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How to Gain Political Influence

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A How-To Guide for Regular Folks

Ever had a politician call you for advice on a gun bill? I have, and I’m just a regular person from the burbs. I don’t have a prestigious job, money, or special political training. I don’t even like politics. How did I get into a position of influence, and more importantly, how can you?

Like gun training, political advocacy begins with changing your personal narrative from one of helplessness to one of empowerment. Politics isn’t something that happens to you. You can influence and control it — sometimes in small ways, sometimes in big ways.

Effective political advocacy is a skill, which means you can improve regardless of where you start. Every small move you make toward better advocacy affects the larger political climate around you. While you can’t always get everything you want or prevent every bad outcome, you can stack the deck in your favor. And like any other skill, you can make long-lasting improvements by investing sweat equity rather than simply throwing money at it.

Develop a Long-Term Goal

This is your big, overarching motivation. It’s what moves you. What do you want to accomplish? What do you want your legacy to be? Think ahead 10 to 20 years, or more.

When developing your long-term strategy, remember that incrementalism works. If your goal is to “advance the Second Amendment movement and preserve our firearms rights for future generations,” keep an eye out for even the tiniest steps toward your goal. You might not get everything you want all at once, but you can take a little bite now and come back for more later.

Set Reasonable Short-Term Goals

With your long-term goal in mind, set a few specific, achievable short-term goals that’ll help you get there. Keep your personal narrative focused on success by centering your goals on processes (things you can control) rather than outcomes (things you can’t always control). Instead of “I want to pass constitutional carry next year,” consider “I want to build three useful relationships with people who can help me advance constitutional carry.”

Sample Goals:

“I want my state level representatives to know me by name and sight.”
“I want to become a trusted educational resource on gun issues for my state representatives.”
“I want my representative to understand why gun rights are important to me.”

The definition of a reasonable goal depends on where you live and whether the prevailing political climate is friendly or hostile to Second Amendment rights. If you’re feeling outnumbered in hostile territory, temper your expectations and keep your long-term goal in mind. Look for smaller victories and stay focused on things you can change rather than dwelling on things you don’t think you can change.

Every time you interact with a politician, keep your goal in mind. You might have a great politician who listens well and represents your interests, or you might have a rotten one who tries to provoke you into unproductive fights. Stay cool, shrug off any insults, and keep moving forward. Make sure every action you take gets you closer to your goal.

Avoid Confrontational Politics

This one may seem counterintuitive but bear with me. People often ask me if the confrontational style of political engagement works. “Don’t you have to confront the politician, expose their lies, and force them to act?”

No. Confrontational politics is just defeat with extra steps. 

Any political strategy that relies on force rather than persuasion requires a source of actual political pressure to back up its threats. Effective political pressure comes in many forms. It could be popular support, sympathetic media coverage, backing of key figures, economic influence, control over bureaucratic procedures, demonstrated ability to cause a politician to gain or lose status with their supporter base, or the power to swing enough votes to affect their reelection campaign.

With a concrete source of political power, confrontation is largely unnecessary. Without a source of power, confrontation is ineffective. You can make demands all day long, but no one will respect them if you can’t back them up.

Furthermore, confrontational tactics poison relationships and damage your ability to persuade. As an individual, persuasion is your most powerful tool. Your ability to make political change depends on building strong relationships and leveraging them to advance your goals.

Build Relationships

Make a list of politicians who have the power to affect your gun rights, all the way from the president of your country down to the board of your homeowner’s association. Find out who represents you and save their contact information.

Generally speaking, the more people a politician represents, the more effort it will take to build a relationship with them. When people receive a high volume of communication, it’s harder for your voice to stand out from the noise. That doesn’t mean you can’t influence their votes — it just means you must be more skilled and persistent and invest more time.
Typically, your state-level legislators are in a sweet spot. They have a lot of influence over your daily life, but they’re still easily accessible to you as an individual. That’s a good place to start.

Normally, you’d begin by calling or emailing their office and requesting an in-person meeting. If your legislator isn’t taking in-person meetings, ask for a video conference or a phone call. You might have to wait, but they should make time to meet with you — it’s their job. If you have trouble getting in as an individual, try coordinating with a larger group.

When you talk to your legislator, do your best to present your views on the Second Amendment in a way that appeals to their values. Even if they disagree, it’s still important to make your values and interests known. If nothing else, you don’t ever want them to stand up in a committee meeting and say, “Not a single person in my district opposes gun control.”

You can talk to them about a specific bill that concerns you, or you can speak generally about how you feel about the Second Amendment. What you say is up to you, but make sure you go in prepared to make a strong argument that resonates with their values.

