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National Association for Gun Rights (NAGR)

We Sit Down With Dudley Brown to Hear What NAGR is Doing to Fight the Good Fight

The Second Amendment has had a tumultuous 21st century so far. From the sunset of the Assault Weapons Ban to “mass shootings” clogging news feeds, and from Heller to red flag laws, there has rarely been what anyone would call a quiet year. Most recently, we’ve seen a major shift in the Supreme Court, and a turbulent turnover in the White House. All that has, on top of the pandemic concerns about police coverage and the resulting panic buying, made gun rights issues more unpredictable and in the spotlight than ever. 

Throughout that chaos, there have been many gun rights organizations attempting to secure both our liberties and their place in the political landscape. One such group is the National Association for Gun Rights (NAGR) that, while not new to this game, is seemingly aiming for the title of “least compromising,” and is willing to call it as they see it, no matter whom they’re up against, or even alongside.

We recently got in touch with Dudley Brown, CEO of NAGR, and had a chat with him about life, liberty, and the pursuit of NFA items.

RECOIL: Who are you, and what is the National Association for Gun Rights?

Dudley Brown: I’m just a kid who grew up in South Dakota, who fell into working in politics. I grew up an upland game bird guy in Western South Dakota and shot with friends, but I wasn’t really into tactical rifles. Nowadays, tactical firearms and automatics are kind of my thing. I do more precision rifle shooting than anything else, really. 

But as a 2A activist, I was someone who watched with dismay as the institutional gun lobby negotiated away my rights. It left me wondering why anyone would compromise on an explicit constitutional right. Honestly, that drove me directly into working in politics. I started out working for the U.S. Senate and ended up working in the Colorado State legislature. In 1993, I started lobbying for gun issues because I was so sick of dealing with it.

As for NAGR, we describe ourselves as, “We do what you wish the NRA had always done.” When a reporter says, “Oh you’re those hard-ass people who won’t compromise” — yes, that’s us; we don’t believe that you win the war by conceding little battles.

You started out as a Colorado-based organization and then moved to a national one, yeah?

DB: Yeah, Rocky Mountain Gun Owners is the Colorado gun rights lobby I founded in 1996. It’s still quite operational to this day, even though the demographics in Colorado have swung wildly against liberty. In 2006, I was asked by my friend and mentor from Virginia (who is very pro-gun, but I would not describe him as a “gun person” so much as a political one), who had started a national group. He was frustrated with not only the institutional gun lobby, but even some people who were on the same side but weren’t aggressive about it. He asked me to come and take the reins of NAGR, as it was then, because I was a gun guy, as well as someone fluent in politics. 

Brown holding a crowded news conference in Colorado against Red Flag legislation.

That can make a big difference in the believability of your messaging.

DB: Unlike many people in my position, I spend a great deal of my own disposable income on firearms and things related to them. I think I’m the only CEO of a national gun group who’s an active, competitive shooter.

Yeah, you don’t tend to see gun guys.

DB: Exactly. All you have to do is watch Wayne LaPierre elephant hunting to know what I mean.

So, you’re behind a gun a lot then?

DB: I have a 900-pound elk hanging up in my foyer. I haven’t had the fortune to go to Africa yet, but I can guarantee you when I do, no guide will be holding my rifle. Every weekend for me is shooting, from SMGs to long-range precision.

Walking the walk and talking the talk is a rare thing these days. Given your experience with the subject, and not just the politics thereof, how would you say NAGR has changed since you took over?

DB: In 2006 when I was asked to take the lead, we had I think 2,000 email addresses and maybe a few thousand dollars in the bank. Not many members, lots of work, and virtually no promise of pay, ever. Like an idiot I said, “Sure! I’m a glutton for punishment, sign me up!” At this time, we have about 70 employees, and we’re bigger than anyone in this field except the NRA. We made it a much, much larger org than we’d ever hoped. And that, I think, is because gun owners have been yearning for somebody to stand up with an actual message, not just an endless sales pitch.

It’s often difficult to convince anyone left of center that the NRA isn’t the boogeyman they’ve been told it is. Pointing to other groups that are calling the NRA a limp-wristed compromise platform really comes out of left field for them. 

