By Jeffrey E. Folloder
There are several definitions of the word "friction." 1. The resistance that one surface or object encounters when moving over another. 2. The action of one surface or object rubbing against another. In the context of this article it would be best to use 3. Conflict, as between persons having dissimilar ideas or interests; clash. The subject of firearms and firearms regulations always elicits passionate response from anyone. Passionate people tend to clash with those who do not precisely align with their own views, hence the term "friction." The National Firearms Act Trade & Collectors Association (NFATCA) is certainly no stranger to the concept of friction. It could easily be said that friction is the foundation of our enterprise.
The NFATCA continuously manages friction on several fronts in order to accomplish the varied goals established by our Board of Directors. In order to be effective, we manage the friction between regulators (ATF, etc.) and the regulated (collectors, dealers, manufacturers, etc.). That said, there are many more friction "fronts" that must be managed. There's the friction of competing interests between and amongst the regulated, there's friction between the extreme position advocating abolition of ATF and those who favor a more pragmatic approach, there's friction between our organization and others who compete for mind share, as well as "pocket" share and there's friction created by the general political landscape. Frankly, it's all too easy to cast every aspect of what we do in an "us versus them" light. But that is precisely what we must do because there is conflict that must either be managed or resolved. At the same time, the NFATCA understands that an unavoidable by-product of friction is heat and, unless you are trying to stay warm in the winter, heat is an inefficient waste of resources. As your representatives in managing the friction, we are committed to picking the best candidates for the application of our limited resources so that we can make progress. We would love to take on every agenda item. Reality means that such ambition is not practical.
Obviously, our main focus is managing the issues that involve the firearms community and its primary regulator, the ATF. We understand that many firearms owners would like to see the ATF abolished. We also understand that there is no set of circumstances currently in play that would indicate that the ATF is going to go away. And even if the name of the regulator changed, the function would very likely still exist within the Federal government, so we must find a way to increase the efficiency of the friction between the regulators and the regulated. We do this by identifying issues, evaluating alternatives and aggressively pursuing solutions that make sense for the community at large. The firearms community was burdened with and opposed ATF's expansion of the definition of the term "manufacturing." The NFATCA applied consistent and vocal pressure in public, in conferences, in private meetings and in legal action over a considerable period of time in order to help ATF accomplish their congressionally mandated goals without over-burdening an already heavily-regulated process. There was a LOT of friction, yet we avoided a complete shut down through innovation and resolve. When some in ATF endeavored to expand the definition of explosive to include most ammunition larger than .50 caliber, the NFATCA led the charge. There was certainly friction with that issue! How could the larger organizations have missed that? Still, the issue would have become critical for many in the NFA community, as well as the firearms community at large, so we assembled a working team to address the issue. And there was friction from the public at large questioning our "right" to represent "their" interests in such an issue. And there was friction encountered from ATF stating that their definitions had always been this way and that they were just documenting what was common and long-standing practice. NFATCA managed that friction with the assistance of other organizations and individuals to render the ATF a non-issue. The end result is that there are not a bevy of tens of thousands of individuals seeking new explosives licenses that must be administered by a short-staffed regulatory agency that had no public safety issue to deal with in the first place. Unfortunately, effectively managing this type of friction is a painfully boring process to observe. The expression "watching dry paint fade" comes to mind. It's not glamorous or exciting and it certainly does not achieve the type of instant gratification that has come to be the general expectation of the digital age.
As you can imagine, the facility of the digital age has presented NFATCA with its own potential for friction. The Internet, Twitter, Facebook... all of these communications avenues give anyone and everyone the unprecedented ability to express their individual viewpoint. Being able to say it doesn't make one "more" right or wrong. It just means that there is a venue to say it. Rest assured that many of our detractors and supporters utilize this ease of communication in both beneficial and detrimental ways. More friction. Some of what is offered is useful and the rest merely acts as carbon fouling that eventually builds up to the point where the weapon seizes up and fails to function. We recognize this as a vital part of what we do. We listen to what is going on so that we can have a better understanding of what is going on. We also understand that regular maintenance is necessary to prevent catastrophic failure. Cleaning and lubrication overcome the effects of dirt and friction. Everyone wants to be heard on the Internet, the hard part is figuring out what is worth listening to.