If they disagree, prioritize maintaining a good relationship over winning the argument. Be steadfast in your opinions, but relentlessly polite. Remember, your long-term strategy is to protect the Second Amendment, not to prove a politician wrong, make them admit fault, or school them on the facts.

Influencing votes isn’t about winning arguments, anyway; it’s about building useful relationships and getting yourself into position to use the right kinds of political leverage. With that in mind, make sure to end the discussion on good terms, whether or not they agree. Keep the relationship positive and keep an eye out for future opportunities for influence.

After your meeting, follow up with an email thanking them for their time. After that, make an effort to communicate with them several times a year.


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Add Value

When you talk to your legislator, whether in person or by email, find a way to provide value. Valuable opinions have more influence. While you may not always be able to change their party line vote, you can still make a difference in indirect ways. For example, you might bring up a technical problem that leads to a bad bill being killed in committee.

You can also offer to be a resource on gun-related issues. Offer to take them shooting or teach them gun safety. Be a resource on technical issues. Provide them with good questions to ask, or good talking points to use. If you’re a serious gun enthusiast, you probably know more than they do about guns.

Keep in mind that while politicians should be treated with decency, they’re not your friends. It’s not enough to simply appeal to their desire to do the right thing. Their votes are influenced by many forms of pressure, such as positioning themselves for reelection, seeking favor with different groups, gaining status within their political party, or making quid pro quo arrangements behind the scenes.

With that in mind, one of the most important ways you can add value is by giving your legislator a win (something they can spin to make themselves look good), or giving them cover (something that provides justification for their vote that won’t piss off their supporters).

This can be a clever talking point they can use to score points, or a specific provision or amendment to a bill for which they can take credit. It sounds a lot better for a liberal politician to say, “I am standing up for my constituents and voting against this bill because it leads to racially biased outcomes in policing,” rather than, “I’m voting against this bill because some gun nut was yelling about the constitution.”

Ask for Action

Every time there’s a gun-related bill, call and write to your legislator to ask for action. Make a brief, values-based argument that resonates. Ask for something specific. For example, “I’m asking you to vote no on House File 435.”

Keep it short. Seriously. The shorter the better. A paragraph or two is plenty. Keep it brief and value-packed, and for the love of God, don’t waste their time on unrelated rambling.

Most of these calls and letters are screened by legislative aids. Usually they’ll just mark you down in the “for” or “against” column. If a letter is particularly good, or if you’ve asked for feedback from your legislator, they’ll often (but not always) forward your message to them.

(Side note: Be as nice as you possibly can to your legislative aids. They’re the gatekeepers. Invest in those relationships, too.)

Again, keep letters as brief as possible, and provide your contact information in case your representatives have questions. Sometimes they’ll call you and ask for more information. That’s a win. Be prepared to be a resource for them. You’ll gain influence you never would’ve gotten if you had destroyed that relationship with confrontational tactics.

Follow-Up Long Term

Take as many opportunities as you can to interact with your politician. Go to town halls and make persuasive arguments. Go to events where your politicians will be. Walk the fine line between being a nuisance and being visible and persistent.

Be unremittingly friendly and polite, even when you don’t get everything you want. You want to be that “gun person” in their district who can always be counted on to have a timely, valuable opinion. Over time, with enough persistence and skilled communication, you’ll become a go-to figure in your political community. Political battles go to those who show up. So, show up and show up for the long haul.

[This article originally appeared in CONCEALMENT #18]


Use Your Influence


About the Author:
Sarah Cade Hauptman is a cohost of Guns Guide to Liberals, a podcast about advancing the Second Amendment movement with better communication strategies.


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One response to “How to Gain Political Influence”

  1. Kevin Starrett says:

    After 40 years of gun rights activism and 23 years running a state wide pro gun organization, I have to say this is one of most compact collections of really bad advice I have ever seen in one place.

    “Offer to take them shooting..”

    “You’ll gain influence you never would’ve gotten if you had destroyed that relationship with confrontational tactics.”

    “If they disagree, prioritize maintaining a good relationship over winning the argument. Be steadfast in your opinions, but relentlessly polite.”

    While the author states “Ever had a politician call you for advice on a gun bill? I have..” she fails to mention whether her “advice” was ever taken. She fails to tell us what bills or laws her polite advocacy ever actually effected.

    It may feel good to have politicians take your calls but unless you are controlling their behavior, you are just a prop and a lobbyist for them.

    There is no particular gain from being rude, but in the end, when dealing with a determined enemy of rights, your courtesy counts for nothing.

    One thing she said certainly is true. “You can make demands all day long, but no one will respect them if you can’t back them up.”

    So your time would be better spent building up the ability to “back them up” then “building relationships” with people who are determined to crush your rights.

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