DB: Absolutely; whenever I’m on an airplane and wind up in a conversation with the person next to me, that always boggles their mind.

NAGR drafted a federal bill — the SHUSH Act — to turn suppressors into entirely unregulated accessories.

When you point out that FedEx spends more lobbying congress than the NRA, nobody knows what to do with that. If the NRA owns congress, then what the hell is FedEx doing?

DB: You noticed that! The biggest fight that’s happened, maybe since the Assault Weapons Ban, was the Toomey-Manchin fight in 2013. We spent more during that period on lobbying than all other gun groups combined. Whenever you see a big battle in congress, we spend more money because that’s what our membership demands, and they should. To me, if a group just spends the same amount of money lobbying that they did when it was nice and quiet, something is wrong there. They clearly don’t think it’s that important.

Along those same lines, what is NAGR doing right now to protect the right to keep and bear arms?

DB: Well, of course, we endured the worst Republican administration record on guns during the four years of Trump, now becoming even worse under Biden. NAGR played a deep role in stopping the two confirmations, Trump’s Canterbury and Biden’s Chipman ATF nominees. We spent an enormous amount of money courting votes against both of them, as David Chipman would’ve been a disaster, but Canterbury would’ve been trouble too. We don’t want to confirm someone to the ATF; we want to get someone in there to dismantle it.

Of course, we’re working very heavily on several issues, like trying to get the courts to throw out the bumpstock ban the NRA pushed. I’m not a bumpstock fan, never would own one as I’ve got real machineguns, but I don’t want to ban anything. The pistol brace issue is another one that the Trump admin flirted with banning, and, of course, the current one is pursuing. In fact, they’re using Trump’s bumpstock ban as the roadmap for how to ban braces.

SHUSH Act sponsor Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and Dudley Brown talking strategy.

That’s the smart way for them to go. They can just point to it and say, “You didn’t mind when the GOP did it.”

DB: It’s exactly why I’m very critical of Donald Trump and his administration; he empowered Biden to do what he’s doing now, when we’re in a bad spot for a lot of this stuff. As to how we’re moving on these issues, I have a couple rules, personally and as the CEO. I don’t lie to gun owners. They’ve been lied to for decades, and they get so much smoke blown up their skirts that it’s a wonder they believe anyone anymore. Hearing people say, “Oh gosh, I never thought Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio would be champions for red flag laws” blows my mind. Anyone who’s spent more than five minutes working in politics knows those two compromising politicians were going to do this kind of stuff from day one. 

Basic follow-through is another one. It doesn’t matter how many petitions you collect, if you don’t actually deliver them. I’m here to tell you that most groups who collect petitions are lying to people. The reason I know that is because when my people deliver them to members of Congress, and go to their offices on the hill, they look at you like you’re an alien from another planet. They’re stunned that you’re actually doing it and don’t know what to do with them. They are unaccustomed to handling actual, paper petitions signed by concerned citizens. What it tells me is that people don’t follow through. 

You make it sound like being a process server.

DB: Don’t I know it. It really is that way. They’ve got that shocked look on their face like you just served them with surprise divorce papers. Beyond just delivering them, it’s about timing too. In fall of 2018, we delivered 1.4 million physical petitions to congress on red flag laws. It took a team of 30 people to deliver them all, and, of course, we were doing everything else to fight that fight, but we’ll take credit for at least stopping the first wave of federal legislation on the issue. I’d like to be corrected if I’m wrong, but to my knowledge, we are the only gun group that contributed directly to Kyle Rittenhouse’s defense. We wrote two checks totaling $76,000 to the family trust set up to pay their bills, etc. 

What would you say you are most proud of accomplishing with this organization?

DB: First off, in the biggest battle since my involvement in NAGR in 2013, we stopped gun control that everyone said was certain to pass, the only question was how much. We used some innovative processes, equipped activists, and got massive numbers of people involved in the fight. It’s not Gucci-loafered lobbyists on K Street that get it done, it’s big numbers of individual activists. Some of them don’t even own guns. They’re little old ladies who haven’t touched a gun in 40 years and stretch their budgets by donating $7, but they believe in freedom and want to preserve it for their grandkids. That’s something I’m proud of and am humbled by at the same time, as it really is a financial sacrifice for some of them, and I take it very seriously. 

