Government is complicated, and our modern political system can be confusing and hard to navigate. Everyone has a political opinion, but when it comes to actually effecting change, few people have the knowledge or resources to accomplish anything. And thanks to the confusing jargon and complicated political systems, few people even try. The political sphere becomes dominated by a class of perpetual politicians and policy wonks — a kind of specialized political priesthood. Then they start political organizations, expecting you to give them your money so they can fight your political battles for you. And so the average American’s political strategy has become Donate, Vote, and Complain. But is it possible for average citizens to make a political difference without the help of these big lobby groups?
Here’s how we did it.
Late in 2018, managers and owners at T.Rex Arms started talking about possible political action for the 2019 legislative session. Due to the makeup of the state House this year, we thought the climate would be favorable to 2nd Amendment action. Hiring an outside lobby group would be outrageously expensive, but we didn’t have many political connections or much political experience, so we had no idea how effective we could be on our own. Since I believed in the project, I offered to work as a lobbyist for a reduced rate in order to offset costs. The owners decided it was worth the money to try an experiment.
Six months later, on July 1st, 2019, our Tennessee Ammunition Tax Repeal went into law, saving taxpayers over $400,000 per year. Here are a few things we learned about how to be effective in politics:
1. Do Your Research
Any effective plan needs an objective. And to get an objective, you have to know the lay of the land. You’ll need a basic understanding of the current law and the political process, and a very good handle on the debate surrounding the particular issue you’re interested in fighting for. (Additionally, you need to have patience and good people skills.) All too often people see a problem in politics, try to change things without really understanding what they’re doing, and end up leaving the scene frustrated, friendless, and beaten. We didn’t want that to happen to us, so we began researching legislation that would make for a good fight.
At an early brainstorming meeting, David Botkin suggested getting rid of Tennessee’s antiquated ammunition tax. The tax was unconstitutional, had been passed in 1937, and was a burden to both retailers and buyers. They called it a “privilege tax”, as if it is a privilege to be able to buy ammunition; but the right to keep and bear arms (and, by extension, ammunition for those arms) is a constitutionally protected right. Just as it would be wrong to tax someone for their right to free speech, so it’s wrong to tax someone for their right to purchase arms and ammunition.
Another reason we liked the bill was that it was simple and straightforward. We knew it wouldn’t require complex legal wrangling or hours of explaining the concept to politicians. A legislator either supported the tax cut, or he didn’t.
Once we knew we wanted to push ahead with the bill, we began more serious research: calling retailers, finding out where the tax money went, and determining how much revenue was generated by the tax. As we researched, we built a list of talking points that we could show to legislators to convince them the idea was sound. We knew we had to muster our very best arguments so we could answer any questions and successfully refute our opposition. You want to know your bill so well that no one can surprise with an argument you haven’t thought of.
2. Find A Good Sponsor
After registering as a lobbyist and determining what our goals were, the next thing we needed to do was find a good legislator to sponsor our bill. With a part-time legislature, many reps will work a full-time job in addition to their elected position, so most of the legislation in state houses comes from think tanks that have time to research the issues.
While many politicians are smarmy and spineless, a lot of state legislatures also have some real statesmen — people who genuinely care about their constituents and the constitution. If you can find someone like that, they should be very eager to meet and work with sincere people who have similar goals.
Through some previous connections, we found an excellent sponsor for our ammo tax repeal in Representative Clay Doggett. As a previous sheriff’s deputy and member of the department’s SRT, he was fully in support of the bill ideologically, and was willing to carry it all the way.
3. Draft and Refine Your Legislation
Large lobbying organizations will have their own legal teams who can draft bills, but we didn’t have that. So we presented the idea to Clay, and he gave it to the House Legal team to draft into language consistent with Tennessee Code.
Initially, we had three bills we wanted to run. One died right out of the gate when we couldn’t find a sponsor for it. Another failed at this stage, because of a technicality with the language — no funny business, just a failure in our ability to communicate clearly and make good decisions. It was a hard lesson, but a good one.
Even if you get the state legal team to draft the bill, it is usually a good idea to get outside legal help to look it over before it goes into law. Unfortunately, even when they’re trying to do their best, there may be loopholes or issues that they don’t expect. Do all that you can on the front end to ensure that your language is perfect; if not, your bill might get a constitutional challenge or simply be destroyed by the committee process because it’s a poorly-written bill.
