Larry Pratt runs Gun Owners of America. He has run it for almost 40 years. If there is another lobbyist in Washington who has run a lobbying organization as influential as GOA longer than Pratt has, I have not heard of it. Yet the New York Times only discovered his existence recently. It ran a major story on GOA.
The title reveals a stunning lack of awareness: “Upstart Group Pushes Harder Than the NRA.” This is like running an article on the United States in 1811: “Upstart Nation Defies Great Britain.” It is accurate, but misleading. The story is dated. The GOA has been doing this since 1975, the year it was founded. Pratt has run it from the beginning.
Maybe you are wondering why the Senate has been unable to come up with some kind of a compromise on a gun control bill that would authorize an extension of background checks. The reason is Pratt. The article discusses this. Pratt does not like the idea of background checks, and he has enough clout nationally, and in particular states, to pressure key senators on the issue. One of the senators who has reversed on this issue is Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. Coburn is a Republican. He is squishy on Gun Control, although he campaigns as a Second Amendment Republican. He is less squishy because of GOA. He sees the light because he feels the heat.
The GOA is described as follows: “a nondescript space in a squat office building off the Beltway here -– there is not even a name plate on the door.” That was also true in 1975. it is located in Springfield, Virginia, which is outside the Beltway. It is far enough away from Washington to send a message: “We are not inside the Beltway. We are not part of the deal-doing middle.” It is close enough to Washington for Pratt to scare people on Capitol Hill, who would like very much to cut a deal with New York Senator Chuck Schumer, and who are afraid to do it.
The article describes the organization as “once largely unknown.” It describes the organization as “dwarfed by the National Rifle Association.” Both statements are true, but they do not reflect the power the GOA has had for at least three decades.
I worked with the founder of the GOA over 45 years ago. His name is Bill Richardson. He was a state senator in California. He pioneered lobbying tactics on the gun control issue that are still being used by Pratt. He is still alive. He had been in advertising before he went into politics. His book, What Makes You Think We Read the Bills?, is one of the great books ever written on American politics. I read it 30 years ago.
I remember doing the recorded interview with Richardson over 30 years ago on the nature of politics. He told me that his secret of success is simple: inflict political pain. He said that politicians are not going to respond anything else. They respond to fear. He became a master at scaring politicians. Pratt is also very good at this.
In 2011, Gun Owners of America’s total revenue was under two million dollars. In comparison, the NRA generated $220 million. Gun Owners of America spent $1.3 million in 2012 to lobby Congress, and the NRA spent $3 million dollars. Which do you think had greater bang for the buck?
The article describes GOA as “loud.” That is an understatement. The article made it clear that Coburn was ready to sell out on this issue, but GOA pressure stopped it. Coburn’s assistant said that the senator was “irritated” with this pressure. Pratt said that this was the sign that the campaign was working.
When I worked for Ron Paul in 1976, the GOA was a hard-core organization. It was clear then that it was trying to pull the NRA to the right. The New York Times only figured this out a week ago. From the very beginning, Gun Owners of America was hard core, and the National Rifle Association was soft core.
Some Democratic aides describe the GOA as the biggest impediment to working out a deal on gun control. Senate Democrats fear retribution.
The NRA declined to comment about the GOA. It has declined to comment on the GOA since 1975.