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- Created on Sunday, 16 January 2011 06:46
- Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 May 2011 16:46
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Contacting your Congressional delegation is simple but you need to be prepared to deal with the Congressional staff to effectively get your message across. The first thing you need to do is prepare. You need to know the facts, inside and out. For the right to keep and bear arms you should know the "anti-gun" talking points and have your answers ready. We prefer a "multi-contact" method approach. The reason for this becomes more clear once you have dealt with Congressional staff more than a few times. Basically, you want to be factual, brief, quick to the point and make sure you clearly and specifically state what you want the Congressman to do. This is critical and many in the RKBA community submit comments like "The 2nd Amendment is my permit to carry!" and "uphold your oath of office!". These are certainly worthy principles and noble suggestions but they lack specificity and the Congressional staff will put this type of correspondence in a ... special file which nothing happens to.
Email / e-form, fax & written letter: Almost all Congressional offices have transitioned their communication interface to what are known as e-forms. These e-forms are designed to obfuscate your attempt to easily communicate with Congressional offices. As email became more prevalent and Congressional offices went on the 'net, internet savvy lobbies like the RKBA supporters began using it powerfully to lobby Congress. They were deluged with correspondence and implemented these web-forms to dissuade Citizens from contacting. Newer ones now have a box to check for getting a response to your correspondence or some form of 'acknowledgement'. Always select this option, and always keep your correspondence. Fax, email & web form are generally quicker methods of delivering your Congressional correspondence.
- Your correspondence should read like a letter. It should be polite, clear, concise with direct 'problems' and direct 'solutions'.
- ALWAYS remember that a human being will read this letter, not a computer. Be courteous and respectful, but no to the point of silliness. You are writing your elected SERVANT, not your master. However, the people working for you in Congress are not your slave so treat them with respect. Respect is a two way street and if you start off a conversation respectfully and maintain it respectfully all but the absolute worst offenders will treat you respectfully.
- In most correspondence you want either a bill, regulation or known government action to refer to. There are some exceptions for long term efforts but basically if you don't have a bill, regulation or government action to refer to then your "please support/please oppose" request will be met with "Dear Constituent, I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment... I will keep your concerns in mind..." More on that later.
- Your direct problem needs to be identifiable and briefly explainable. For example, 'Dear Representative ... I am writing to oppose HB999 the bill to implement burdensome background checks on private firearms sales". Here we have an identifiable bill, and the short explanation. Do the leg work for the Congressional staff, don't make them look up what a bill is. The more of their work you do for them the faster your correspondence gets dealt with.
- Explain why the bill is good or bad. Ideally you want this to be 2 or 3 points fitting in a brief paragraph.
- Give your direction and a brief explanation. Reiterate your position and explain it with 2 or 3 brief points.
- Close out the communication and ask for a contact by phone. Make sure you know the points you made in your letter and ask for a call back to discuss the issue. Every law that Congress passes takes away some measure of freedom, so the least they can do is call to talk to you about it. This helps drive home the points you made in your email, reinforces to the staff that you are serious about this a lot of times can bring the staff to sympathize with you. You don't have to hold them on the phone or monopolize their day, but if you can, get their contact information and ask for a follow up on any developments for this issue.
If you are sending pre-formatted correspondence, it is ok to personalize it. In fact, personalizing your communication generally draws more attention to it. Within limits. Don't stray too far into personalizing that the overall message is lost, or the direct problem / direct solution is obscured. Avoid rhetoric that might compromise your effort, partisan labels, ad hominem attacks. Stick to the core message and always be respectful.
Responses: You may or may not get a response to your inquiries. If you get an email response offering some general support, it is no better than an MS Outlook delivery receipt. It means your email / e-form was received, read by Congressional staff and their form response was sent out to you. Believe us, they have form responses pre-built. This is nothing to get excited or angry about. It means that the office has gotten enough input to acknowledge the issue. This is a positive development but we still have work to do. NEVER accept the first response as the final word.
If you get the "I am a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment" letter, what do you do? Most people accept this and consider their part in the fight over. It's not. If there is not a written promise to support / oppose whatever issue you contacted on, there is more work to do. Beware of generalities. A written promise must be to do something, and it must be something tangible. For example, "I will get this bill to the floor and see it passed". If you get this "I am a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment...I will keep your views in mind" letter then a follow up contact is required. "I'll keep your concerns in mind..." says nothing, means nothing and offers no indication whatsoever what they are going to do.
