Interview with GOA's Larry Pratt
October 30th, 2010 7:50 am ET
As Election Day 2010 approaches, there is much to be found in the media about the National Rifle Association and its political grades and endorsements. There's another, albeit smaller organization out there working hard to bring us candidate evaluations that gun activists are well aware of, Gun Owners of America, designated "The only no-compromise gun lobby in Washington" by Rep. Ron Paul.
Because GOA takes a somewhat different approach that can yield different performance assessments, tensions sometimes arise between its supporters and NRA's, along with often acrimonious, even bitter debate. And because this election has such potential to impact gun owners, I thought it important to learn not just about GOA and the man who is the driving force behind it, but to seek his assessment of some of the criticism being promoted in some quarters.
As such, you'll find some
of the questions come across as adversarial. A friend and advisor even scolded me a bit when I showed them to him, telling me he wouldn't be surprised if my interview request were denied. Having followed GOA Executive Director Larry Pratt's efforts for many years, including corresponding with the man and finally having had the privilege of meeting him in person last April at both the Second Amendment March and the Restore the Constitution rally
, I had faith that this is a man of principle and courage who would not retreat from speaking his mind.
Here's our Q&A, conducted via email:
DC: Give us a brief history of GOA, and how you came to run it. What’s your background?
GOA was founded in 1975 by then California state senator H.L. Richardson. I came on shortly after GOA was founded, having worked in a number of conservative policy organizations.
DC: Critics say the GOA rating system considers more than just gun votes, so that rather than being “single issue” like NRA, you’re more appropriately a CONSERVATIVE lobbying organization instead of exclusively a “GUN” lobbying group. Your response?
Consider the dozens of so-called Blue Dogs who were endorsed by the NRA this year. Only three of them got an A or A- from GOA. The NRA obviously did not count the four votes on overturning the ban on guns in national parks, one of which also involved an effort to greatly expand national parkland, thus eliminating hunting and the use of self-defense firearms on those lands.
The NRA also did not seem to score the anti-gun provisions remaining in Obamacare. GOA also rated the vote on the DISCLOSE Act which was McCain-Feingold on steroids. The NRA and GOA went to the Supreme Court seeking to overturn McCain-Feingold, so obviously the NRA sees the danger to the Second Amendment in gagging political speech. Unfortunately, the NRA did not take a position on the DISCLOSE Act. Attempts to stifle the political speech of Second Amendment organizations is without question an attack on your gun rights … we ARE a single-issue group, we just recognize that our enemies are attacking us on multiple fronts.
DC: You consistently rate Ron Paul as an A+, yet he voted against the Protection in Lawful Commerce Act, citing his concerns over federalization of tort reform. Did GOA take a similar position? If so, did you score votes for the bill against politicians? If not, did Paul pay a price in your ratings?
First of all, a Congressman can only get an A+ if they have been a leader on Second Amendment issues. Ron Paul fits that category as he has introduced legislation to repeal gun control laws and has forced votes on pro-gun legislation. Now, regarding the vote in question, GOA did not rate this vote because there was not a “clean” vote on the bill. That is, even though the bill which became law in 2005 protected gun manufacturers (which we supported), it also contained a trigger lock provision (which we opposed). Hence, GOA rated the subsequent vote to strip the bill of the trigger lock requirement -- and Paul voted correctly on that vote.
David, I would also add that GOA’s rating process is completely open. We are the only national gun organization to make our surveys available to the public upon demand.
DC: NRA is behind reforming ATF. Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership say eliminate it. What is GOA’s position, what are you doing to actualize it, and what’s your feel for your chances?
GOA seeks to abolish the BATFE and hopefully such legislation will be introduced in the next Congress. The chances are admittedly slim, but just the heat of our pressure may save the life of an innocent gun owner when the thugs come no-knocking.
DC: If one were to gauge sentiment from some gun blogs, there’s a lot of hostility toward GOA and a lot of accusations that you divert money that NRA could put to better use. Is there really a lot, and how do you respond to the criticisms?
