The Second Amendment community is facing a major fight at the dawn of 2013. This time they’re serious, and it’s going to take some work on our parts to win.
You see, Congress goes back to work tomorrow and one of the things they’ll be working on is Dianne Feinstein’s new gun control bill. I’ll not waste the space here detailing the provisions — you can easily look them up with a five-second Google — but she’s going for broke this time: the virtual elimination of all semi-automatic rifles and handguns, and the outlawing of any gun which carries more than ten rounds (including lever action rifles.) The exact content of the bill is as yet unknown, but she’s pushing for mandatory registration and perhaps even confiscation.
Normally Congress would pretty much roll their collective eyes and say “there goes Dianne again”, but with the Sandy Hook murders still relatively fresh in the public’s mind (and with the complicity of both Hollywood and the media) her bill is sure to gain traction it otherwise mightn’t. I don’t believe her bill stands much of a chance of passage but that’s not the point; it’s a negotiating tactic, a way to steer the public perception toward “reasonable” gun control.
If we, the shooting community, don’t act immediately her little scheme might just work. That means you and I need to do something within the next week, maybe even sooner, if we’re to counter this attack on our civil rights.
What to do? Lots of people are blithely exhorting you to write your Congressperson, but no one ever explains just how to go about doing so effectively (if they even know themselves). The problem with writing to Congress is that if you don’t do it right your message will be completely ignored, and might even embolden an anti-gun legislator. I hope to shed a little light on the process and give you a few guidelines to help ensure your voice is actually heard.
Straight from the horse’s mouth (more or less)
Here’s what I’ve learned from talking with elected representatives (I have one in the family, though I don’t like to admit it); people who work or have worked for them; people in the media (I have one of those in the family too); as well as reading articles by people who have worked in Congressional offices:
- The first and most important thing you need to understand is that, unless he/she knows you personally, your Senator or Representative will probably never see your letter. His/her office has aides or corespondents whose jobs are to read the mail, categorize each response as for or against, and file it in the appropriate place. The Congressperson checks in with the aides (who are assigned to specific issues, like gun control) on a regular basis, asking how many times they’ve heard from constituents on the specific issue at hand. They’ll be told how many letters they’ve received and what the for/against percentages are, but are unlikely to get anything more specific unless they ask. If the majority of the letters are on one side, that’s what they’ll be told.
- Remember those aides are usually fresh out of college, idealistic, and not very well paid. Don’t be rude and never insult them or their boss (thereby insulting their cause), or your letter will go missing – from what I’ve been told it’s a sure thing. Don’t say anything about your Congressperson being a scum-sucking gun grabber even if it is true; be polite, even if it kills you.
- Don’t use paper. As a security precaution all snailmail goes to a central location where it’s irradiated, examined, opened, scanned (probably with OCR) into an electronic file, and then that file is delivered to your Congressperson’s office. The office never sees the paper unless they request it specifically. This process is said to take a week at best, and if there is a huge influx of correspondence it might take two or three or more. If there is a time-sensitive issue (as this is) a paper letter will almost certainly be too late. An email gets there faster and ends up in the same place anyhow, so there is no longer a reason to put pen to paper when writing Congress. Send an email.
- Don’t write a book. The aides have a ton of letters to go through, don’t have a lot of time, and are easily bored. Your letter should consist of a paragraph or two at the very most: tell them what you’re writing about, how you want them to vote, and why it’s important to you. That’s it; resist the urge to write more. Don’t tell stories, don’t recount your military service, don’t drop names of people you know who are on your side. In fact, you should ideally get your point across three well-crafted sentences. As the volume of mail goes up in their office, the greater the need for you to make your letter concise.
- If you’re not a constituent, your letter will generally be ignored. They are very sensitive to this, and they look for evidence that you are in their district. (In other words, unless you’re actually in Feinstein’s district don’t waste your time writing her office; it won’t do any of us any good even if you are polite.) How do you make sure they know you’re a constituent? Put your name and address in the letter! I get emails constantly where the only identifier of the sender is a cryptic email address like “email@example.com”. To me it’s just annoying, but it causes Congressional aides to conclude one of two things: you’re either out of district or your email is from a spam robot. Either will cause your email to go right into the electronic trashcan. If you don’t want that to happen put your FULL NAME and address in the body.
- If you have an email account like “firstname.lastname@example.org”, and your Congressperson is a Democrat, you might want to use a different email address.
- Make sure your email has a recognizable subject; those without subjects, or with common subject lines like “Important – please read”, might be filtered into the trash by their email system. I’m told the best thing to do is to put the title/number of the actual bill in the subject line so that the reason for your letter can be quickly determined.
- The NRA (and others) will probably send you an email with links to form letters that you can send to your Congressperson. Don’t waste your time. Aides have told me that form letters are nearly useless; when they’re queried, one of the questions the boss often asks is “what percentage of responses are form letters?” The form letters have FAR less impact than those you send from your own keyboard (some say they are simply ignored. After all, their reasoning goes, if it was really important you’d have written your own damn letter.)
- Again: DON’T USE FORM LETTERS. If you feel you can’t make a good impression on the aides you can have someone more erudite draft it for you, but don’t use the prewritten missives. They’re really no better than the little “concern ribbons” people wear on their lapel; they signal you’re really not engaged with the issue.
- Finally, if by some miracle you do get a response from your Congressperson, it will almost certainly be a form letter. Deal with it. Go back to the first item: your Congressperson is NOT going to read your letter, and therefore is very unlikely to draft a personal response to you. Expect a form letter and don’t go bitching on Facebook if you get one; it’s just how the system works.
Now go use what you’ve learned, and let’s see if we can head Feinstein’s bill off at the pass!
-=[ Grant ]=-