close and hotly contested race.
(to be continued)
Board Member, Grassroots North Carolina
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