From left, John Weber, John Boch and Shannon Alford.
by John Boch
Illinois has a new National Rifle Association – Institute for Legislative Action liaison, John Weber. Skillfully, he has taken the reigns in the lead role in our fight against gun control in Illinois for most of this spring legislative session. And he's doing well.
Looking back, his predecessor Todd Vandermyde did a very good job. After all, Todd saved our semi-autos and magazines. What's more, he fought off one scheme after another to make life difficult for gun owners in Illinois over the years.
In November of last year, the NRA-ILA released Todd. Clearly, it came as a shock to many of us. At the same time, Todd's boss assured me that the folks in Fairfax had no intention of abandoning Illinois. Sure enough, the NRA-ILA worked hard, helping lead us through several tough scrapes last fall.
My introduction to John Weber.
Early this year, the NRA-ILA's Shannon Alford introduced me to the new Illinois NRA-ILA liaison, John Weber.
"He's so young!" I thought when I first saw him.
Yeah, he looks like he just graduated college, but don't let his youthful appearance fool you. He's smart, savvy and he understands politics. Over the last few months, he's proven himself adept at politics – Illinois-style.
Originally from Virginia, he graduated George Mason University in 2008. After college, he went right into politics, working for Land of Lincoln politicians like the late Judey Baar Topinka, Bill Brady's campaign for governor, and Congressman Randy Hultgren. He also served as the campaign manager on a couple of campaigns. In Washington, he worked on behalf of House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy in important races.
I mention these not to drop names, but to show he's worked successfully in the major leagues of politics.
He spends a lot of time in Illinois, primarily in Springfield, as the NRA-ILA Illinois liaison. I've watched as he's learned the players, built relationships in record time and deftly navigated the treacherous waters of Illinois politics.
Like Todd, John Weber's very good at strategizing and as an added bonus, he doesn't come with some of that negative baggage that accompanied Mr. Vandermyde. Understandably, a sharp elbows guy like Todd has created some hard feelings with some folks over the years. John Weber has none of that as the new guy. So in that way, he's able to communicate with some previously reluctant to listen to our side before.
How's he doing?
Is Mr. Weber effective? Yes.
Like many, I was skeptical about the new guy. From everything I've seen and read, John Weber has done a great deal to stop this tsunami of gun control in the Prairie State. Also, he has followed through on every suggestion I've offered. NRA-ILA surely stands 1000% behind him, and they have put their impressive resources at his disposal as we all would expect.
My only criticism to date? I noticed his glaring absence at a couple of high-profile hearings ahead of the Illinois primary elections. At the same time, I heard some back channel criticisms of his absence. So I called him and asked about it.
He explained that no matter what he said, nobody on those committees was going to change their vote. However, given the high emotions following the Parkland massacre, the most rabidly anti-gun Democrats would love to have some video footage of them personally attacking an NRA lobbyist. It would make for great advertisements to run in their primary (or maybe even general) election races.
"I'm not going to give them that opportunity," he stated firmly.
That made sense to me.
In other hearings, Weber showed the NRA flag and did well. Granted, as a new guy, his first time or two at the table didn't go as well as Mr. Vandermyde, but then again, Weber didn't have 25 years' experience. Yet Weber still made his points effectively.
Additionally, Mr. Weber has made himself very available to myself and every one of the other leaders of the gun rights community in Illinois.
At the same time, he's kept me in the loop and sought advice and analysis, comparing notes with his own observations and thoughts. Todd did much the same with myself and others in years past. After all, any of us can miss something now and then.
Some whispers by doubters.
With all this has happened in these past few months, some folks still don't know "the new guy" John Weber. A few have underestimated him. They've doubted his skill sets, his ability to build relationships and coalitions, or his experience lobbying. And they've sometimes whispered a lack of confidence among others. Really, it's a shame. However, in some ways it's understandable among those who don't know Weber or have not seen him in action.
Frankly, today's unique circumstances this year have fed into that. We have media-driven hysteria about some school massacres and the Mandalay Bay attack creating an emotions-based "we have to do something!" atmosphere in Springfield. At the same time, we have a wounded Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan desperately trying to distract the media from one sexual harassment scandal after another embroiling his office and fellow high-profile Democrats in the General Assembly. Madigan wants to use gun control to push these sex scandals out of the headlines in newspapers and on TV. Yes, "the Speaker" has cracked the whip on his caucus, telling them they will vote for gun control. Or else.
All of this has made for for a deck massively stacked against gun owners. Heck, even Todd Vandermyde writes that he's never seen an anti-gun environment as bad as today in his twenty-odd years of lobbying.
The bottom line remains that in a deep blue state with so many resources and powerful people arrayed against us, John Weber has helped navigate us through this storm. Has he been perfect? Probably not. However, when you find someone who walks on water, let me know. I want to meet them.
Frankly, most of us on the inside thought we would take massive losses this year. Earlier, the General Assembly passed one serious gun control bill after another – all by veto-proof majorities after Parkland.
John Weber has led all of us – the NRA-ILA, Guns Save Life, Illinois Carry, the Illinois State Rifle Association – along with the newcomer groups like the FFL-IL group Vandermyde's now lobbying for as well as Springfield Armory (yes, that Springfield Armory) in opposition to the bills. Under his leadership we might not all always sing on key, but John Weber's keeping us singing along together.
The NRA Leads the Fight.
Let's face it, the NRA leads the gun rights fight in Illinois – and for good reason. I've seen how politicians – friend and foe alike – listen with respect to the NRA, be it Todd, Shannon or John. Working for the NRA opens doors pretty reliably. While a politician might or might not make time for the Illinois State Rifle Association or Guns Save Life, they almost always will stop to talk with the NRA's person. Why? Because the NRA gets results at election time, thanks to all of you. Even if the NRA only has a few hundred thousand members in Illinois – "only!" – many more consider themselves members even without that membership card.
And while politicians don't always vote with us, they understand that ignoring us comes with a price. Working together, we will all help make support for gun control a risky and pricey endeavor for politicians who vote against us.
Of course, we prefer the carrot. In the coming weeks and months you'll start to see the stick. Keep reading GunNews and checking the Guns Save Life website.
I urge gun owners across Illinois to throw their confidence and support behind the NRA's John Weber. He's already proven that he has what it takes to get proven results for gun owners in our not-so-gun friendly state. Underestimate him at your peril, I say. But working together, we can fight off efforts by Chicago Democrats to impose Chicago-style gun control on the entire state.