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Activism 101: Federal vs State Elections and What We Can Work On

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A 'vote here' sign in a parking lot

It’s Saturday, so this is a long one. But don’t just scroll past because there are a lot of words here.

With primary season drawing to a close, and conventions around the corner, the 2024 election season is about to heat up, I wanted to share some thoughts on what we should be focused on. I wrote recently in the New Jersey Firearms Owners Syndicate on Facebook about Curtis Bashaw but this applies to most of the races on New Jersey ballots this fall.

In New Jersey, state level elections occur on the off-year cycles between Federal elections. So, 2025 is the next election cycle where will be voting for state Assemblymen, state Senators and our Governor. This fall’s races are predominantly federal elections (US Congressmen, US Senators and the President).

There are two important points I want to make: 1) grassroots activism is an effective tool at influencing politics; and 2) to be effective, the grassroots message needs to be focused on actionable items. I am going to lay out some explanations as to why grassroots activism works, I am going to share some ideas on how to focus the message for a federal election, and I am going to share some of my thoughts on specific areas of focus for this election.

So, 1) does grassroots activism work? Yes. I could write an entire book on this topic but an excellent summary of this topic can be found on the National Association for Gun Rights website under the tab where they explain the Strategy for NAGR. I encourage you all to read the entirety of it because it is so important to understand these concepts. I’ll summarize and add to one key point that they make in their explanation of grassroots strategy.

In totality, politics in the US is about the margins. As NAGR points out, you could look at the entire population and think that to be successful on a political issue, we need to gain the support of 50% plus one vote of the entire population. But that isn’t accurate. Of the entirety of the population, only 70% are eligible to vote. Of that 70%, only 60% of eligible voters are registered to vote. And of that 60% of eligible voters, only 50% of those turn out on election day in normal elections. Do the math on that and only 20% of the total population is voting on election day. Nationally, 7% of those voters are reliably voting for Democrats, 7% are reliably voting for Republicans and 6% are swing votes. It’s the swing votes, especially in battleground races, that matter. So, what makes the difference in battleground races?

3% of the population, plus one vote (half of the swing voters). So, therefore, special interest groups that are well organized and represent at least 3% of the population have immense political power. PERIOD.

Presidential elections are always much larger turnout races and in NJ in 2020, there were 4.4 million votes cast. Applying that 3% math to the 2020 election turn-out, that would equal 132,000 voters. As was posted over and over again here recently, there are approximately 165,000 gun owners and hunters in this state THAT ARE NOT REGISTERED TO VOTE.

In the 2020 Presidential election in NJ, that 3% would not have changed the outcome for Trump here in this state since Biden’s margin of victory was over 7%, but let’s look at some down ballot races:

In NJ’s 3rd Congressional District, Andy Kim won that seat for the Democrats with a 3.2% margin of victory; in the 5th Congressional District, Josh Gottheimer won another seat for the Democrats with a margin of victory of 3.2%; in NJ’s 11th Congressional District, Mikie Sherrill won her seat for the Dems on a margin of 3.3%; and, finally in NJ’s 7th Congressional District, Tom Malinowski won yet another seat for the Democrats by a margin of just 0.6%!

In the midterms, Malinowski lost that seat to Tom Kean and that district did flip. But the point is to look at just how small these numbers are. For reference, the entire balance of power in the House of Representatives is a 4 seat majority….

There were four House seats in a blue state like New Jersey that ended in the hands of Democrats by a margin of victory of 3% or less. With only 12 congressional districts in NJ, that is the difference between NJ being a deeply blue state versus a New Jersey becoming a RED STATE.

As a special interest group, NJ gun owners do represent more than 3% of the population. The challenge is organizing that 3% and focusing that effort. Again, I encourage you to read the link in the comment section from NAGR that I posted. There are numerous examples of special interest groups that, on paper, appeared to face impossible odds but nonetheless won on their issues with huge margins on the Hill. It’s the organization that matters and consistency of the messaging. We have to be vocal, relentlessly messaging candidates and incumbents in the legislative districts that you live in.

So, step 1: get to know your district, who your candidates and incumbents are and CONTACT THEM…. Over and over and over again.

But what should we say?

I am just a guy and this is just my opinion but here are some thoughts. Again, this is a FEDERAL election, not a state election. A US Senator or US Congressman does not have any direct influence over New Jersey state laws (that should be fairly obvious).

US Senators and Congressman can only vote on federal legislation or take federal action (demand House or Senate inquiries or pressure federal agencies, like the DoJ). It’s important to convey to candidates and incumbents what the issues that matter to you are and why they should care about those issues. So here are some FEDERAL issues I think are worth pay attention to and why they specifically affect New Jersey residents and I have presented them in way that makes sense to present those issues to candidates and incumbents to federal offices (this is, in my opinion, a good way to present these issues in your communications):

The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act:

S. 214, The Constitutional Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, was first introduced in the House in 2015 by Congressman Richard Hudson from North Carolina as H.R. 38. The bill accumulated 200 sponsors over its life in the House. In 2017, H.R. 38 passed the House of Representatives but got dropped in the Senate in favor of the Fix NICS Act which had both bipartisan support and Trump’s endorsement. H.R. 38 was reintroduced in the following 2 House sessions and then in 2023 was introduced in the Senate as the Constitutional Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2023 by Senator John Cornyn of Texas along with 43 other Senate sponsors (7 votes shy of having enough support to pass the Senate). S. 214 is currently on the floor of the US Senate and if passed, the House version would be resurrected and reconciled with the Senate bill.

