On Sept 26, 2018 I attended the How To Testify seminar taught by Rachel Malone, the Texas Director for Gun Owners of America. The seminar was intended to teach local gun owners how to prepare for, and effectively testify before the state legislature on firearms bills. The content was relevant for any type of public speaking, before city, county, state or even national gov’t meetings or media appearances.
She was joined by Teresa Beckmeyer of the Texas Freedom Caucus.
Rachel’s background includes working for the Texas Republican Party and certification as an instructor by the Massad Ayoob Group, giving her great insight into both the firearms and legislative aspects of this topic. She is also a graduate of courses we’ve offered at KR Training. This month she also received the Grassroots Activist of the Year award from the Citizen Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, which is part of the Second Amendment Foundation.
The idea to offer this type of course all over the state is a brilliant one, and long overdue one. Usually this type of information is only available to those already active in politics, who go to conventions, conferences and other big events. Reaching out to the local grassroots is important. This event was held at a meeting room on the Texas A&M University campus, and many attendees were members of A&M student groups: Young Conservatives of Texas, Texas Open Carry, Turning Point USA, and Students for Concealed Carry.
A quick overview of the key points Rachel presented:
She explained how bills originate and the process they go through before being signed into law. In Texas there are many opportunities along the bill’s path for it to be killed, often at the whim of a single legislator who is on the right committee. More than 6000 bills got filed last session, some of them never got sent to committee, many that made it to a committee never got a hearing or a vote, and even bills making it through that process never get on the calendar. That process has to occur in both the House and the Senate, and the content of the bill can be watered down and modified at any step along the path.
TLO refers to Texas Legislature Online. This state website shows all bills that have been filed, along with multiple screens showing their status, sponsors, and any supporting documents. When the next session starts in January 2019, GOA and Texas State Rifle Association usually send out updates identifying the bills of interest to gun owners. (Every gun owner in Texas should be a member of the Texas State Rifle Association. They do as much or more than NRA to lobby for gun owners at the state level and need your support.)
The Texas Tribune website is useful for finding out how to contact your state representatives.
How to Be Effective
Each step on that list is more effective than the one above it. Email is the least effective. Calling/writing letters is more effective, and any in-person effort, whether meeting with staff or the rep at their district office in your area, or meeting with them at the Capitol, is even more effective. Testifying during hearings is also important. It indicates that the issue is important enough to you that you made the effort to show up and speak.
Communication skills are critical. Be professional. Know the specifics of the bill. Have an organized list of key points about the bill, back them up with data if you can. Have a strong closing argument. Typically you only get 2 minutes. Write out what you plan to say, and submit that as written testimony to go with your oral presentation. Practice giving your 2 minute talk so you can manage the time, and stay aware of your time so you can jump to your strong closing argument before you run out of time.
Don’t wing it.
Identify yourself at the start. If you only represent yourself, explain why your opinion matters. Gun owner, competitive shooter, instructor, law enforcement, veteran, gunsmith, carry permit holder, survivor of criminal attack…any thing that adds to your credibility on the issue.
Dress up. Be nice to others that are in the hearing regardless of whether they are with you or against you on the issue. Try to find others on your side of the issue. Sit with them, network with them. Make sure all your electronics are fully charged (backup batteries are a plus) and “be prepared for anything”.
Open carry and concealed carry of handguns are OK at the Capitol. Open carry of long guns is not.
If you can’t get away from regular responsibilities to testify, but know someone that is, give them any support you can. Publicize their effort on social media, maybe it will motivate others to testify or at least call or email in support of the bill.
Goals for the upcoming session are to push for constitutional carry, reduction in the number of locations carry is prohibited (particularly limits on teachers that want to carry being denied that option by school districts), and prohibiting state resources from being used to enforce unconstitutional federal firearm laws. If you have other firearms related issues you want promoted in the next session, meeting with lobbyists like Rachel and Teresa is a great way to let them know about those issues.
Rachel is offering many sessions of this seminar all over the state. Follow the link for a full list. If it’s coming to your area in the near future, you should attend this free event. And if you aren’t already a member of the Gun Owners of America, annual membership is only $20. That money supports Rachel’s efforts in Texas – well worth the small investment in your firearms rights.