If you get a phone call from the staff of the Congressman's office, even if it's their level 1 staff, this is good. Reiterate your points. If they try to tell you that "this is only for ... and won't infringe 2nd Amendment rights" then you explain to them that yes it will, yes it does and why. If you think they are "not getting it" then tell them you'd like to talk to the office 2nd Amendment staff. Each office has a staff member who handles 2nd Amendment issues among other issues. These people have to know a little more detail about an issue and have some direct interfacing with the Chief of staff & the elected Congressman. Sometimes if you ask for a contact from the office in your email, fax or letter the 2nd Amendment office staff will do the calling. Even better. If they are calling you, don't be caught flat footed. If you're not in a position or place where you can articulately discuss the ins and outs of 2nd Amendment / RKBA issues, defer and ask for a number & time to call back so you can. "This issue is very important to me and I want to be absolutely sure the Representative/Senator fully understands".
More work to do:
What if you get no response? What do you do if your cable, satellite, telephone or electric service goes out and it is not fixed or responded to in a timely manner? YOU CALL THEM BACK! You don't give up, you don't complain to the NRA that your Congressman didn't respond, or spend hours complaining about on an internet blog or forum, you reload and get back in the fight. Figuratively that is. You could send another email, fax or letter, however we consider the lack of response to be... impolite and below expectations for a highly paid elected government official whose sole duty is to represent our interests pursuant to the Constitution. Generally a week to 10 business days is enough turnaround time for a Congressional office. If the issue is time sensitive you may need to alter your threshold for turnaround time. Anything scheduled to be voted on soon will requires a shorter turnaround time & time to recontact.<Tip> Check the elected official's website. If you see an article on how some key staff member was injured, in the hospital, died or there is some calamity the office is dealing with keep this in mind in your subsequent comments </Tip> If you haven't received acknowledgement of your input or response this warrants a phone call.
Call them! Many gun owners don't like this option and there really is no reason to be concerned. We are out of our element dealing with political issues a lot of times but all you have to do is speak your mind politely and honestly. If you can call to place an order for ammunition, look for a specific gun model or gunsmithing parts & services then you can easily deal with a Congressional office.
If you sent in an email, fax or letter, have a copy handy when you call. Once you reach a live person tell them who you are, and that you're calling about whatever bill, regulation or government action at hand and that you would like to speak to someone about the issue. Usually this gets you to the "2nd Amendment" guy/gal. Keep in mind the same things as when you sent your email, fax or letter. Be polite and understanding but get to it. Tell him who you are, who you're with if you are part of an organization and that you're following up on a previously sent correspondence. Express that you want the elected official to represent your interests as expressed in that correspondence and explain why. The will likely ask you some questions, give them answer quickly if you but if you are lacking information or stats do NOT bluff! Be honest and ask for time to get that information for him/her. Get a number / email and follow up.
Promises made on the phone mean nothing unless they are backed up by promises in writing.
If you get voice mail and leave a message, ask for a call back. Remember that you may understand the issue inside and out, but the Congressman & their staff may not and they are dealing with other constituents on other issues so do as much background for them as you can.
OK, your communication was received and acknowledged...
The relatively small percentage of constituents who get this far now consider the issue resolved. It's not. Even if you have a written promise to "support or oppose" a bill, regulation or government action elected officials are like cars, trucks, motorcycles & other vehicles: They require constant steering input to keep them on course. This is particularly true if your effort is an "offensive" one - an attempt to roll back restrictions, repeal a law or in any way enhance liberty. Politicians love to do one thing more than anything else: Nothing. Doing nothing is the ideal for a politician because if they never try to get a bill to the floor and get a vote they are never really held accountable for their actions. Do not allow a politician to claim "this bill is in the xxxxxxxx committee, and I am not a part of that committee" and let it go unchallenged. This is an attempt by the politician to do nothing. If you're trying to repeal a law, or enhance liberty doing nothing is your enemy. If you get this kind of response, you need to recontact with a new direct problem / direct solution. "Dear Congressman Soandso, I was recently contacted by your office about bill HB001 that is stuck in the Judicial Committee. You are not on that committee, however as a leader in the Congress and strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment, we expect action on this bill. Please find out from the committee chair when the bill will be heard so that we can get this bill the vote on the floor it deserves ..."
Telephone calls are dynamic. They are essentially a conversation taking place on a personal level in which you can convey much more sentiment, emotion, and 'tone' that is not necessarily conveyed in electronic communications such as emails, web forms & faxes.
Always prepare before calling a Congressional office. Even if you only have notes jotted down on a Post-it note, do at least some preparation before engaging any Congressional or other political contact. If you are asked a question you don't have an answer to then tell them you don't have the specific information in front of you, and you'll get back to them. What's a good number & email to reach you at? Keep in mind that politicians and their staff are very good at human interaction. In fact, they excel at this behavior whereas gun owners as a demographic are generally unpracticed in this discipline.