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How to write a letter

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had several people ask me for help putting a letter together. “I want to contact my representatives, but I don’t know what to say,” one woman wrote. “Can you give me some pointers?”

Gladly! I’m thrilled to hear so many women are stepping up to the plate to protect their basic human right to self-defense. This doesn’t surprise me, but it’s wonderful to see. If you’re new to the firearms community, you may not realize how quickly your rights can be stripped away from you, or how tirelessly other people worked (and for how long!) to get the freedom you now enjoy. With so many more people carrying guns than ever before, it’s no surprise that writing a letter supporting human rights might be a new task to some. It’s not hard, but there are some basic rules that make the job even easier.

The Questions

First, let’s get some simple questions out of the way.

  • Where do I send my letter? Start here: http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml. From that page, you can easily find out who your representatives are. If you have the time, I strongly suggest using the contact form on each politician’s home page, rather than going through an aggregate program offered by any lobbying group. The extra effort is worth it because your politician will be able to see that you sent the letter personally.
  • Should I send my letter through snail mail, or is email okay? Send an email. Years ago, many activists suggested that physical letters were more convincing. That was then, this is now. Now, everyone is used to doing business online – and things are moving quickly enough that if you don’t send it by email, it may not arrive in time to make any difference. If it makes you feel better, though, you can always print it off and send it by snail mail too. That way both bases are covered.
  • Should write my own letter, or is there a form letter I could send instead? I’m not going to give you a form letter, though I will do my best to give you some ideas for things to say. It’s important to write your own letter because form letters aren’t as convincing to our lawmakers as personal words are. Politicians figure, rightly, that if you’re not fired up enough to write your own letter, you probably won’t remember the issue at all when it’s time for their re-relection campaigns. By writing your own letter, you signal that you are serious and that this issue really does matter to you.
  • How often should I write? With things so unsettled right now, that’s a tricky question. If you have not contacted any of your politicians yet, you should do so immediately with a very general “OPPOSE gun control”-type message. As  you hear about specific bills coming into play, you can repeat your contact in reference to the specific bill. (“OPPOSE HB1234,” for example.) When tracking a specific piece of legislation, you should send a fresh letter every time something significant changes – when there’s a new amendment to an existing bill, when it moves from one chamber to another, when it moves out of committee to the floor. This should not take a lot of time, because each letter should be very short.
  • How long should my letter be? Keep it short. It should not take you hours to write, and it should not take them more than 30 seconds to read. Keep it short!

The Outline

Here is one very simple outline that has served me well. You can tweak it to suit your needs and dress it up to suit your own sense of style.

Dear [title and name],

I am writing to ask you to OPPOSE any form of gun control. [Or, to OPPOSE {specific bill number and common name for that bill.}] 

  • Reason One. Two or three sentences explaining this reason. Concluding sentence briefly restating reason.
  • Reason Two. Two or three sentences explaining this reason. Concluding sentence briefly restating reason.
  • Reason Three. Two or three sentences explaining this reason. Concluding sentence briefly restating reason.

Please OPPOSE any form of gun control.

Thank you for your time,

[your name]

[your address – to reinforce that you’re one of “their” voters]

Obviously, there are many other forms you can use, but the basic idea is not to ramble. Stick with a simple outline that makes sense to you. Offer only a few reasons to support your request, not every possible reason anyone could ever think of. Write only a few sentences to support each reason, not everything you know about the subject. Plug your own words into your simple outline, run it through your spell-checker, and hit the send key.

Don’t obsess! Just write, spell-check, and hit send. You’ll have an opportunity to say more later.

More Information

Okay, that covered the basics and the mechanics. But what should we say, and how do we support it? Here are the basic rules.

  • Be nice. This should go without saying, but I said it anyway.
  • Say thank you. Thank your politician for his or her time and hard work. You may not agree with everything this person does, but that’s okay. You’ll get further by building bridges than by building walls. Find the things you have in common and thank your politician for supporting those things. Or at least, thank them for reading your letter.
  • Keep it short.
  • Make it personal. It’s good to be able to reel off a dozen facts, but even a million cold-hearted facts will never have the impact of a personal story. Tell your politician why you care about the issues you do.
  • Tell a story. If you have a story you can tell, tell it! Stories are very powerful.
  • Make it factual. Don’t tire them out with millions of statistics, but do choose one or two numbers you yourself find extra-striking. (“An historic 54-seat swing in the House” is one very useful phrase right now.)  These facts provide important support for your politician in dealing with others.
  • Make it accurate. Don’t trust your memory. If you use a number, look it up – and look it up from more than one source.

Some Ammunition

Here are some links you may use to support your ideas. Please don’t just grab someone else’s words directly; that’s not cool. You can restate their basic arguments or use their ideas to spark your own work.

If you have other sources that you have found helpful, please add them in the comments section for others to find. Thanks!

***

Update: Here is a quick summary of the current status of national gun-related legislation from GunsSaveLives.net.

5 Responses to How to write a letter

  1. momwithagun says:

    It’s hard not to feel a certain amount of futility doing this, because Dianne Feinstein is one of my state senators, but I’ve made a commitment to writing my congresspeople weekly until the current crisis is behind us. Our congresspeople and senators need to hear from us, and they need to hear from us often, I think, and to know that they can’t just ignore us and we won’t go away.

    I heard yesterday that the firearms and shooting sports industry employs some 600,000 people in the United States and that US gun owners spend some $26 billion a year on firearms-related merchandise. This is something we should also be talking about, at a time when the economy should be front and center for our legislators.

    • Excellent point about the economy! Did you hear about the huge crowds at the Crossroads of the West gun show this past weekend?

    • larryarnold says:

      Ms Feinstein isn’t going to read your email, and it’s true that she won’t change her mind. (Hell not having frozen over.)

      But a polite, well-thought-out argument just possibly might make an impression on whatever staff member does read it.

  2. Don Owen says:

    My 2-cents… Thanks for the push!

    Dear Elected Representative of the People,

    I am writing to ask you to OPPOSE any form of gun control.

    As a United States CITIZEN, the Constitution of the United States and my Washington State Constitution GUARANTEES, We The People, through the 2nd Amendment this HUMAN RIGHT to own guns for defense!
    No government, Federal or State, has the right or authority to take away our God Given Right to protect ourselves, our families, and our country from any with evil intent.
    The only thing that stops a Bad Guy with a gun, is a GOOD GUY with a gun.
    Banning Guns that LOOK Bad is nonsense, and calling semi-automic guns “Assault Weapons” is totally dishonest.
    All my guns are BLACK, that doesn’t make them evil. They are all semi-automic or pumps that hold more then 10 rounds, yet they, nor I, have ever assaulted anyone.
    It’s just a tool, that in the hands of a law abiding citizen provide a deterrent to those who have evil intent.
    The Root Cause of the mass-shooting problems are Mental Health and so-called Gun Free Zones.
    All of these mass-murderers have had known mental health issues, put some more focus on that key contributing factor.
    Most of these mass-murders have happened in Gun Free Zones! Mentally deranged cowards know where they can do the most damage before they are stopped by good guys with guns or kill themselves. Most Gun Free Zones offer no protection to anyone without Armed Guards to back it up.
    I support ARMED GOOD GUYS in our schools.
    Armed Guards, Teachers, and any adult with a Concealed Carry License should be in every school building as a deterrent, and if needed, to stop any mentally ill person with evil intent.
    I OPPOSE any form of increased Gun Control.

    I SUPPORT the 2nd Amendment!

    Thank you for your time

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