Saturday, May 10, 2008

Ain't nothin' succeeds like success

We've had legal concealed carry in Kentucky for 12 years, and it's been a marked success. For those who weren't caught up in the issue and didn't live through all those years when we didn't have it, it's hard to understand how long we went without it, and how hard we had to fight to get it. When I got deeply involved with the effort in 1994-1995 we launched a new way of dealing with our opponents and used some new weapons that made all the difference in our struggle.

Prior to the founding of the Kentucky Coalition to Carry Concealed (KC3) by Tony Haubner, the anti-gunners held sway in the public communications venues. The newspapers in the large cities, Louisville and Lexington, pretty much controlled the debate by limiting access to the public via their pages, and deciding what they would report or suppress. They were successful in labeling gun owners and proponents of concealed carry as "gunslingers" and "gun nuts" in their reportage and editorials, and we essentially had no effective way to reply or to force them to give us an equal opportunity. They could thumb their noses at us with impunity.

That changed with KC3. We knew that there were several things that we had to do to get CCDW passed. One was to have a good bill to put before the legislature. Tony had drafted one, based on Florida's landmark 1989 law, and with a few refinements we were ready to pitch it.

Next we had to make ourselves heard, and we knew that we were going to have to make news, not just whine about being ignored. So we worked with other groups to collect over 21,000 signatures on petitions calling for the passage of our concealed carry bill, and we started getting people fired up.
Perhaps most importantly, we used talk radio, which was just then beginning to make a national impact and to make a difference in the local media mix. We were able to link up with talk show host Stew Williams on WAKY 790 AM and others in the Louisville market to put out our talking points and to attract public attention, and public comments. That led to debates on TV and to our editorials appearing in the papers which had previously blackballed us. Once we had people talking they couldn't very well ignore us. We were making news, making a noise, making people think and talk and call the radio shows and write letters to the editors.

That was the tipping point, to my mind. Always before the papers had been able to characterize us as a bunch of redneck nutjobs, or worse. This time, when they called us "gunslingers", we fired back "Uh, no. That's not acceptable. My mother's going to get one of these permits when this is passed, and I don't want you calling my mother, or my grandmother who's also thinking about it, a gunslinger. Gunslingers were pretty unsavory and you should be ashamed of talking about these ladies that way." Ooops. How can a politically correct editor go around slinging slurs at women? Pretty soon, we controlled the terms of the debate and forced a consideration of the issue on its merits and the facts, not on the traditional liberal appeal to fear and emotions.

And THAT paved the way for us to bring up all the things that most of the public had never heard, facts about defensive uses of guns and people who owed their lives to having a gun at the right time. We opened a lot of people's eyes to information that they'd never even dreamed existed, because as far as the liberal press was concerned it DIDN'T. They'd never reported it. Worse, they couldn't open their minds even to consider it! I had conversations with reporters where I would tell them things about firearms and self-defense, about government studies that they'd never heard of and about surveys relating to armed citizens and they'd just stare at me. I even had them say to me "I just don't believe that", or "I can't believe that" - and that was IT, end of conversation. Finito. They didn't say that they'd check my facts or that they'd investigate our claims. They just shut down. Their minds were closed to any viewpoint but their own, and we scared them, badly!

So we were on the air, and in the news and we were making people think, and then we were in the legislature in the committee rooms. We were testifying, and finding that we had some of the same problems with the representatives and senators that we had with reporters. They knew what they FELT about it and weren't going to let little things like facts and reality get in their way, by God!

Fortunately, we had more friends than foes in the Kentucky General Assembly and we had Representative Robert Damron, our big gun. While we were beating the drums for our bill, Bob was working the legislature and demonstrating a talent for working the process that no other proponent of concealed carry had brought to the fight before. All the legislators who'd introduced bills in the past were pretty much good 'ole boys whose hearts were in the right place, but they didn't have the backroom skills or savvy that Bob Damron did, and weren't able to make things happen like he did. They didn't speak well on radio or TV and they let the media make rubes of them. Damron was made for the modern media era. He spoke well and could steer an interview where he wanted it. He courted the press, always gave them a story and never forgot about working the press whenever we had a vote or committee meeting coming up. Bob was a bulldog, never let go once he had his teeth in an issue, and if you pissed him off by not coming through for him or trying to screw him or waffling on a vote he didn't forget and he didn't let up.

There's a lot more that went on and a lot more folks who were involved in the effort to get House Bill 40, our CCDW law, passed into law and signed by the governor. There's probably a whole book's worth of stuff in it. I won't even start to scratch the surface with this ditty.

I just wanted to comment on our history with concealed carry at this time because of the NRA convention coming up. There will be thousands of people attending the events in Louisville next week. No doubt hundreds of them will be carrying firearms for their defense. And they'll be carrying them LEGALLY according to the provisions of one of the best CCDW laws in the nation because of what we put into motion back in 1996 with HB40. They'll be carrying in a state that's shown that the hoplophobes were full of horsehockey when in 1996 they wailed about how blood would run in our streets if we let our citizens carry guns in their pockets.

Kentucky's experience with defensive carry has been nothing but good. After our bill passed we spent the next several years making improvements in our carry law, and fighting back attempts by the anti-gunners to sabotage it. We addressed other issues relating to firearms and gun ownership that made things better not only for permit holders but for all gun owners in the state.

So when NRA members come to Kentucky next week and wonder what w
e can do to preserve our rights or even to expand them, we can point to the fact that they can carry concealed here and show them how it's done, with enough effort, grit and sheer audacity. When we work hard at it, we can't lose. At this juncture, with the potential for a president being elected who loathes us and what we stand for, we DARE NOT lose! Watch six!