Critics of GOA might consider that the head of the Senate Second Amendment Caucus, Tom Coburn, considers GOA to be the “real gun lobby” in Washington. (So who is diverting money from whom?) GOA believes that the system is broken in Washington. To work within the system as it is, and not challenge it, is to perpetuate the problem. That is the nub of the difference between the GOA and NRA approaches.
DC: Why don’t more gun owners join GOA? We see numbers of 4 million or so put out there as NRA’s membership---why don’t we have a multi-million member GOA?
For starters, you need to compare “apples to apples.” Because GOA is purely a political organization, you should compare our membership numbers to contributors to NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action. Not every NRA member gets political alerts from the ILA. Having said that, gun owners nationwide are seeing that the NRA approach of “incumbents first so we have a seat at the table” simply isn’t working. GOA continues to grow as a result.
DC: Tell us some GOA success stories.
Well, consider just some of the recent battles which GOA fought and won at the national level:
* GOA was the only national gun lobby fighting the anti-gun ObamaCare legislation. While the bill eventually did become law, we still won some concessions, which led Slate magazine to declare on December 20, 2009: "Score one for the Gun Owners of America."
* GOA also fought the DISCLOSE Act. Even though the NRA took a pass on this bill, our opposition allowed Senator Mitch McConnell to tell his colleagues that gun owners in this country are in strong opposition to this legislation. “GOA vehemently opposes this bill. Why? Because they know it restricts First Amendment rights,” McConnell told fellow Senators on June 24, 2010. Thankfully, we were able to garner enough votes to kill DISCLOSE in the Senate.
* GOA worked with Republican Senator John Ensign of Nevada in 2009 to attach a provision repealing the DC gun ban to the DC Voting Rights Act. The latter was legislation the Democrats really wanted in order to gain three more Democrat seats in Congress -- one in the House and two in the Senate. (This was an effort which would have, no doubt, meant three more ferocious anti-gunners in Congress.) The Ensign amendment passed in the Senate, which caused the overall Voting Rights bill to be extremely distasteful to House Democrats. The bill was pronounced D.O.A. in the House.
Next, do you really think that the National Parks gun ban repeal would have become law without the tireless work of GOA activists? (The guys on the ground who send the emails and make the phone calls.) I could also point to massive gains at the state level -- Firearms Freedom will sweep the country next year, having passed with overwhelming majorities in several states this year. Not to mention our work on Alaska-style carry bills.
DC: Tell us about some GOA improvements you’d like to make.
Really, all we need is more gun owners getting involved. We have been hugely successful, thanks almost solely to the passion of our members. So we are looking for ways to get more folks involved. We're certainly open to suggestions.
Why do you think so many gun owners are uninvolved—in supporting organizations, in getting involved in politics, in understanding the issues that we face? What can we do to help change that?
I think it basically boils down to inertia. An object at rest tends to stay at rest. What's the old saw? First they came for the communists, but I did not say anything…. Our enemies KNOW they can't get our skeet guns and deer rifles right now; President Clinton admitted as much on national television. So if it's not YOUR guns that are currently being threatened, you naturally tend to worry more about the car payment. What can we do about it? Everything we can think of, and if we ever get every gun owner involved, the antis can't touch us. On that day, I'll be out of a job and on my knees thanking the Lord.
DC: We’ve all seen the effort to conflate patriots with extremists and haters. A few years back we saw you withdraw as co-chair of Pat Buchanan for President amidst allegations that would have distracted from his campaign. Do you believe that all peaceable people have a right to equality under the law, including recognition of all rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights and recognized as retained by the people in Amendment IX? What do you say to those who preach racial supremacy, and what is GOA doing to reach out to all Americans?
I was libeled by the Left during Pat's campaign. To his credit, he made it a point to use what little time he had during the New Hampshire debate to try and tell America how groundless those charges were. Of course GOA believes in the enumeration of all rights guaranteed under the Constitution -- and that those rights should be enjoyed by all. We believe that so strongly, in fact, that we do not have a diversity program per se. All are welcome -- eagerly. But we aren't going to pander to the socialists by trying to "reach out" to any given skin color, because skin color is utterly immaterial when it comes to the rights of a free people. And to those who preach racial supremacy, I would say: read your Bible. Perhaps that Bible could be read at the Spanish-language Bible study that my Panamanian wife and I started years ago.