New Jersey is a small state with significant portions of the population travelling for work to the surrounding states. The entire northern half of New Jersey is geographically defined as the New York Metro Area, a megalopolis comprised of three states (New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut). New Jersey residents, more than most states, travel across state lines regularly to shop, work, visit family, etc. In other states, casually crossing state lines is much less common. In Bergen County, for example, you could make a wrong turn in Old Tappan and accidently cross into New York because those towns along the northern border of New Jersey just blend right in to their New York neighbors. You could be fishing on Greenwood Lake and accidently cross into New York. There is a confusing collection of off and on ramps at the entrance to the George Washington Bridge. Make a mistake there and you have no choice but to cross the bridge and u-turn in Manhattan. The lack of a cohesive national reciprocity system on the issue of concealed carry permits puts New Jersey residents in a special category of legal jeopardy.

Therefore, ask your Senate candidate (Curtis Bashaw) to support S. 214 and your Congressional candidates or incumbents to support H.R. 38 for those reasons.

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The Hearing Protection Act:

S. 401 and H.R. 152, The Hearing Protection Act, has parallel bills currently on the floor of the House and the Senate. The Hearing Protection Act would essentially remove suppressors from the National Firearms Act. The Senate bill is sponsored by Mike Crapo of Idaho and the House version is sponsored by Jeff Duncan of South Carolina. Both bills are currently before committees in each chamber.

New Jersey state law currently bans the use of suppressors beyond the federal restrictions in the National Firearms Act which merely regulates those items. Nationally, millions of suppressors are in civilian hands subject to NFA registration and stamp taxes but unlike other NFA items, suppressors can be brought across state lines without ATF approval provided they are legal in the state the owner is entering.

Suppressors are important to New Jersey residents for a variety or reasons. Our population density translates to busy ranges, both indoors and outdoors and even with the best hearing protection, the risk of tinnitus and permanent hearing loss is more significant here. Our state law, for the time being anyway, mandates the use of muzzle brakes on popular firearms. This amplifies the sound impact of shooting a firearm in and around the firing line and increases the risk of permanent hearing loss. Moreover, while almost every category of hunting in New Jersey limits the use of firearm types to shotguns only, predator hunting in New Jersey is the only category of hunting that permits the use of centerfire rifles. The coyote population in New Jersey is a threat to other wildlife, pets, property and, indeed even people as both a dangerous animal species and one that commonly spreads mange, and for those reasons, the NJ DEP encourages predator hunting. Coyotes are typically hunted at night or in very low light conditions. Suppressors work not just to reduce sound signature but also reduce muzzle flash. A predator hunter will commonly engage multiple coyotes in a pack when called. The reduction in muzzle flash therefore increases safety and the odds that the hunter can see the targets and what is beyond them (two of the four essential rules of firearms safety).

While the removal of suppressors from the National Firearms Act wouldn’t automatically make them legal in New Jersey, it would increase the odds that these unconstitutional restrictions on essential safety equipment could be legally or politically challenged in NJ. In Europe, where most would agree that gun laws are significantly stricter, there is almost no regulation on the use or possession of suppressors. While Hollywood portrays these items as something that completely eliminates sound signature, that is simply not the case. A suppressor merely brings the sound signature of a firearm down from extremely unsafe levels to sound levels that would allow over-the-ear hearing protection to work properly.

Equal Protection:

In 2022, the US Supreme Court ruled in NYSRPA v Bruen that state “may issue” concealed carry laws are unconstitutional and the arbitrary restrictions imposed by the State of New Jersey on the right to obtain a license to carry a firearm outside of the home for self-defense is unconstitutional. Since the Supreme Court ruled in NYSRPA v. Bruen, New Jersey has enacted a string of unconstitutional laws that are meant to completely circumvent the holding in Bruen. One aspect of these new laws the State of New Jersey has relied heavily on to frustrate gun owners in this state has been the imposition of exorbitant fees on permits to carry a handgun. While much of these laws are being challenged in federal court, the question of the use of heavy fees to restrict a right continues to remain in effect. The use of this mechanism is particularly heinous since it is designed to specifically target poor and working-class families in this state who merely want to protect themselves in public. By imposing economic barriers to a right, this logically impacts suspect classes of people, minority groups who have been specifically identified through both a long tradition of federal and state case law and federal and state legislation as classes likely to be discriminated against. In the wake of Brown v Board of Education, the federal government, through federal agencies, was called upon to force integration into previously segregated school systems in instances where states passed laws to completely circumvent the holding Brown v Board. I ask that you pledge to demand an inquiry in Congress and demand an inquiry from the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division as to whether State’s like New Jersey using obviously discriminatory policies is a violation of civil rights under the Constitution and federal law. While the topic of gun control is divisive, I think all Americans can agree that, whatever the scope of Constitutionally protected rights is, those rights should be shared equally by all Americans regardless of their race or socioeconomic class.


I submit to you all that if we dedicated some time this summer to hammering the candidates and incumbents for federal office elections this fall, by emailing and calling their offices and campaign headquarters, we can, a powerful special interest group, get candidates to endorse these positions. There are thousands of people on the New Jersey Firearms Owners Syndicate page alone. If only 10% of us committed to this, those candidates are going to be getting hundreds of emails and phone calls. From just that Facebook group.

Go one step further. Don’t just copy and paste what I wrote here. Take a moment to think about the issues and craft them in your own words.

Get after it.

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