You can pay an outside lawyer for a thousand dollars or so, or you may find one who’s interested in helping you for free because they love the cause you’re working towards.
4. Fight For Your Legislation
Almost every bill that goes through the legislature will be a fight. The law is the way it is because someone wanted it that way, and they probably won’t want YOU to change it. Politics is war without bloodshed, and that’s what you need to prepare for.
In order to help your legislation gain momentum, you’ll need to get other legislators to co-sponsor the legislation, have constituents call their legislators, and actually “lobby” other representatives and senators — in other words, convince them your bill is a good one. This doesn’t require any special skills, per se: just set up meetings, talk to the legislators, and try to explain why your idea should become the law of the land. Then you need to work your bill through the committee process, keeping careful track of who will and won’t vote for your legislation.
Unfortunately, it often isn’t the elected officials who are the biggest problem. Instead, it’s the bureaucrats, the dreaded “fourth branch” of government, who are most likely to keep your bill from passing. These people hold appointed positions, and are often several layers removed from voters, meaning they have little reason to listen to what you have to say. And one of their main functions is to ensure that their department doesn’t get a budget cut — which means they’re almost always against any kind of true tax cut.
In fact, one of the most mind-boggling things about government agencies is the fact that they actually employ lobbyists themselves. The alphabet-soup bureaucrats spend your money on lobbyists to ensure that they continue to get as much of your money as they can, and continue to extend the scope of their duties and responsibility. Which means they will need more of — you guessed it — your money.
As you deal with politicians, bureaucrats, and other lobbyists, there are a few helpful principles to remember:
a. Don’t be petty. While we disagree with the national NRA, the state-level lobbyist was very helpful for us, sending out emails to help our bill and working to convince legislators that it should pass. “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” – Proverbs 19:11
b. Be patient. With legislators, opponents, bureaucrats, and everyone else. “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” – Proverbs 16:32
c. Pray. Ultimately, the Lord will determine if your bill passes or fails, and you have to give an account to Him for your actions, win or lose. “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” – Psalm 127:1
5. State Politics Matter
Americans tend to be very focused on politics at the national level, with good reason. We have a crazy presidential election coming up, and an unpredictable president in power. Additionally, we’re losing a lot of freedoms at the national level, where we have absolutely no control over anything, and the federal government is way bigger than it should be. But that’s exactly why we can’t ignore state-level politics.
a. Battles won and lost at the local level are ammunition for the fights happening at the national level. Federal legislators will often look to state law to see if they can justify some new measure — whether good or bad.
b. National players tend to start in state legislatures. If we’re willing to work with them now, we can make allies for the future, and also force them to take hard stands to prove where they stand on issues.
c. Working on smaller issues at the state level will give you experience and opportunities to do more in the future. As scripture says, “He who is faithful with little will be set over much.” – Matthew 25:21
6. Almost Anyone Can Do This
Our ammo tax repeal was relatively tiny, but it proves that anyone can accomplish something in politics if they’re willing to dedicate time and money. Our political endeavor cost the company less than $11,000. Here’s the cost breakdown:
$7,605 – Lobbyist. $15/hr, three days a week for 14 weeks.
$1,540 – Researcher. $15/hr, two days a week for 10 weeks.
$530 – Parking (which is insanely expensive)
$740 – Lobbying registration and taxes
If you could get people to volunteer, or put in fewer hours, you could easily do it for $3,000 or less. And though $10,500 may sound like a lot, most people could probably get a group of friends together and pool their money to reach that goal. For comparison, it’s less than eight NRA lifetime memberships. We didn’t use our media channels to create political pressure, and we didn’t build a huge grassroots network — we just developed relationships, served where we were able, and worked to be faithful with what we had. You can do the same. And with patient effort and some teamwork, you’ll actually be able to change something.
Just as we believe that all citizens must be ready to defend themselves and others from physical violence, we believe that every citizen has the duty to protect our constitution. These are your battles, and you can’t expect other people to do your work for you. The biggest reason our country is where it is today is because most Americans do nothing but complain, vote, and complain. So communicate with your elected officials. Make sure the enemies of freedom know you’re watching them, and the friends of freedom know that they have allies.
We’ll continue to monitor politics, get involved where we can, dedicating time and effort to make America a better, safer place. And we trust you’ll do the same.