So let's take a moment to understand the current friction that NFATCA is managing on behalf of our members. There is a perfect storm of issues and events that have created what can only be described as a contentious relationship between the firearms community, firearms organizations and government regulators. Consider the impending national elections, ATF's ongoing Fast & Furious imbroglio, Supreme Court Second Amendment issues, questionable ATF demand letters, conflicting regulatory guidance... All of these factors have their own friction factor, yet the impact of the friction appears to become magnified when taken in combination with the additional elements. There are three basic approaches an organization can take when dealing with these issues: resignation, accommodation, or focusing of resolve. Resignation is failure and you can be assured that that the NFATCA is not resigning from any of its efforts. Accommodation involves establishing a quid pro quo so that both sides achieve a portion of their goals through varying levels of concession. It is apparent that the ATF is not currently demonstrating a willingness to even listen to industry and community views on some issues. Further, our current Attorney General, Eric Holder, seems all too willing to "really brainwash people into thinking about guns in a vastly different way" and use whatever means necessary to diminish our gun rights as opposed to vigorously defend them. There does not appear to be room for accommodation since it would only be a one way street. This places us in the position of having to pick and choose our battles in an environment where we are certain to receive intense pushback and rejection. Friction, indeed.
When ATF appears to arbitrarily decide to change their interpretations of regulations we are faced with friction, when ATF refuses to acknowledge the established practice and procedure of the recent past, when ATF implements new requirements without notification, when ATF refuses industry input or comment... assume that friction will appear. As an organization, NFATCA has chosen to address some of this friction head on. And this is not a comfortable scenario for anyone. In the past we have enjoyed a collegiate and productive working relationship with many leaders in many parts and branches of ATF. In the present, for whatever reason, the cooperative environment has been replaced with abrasive friction and we are making choices. Many of these choices are not very popular with everyone, which will create even more friction. We will fight to preserve your NFA rights. We will not acquiesce to onerous, expanded regulation that serves no valid public safety concern. We will apply our resources in a manner that acknowledges that we cannot take on every fight and we will never assume that the strategies and tactics of the past continue to serve us well in the present or the future. This applies to all that we do because the sources of friction are constantly evolving. Many predicted that the NFATCA would be nothing but a faded dream after just a few years. We are still here and coming up on a decade of effective service because of our ability to adapt and overcome.
In the coming months and years you will witness more evolution of our efforts. We have plans to add an Advisory Board to help broaden the input from our community. We will welcome new members from previously untapped resources to our Board of Directors. And we will continue to make certain that our members and our firearms community expect and receive the absolute best that we can offer. Many of us work countless hours on our time to make your success happen. That part will not change. There are other parts that will not change. There are folks at ATF that will seek to diminish and restrict our efforts. There will be agitators in many venues that call for our ouster and the abolition of ATF. Other groups will disagree with us on how to remedy pressing concerns. Friction will manifest itself in myriad forms. The NFATCA mantra of "power through experience" will continue to prove that we can accomplish more by integrating our efforts to achieve our collective goals. We need your support in order to accomplish all of this. While we are achieving modest success in securing industry and corporate sponsorship, it is the contribution of individuals and small business that provides our bedrock. Memberships start at $50 per year. We have additional memberships at increased levels for those that are able or capable of providing more. That said, nobody "gets more" by paying more. As we continue to grow, we hope to show our appreciation for our members by providing even more access and "community" events. We are working on a "festival" event to combine the best aspects of a gun show, hands-on school, live shoot and informational workshop and we hope to turn it into an annual event. We'll be at The Creek and the NRA Conventions, as well as SAR West in Phoenix in December, and the SHOT Show, too. Come see us. Come talk to us. Visit our website at www.nfatca.org. But most importantly, join us so that we can deliver on your expectations.
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