I also have a big group of people who run the gamut from homeschool Christian conservatives, to radical libertarians, and everyone in between, all of whom work darn hard. They’re all smarter than me, and they are passionate about what they do, and do it all for less than they’d make in the private sector because: 1) They believe in freedom, and, 2) What’s more motivating than waking up in the morning and kicking a politician in the shins? 

In our research, we found a lot of articles on you guys. One quote said “NAGR is the leaner, more pugnacious version of the NRA,” and another said you personally were “… the face and voice of the absolutist gun rights movement.” Would you call that accurate, or would you rephrase it? 

DB: Well, they meant that all as an insult, but I’ll take it as credit. If I’m guilty of anything, it’s probably being too passionate about the issues. The first decade of running NAGR, I would have made more money if I’d worked at the front counter of McDonalds, but I care deeply about it. I’m well compensated now — I’m not Wayne LaPierre, but I’m comfortable. I think the other quote you missed was “… there’s a new sheriff in town,” and that kind of is the message now to both politicians and the NRA, plus other gun lobby groups who have always covered for bad politicians. 

Dudley Brown signs one of two checks NAGR wrote to Kyle Rittenhouse’s trust, totaling $76,000, to help his family endure the high-profile trial.

There are people and organizations within the RKBA community that seem to feel some of NAGR’s approach is too much about ideological purity and not enough about coming together to face down a common enemy, etc. How do you respond to that?

DB: Well, first, consider this: Do you want a “nice” gun rights organization? Do you want an overbred golden retriever watching your house while you’re away or a trained Rottweiler? That said, I think in retrospect after having done this so long, if I could do it all over again, I would probably make better connections with people within the industry and be friendlier in that respect. One of the rules I have is: Don’t go out and cut deals on gun control and ask for half. That’s fashioning the chains that bind you. If you aren’t endorsing people who are advocating for gun control, we can have differences. When you start selling your members out … it’s none of my business, but there’s a special responsibility you owe people you claim to represent, and I’m not terribly worried if people think we’re too rough on them. That is a fair assessment though.

Thanks for your honesty. Why do you think that the anti-gun movement hasn’t been more successful in the last 20 years, despite their claims of wide support?

DB: There are a lot of gun owners in the country, and even with the incompetence of the NRA, they can’t help but activate their massive membership. The two things we have on our side is passion and numbers. I love changing minds, but it’s not the way to victory. It’s mobilizing existing people, and we can win that way. The one thing a politician cares about is reelection. All you have to do is prove that you can play a role in their defeat, and they suddenly start listening to you loud and clear.

So, it really is about the volume of people willing to raise their voice and say, “I will not vote for you again if you do X?”

DB: That’s it. 

NAGR has been instrumental in passing Constitutional Carry in states around the U.S., including five in 2021 alone.

What would you say the future is for NAGR?

DB: I’m 56, so having young folks in the office makes a big difference. We’ve got a lot of good, young talent, and I don’t think there’s a limit to our size. We dealt with the “Trump slump,” which was people thinking that since he was in office, gun control wasn’t an issue anymore. That was the perception anyway, but things picked back up. Some of it was the pandemic itself, and the associated increase in crime. People looked at the situation and realized that the police might not even come to their house, often because their hands are tied. This has resulted in a lot of momentum on our side, and with an administration in the White House aiming at gun control, I expect to continue this fight well into the future.

Where would people look to learn more about NAGR and what you guys are doing?

DB: GunRights.org is the website, and our Facebook page is rather large. We have a relatively small Instagram and Twitter, but we’ve got all those links from the website. We actually gave away a Ferret armored car recently, so be sure to check it out in RECOIL Issue 59

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is a member of NAGR and leads the 2A charge in the Senate.

National Association for Gun Rights

GunRights.org

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One response to “National Association for Gun Rights (NAGR)”

  1. ray ward says:

    I used to be a member of NAGR, but this Dudley Brown’s constant begging letters and emails were so insulting and manipulative that I stopped contributing. Now I give to GOA and other more effective, less insulting groups.

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  • I used to be a member of NAGR, but this Dudley Brown's constant begging letters and emails were so insulting and manipulative that I stopped contributing. Now I give to GOA and other more effective, less insulting groups.

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