I wrote this review for my column in Shotgun News almost two years ago. I'm pleased to say that it still holds. I had a long chat with Richard a couple of years ago and, as he said to me then, this book reflects his thinking at a particular point in time. His views have since evolved, particularly on the topic of my father, Neal Knox. He noted to me (and has since stated publicly) that time has proven Neal Knox right more often than it has proven him wrong.
Much of what Richard says in this book is dead on. The scene he describes in the opening pages of walking through an NRA gathering as a pariah was all too familiar. Dad and the rest of our family experienced exactly the same cold shoulder.
This is an important book to have in your library if you are interested in the inside details of the gun rights war. It's not a bad read, and, with internal pressures building within the NRA headquarters, can give some insight into the next internal fight when it breaks out.
Editor of Neal Knox - The Gun Rights War
Richard Feldman, former lobbyist for NRA and various firearms industry groups in the 1980's and 1990's, has created a fair stir with his book Ricochet: Confessions of a Gun Lobbyist. The book has the appearance of a turncoat insider dishing up hot gossip from the bowels of the gun lobby. But despite its cover - and despite some angry reviews - Feldman has not joined the anti-gun side.
He has staked out a pro-gun, but anti-NRA position.
Feldman's thesis is that the National Rifle Association's High Command has cultivated "a cynical, mercenary political cult" that it is "obsessed with wielding power while relentlessly squeezing contributions from its members." Those intemperate words appear on the second page. He expands on the theme over the next couple of hundred pages finally arriving at the conclusion that NRA has been co-opted by, and is run for the benefit of, its hired guns. He singles out in particular the advertising firm Ackerman McQueen.
My father, Neal Knox said much the same thing some twenty years ago. Wanting to keep internal problems internal, Knox worked from the inside. In retrospect, maybe he should have gone public. For those interested enough to dig into it, I've collected a generous helping of Dad's writing into a single volume, Neal Knox - The Gun Rights War
The bile flows generously from Feldman's pen, but inconsistently. He attacks NRA with relish for cynically milking its membership and playing on fears of politicians who want to take away their guns. Those of us who can read find those fears quite justified, yet we are also familiar with the sensation of being milked. Then, in virtually the next breath, Feldman directs a generous stream of invective toward the "fanatics," among whom he numbers former ILA head Tanya Metaksa and, of course, Neal Knox.
Feldman's inconsistencies affect his strategic view. He criticizes NRA for standing firm against the Clinton gun ban and fanning members' perfectly reasonable fears that the ban would spread to all semi-automatics. But then he reports the success of that hard-line position. He has to. It's history.
The tactical loss of the Clinton ban led directly to the strategic victory of the 1994 Congressional landslide that swept the Democrats out of power, even unseating Speaker of the House Tom Foley. Ten years later, the other shoe dropped. The ban expired as Congress, loath to face another up-or-down gun vote, quietly looked the other way.
As Executive Director of ILA, Tanya Metaksa was under tremendous pressure to help write the Clinton ban "in order to keep worse from being rammed down our throats." That's what happened with both the 1934 National Firearms Act, and the 1968 Gun Control Act. Had Metaksa succumbed to that pressure, we would likely still have "thumbhole" stocks on our AR-15 rifles - if we had AR-15's at all - and there would have been no chance of the ban ever expiring.
Feldman apparently wants to take a "moderate" position in the gun debate. He expresses the view that if we could just get everyone together and form relationships, we could create effective programs, such as the National Institutes of Justice-funded "Boston Gun Project" which he credits with reducing gang violence in Boston. That project, with its east coast think tank funding and initial emphasis on the "supply side," stirred less than enthusiastic reactions at NRA. Significantly, a major component of the Project's success was the aggressive prosecution and jailing of "Armed Career Criminals," a policy that "hard-liners" like Neal Knox advocated for many years. But Feldman suggests that programs like the Boston Project don't interest NRA because they don't stoke the fund-raising engines.
Although there's much to dislike about Feldman's book - the personal sniping detracts - it is well worth a read. He is definitely onto something when he describes how "Ack-Mac" burrowed into NRA headquarters, and got fat triple-dipping on retainer fees, mailing contracts, and billed creative work.
Some thirty years ago, following the tumultuous 1977 NRA meetings in Cincinnati where the members took control of the organization, Harlon Carter told his protege Neal Knox, "Revolution begets revolution. The NRA runs on a ten-year cycle." He then ran off a litany of internal fights, revolutions and counter-revolutions that had occurred with surprising regularity in years ending in seven or eight.
That cycle continued from 1977 when the members took control of the organization to 1987 when the Board of Directors successfully took back the power to hire the EVP, the last of the Cincinnati reforms. In 1997 staff and vendors mutinied against a Board-directed management audit that investigated how contracts were assigned. That revolution resulted in Neal Knox being bumped on a razor thin-vote, from the First Vice-President chair and the path to the presidency of the Association by Board new-comer Charlton Heston. Heston just happened to be represented by Mercury Group, a fully owned subsidiary of Ackerman McQueen.
Now with Heston's stabilizing influence gone, Feldman's book making waves, and the term "fiduciary responsibility" in vogue, it's just possible that an independent-minded Board coalition might stage another revolution and put the NRA's advertising and public relations accounts out for bid. When that happens there's going to be one heck of a fight.