In Part 1 of an expansive interview with The Reload‘s founder Stephen Gutowski, gun-rights advocate Rob Pincus took aim at dogmas he considers misguided in the gun community. He opined on matters of gun training and gun politics, and the second part of the interview gets into the details of what he thinks is wrong with the NRA and how he wants to solve it. As a board member of Save the Second, he has a diagnosis and a prescription for the gun-advocacy giant.
Before that, though, Pincus told Gutowski about his vision for 3D printing and homemade guns as a front in the campaign for securing gun rights in the future. Pincus sees immense room for growth in this area and argues it is crucial to the full meaning of the Second Amendment.
The following is the second segment of Gutowski’s conversation with Pincus, lightly edited for clarity:
Stephen Gutowski: On 3D-printed and homemade guns, you’ve become involved in that community and the movement for more people to make guns, and for that process to remain legal. What’s your vision for the homemade gun community? What do you want to see come of your activism in that area?
Rob Pincus: There’s an area of great success, right? The number of people that have publicly commented or privately commented to me that they bought a Polymer 80 kit or they’ve gotten a 3D printer, or they’ve gotten into gun making, or they’re thinking about doing it—it’s a large number. And not just me, but then all of the other people that have been influenced by that who’ve gotten into it. And really it’s guys like the Are We Cool Yet? group, these guys like CTRL+Pew, guys that are doing things, like JSD Supply, the company selling all the parts. Brownells has been supporting gun making and gunsmithing for decades. But the movement now has taken on a political slant. And that political slant is the freedom hobby. The idea that we can make our own guns is just one more element of our rights not being infringed. So, it becomes really important to me to encourage people to do this. And let’s go back to CNN, let’s make sure that the general public outside of the gun community knows that everyday average people who are already gun owners—who’ve already gone through a background check or have a concealed-carry permit are already involved in the hobby very publicly—are making their own guns. This isn’t some nefarious criminal enterprise, the way it’s characterized by some politicians or some in the media.
SG: What are your views on regulations around gun making? Obviously, there was a whole blow-up among some online gun activists claiming that you want to restrict gun making or you want to pass laws to make it so that only big corporations can get involved. That seemed to be, perhaps, a misreading of what you actually said. So what do you believe?
RP: It was a fabrication weeks after a podcast that Shawn Herrin and I did together. And it was pretty clearly another one of these jealousy hit-piece things. “How dare this guy talk about 3D printing, he’s only been doing it for six months?” from certain members of the community. But again, it kind of spiraled out of control, because these influencers are influencers for a reason. They have people who trust them. So somebody says, “Oh, Pincus, wants the gun community be regulated, the 3D printing community to be regulated.” They listened without research. And that’s why I appreciate journalism, like you do, as opposed to just kind of putting stuff out on social media.
That being said, what Shawn and I were talking about was the idea that big gun companies, big gun manufacturers, and potentially even small gun manufacturers like my own Avidity Arms company might get into the custom file business. So if somebody wanted a custom file made for them that they might buy that they might only have a limited use of or restricted use of, that would be one way for big, currently existing companies to get into the 3D space. Now, this is something that Cody Wilson, the godfather, bad boy of the 3D gun-printing said back in 2013 or 14, he said the same thing. He was the first guy to say that eventually there’ll be like the iTunes of gun files. I’m not the first one to speculate that that’s one way that big companies could get involved. The government has nothing to do with that. That’s not the government. Government was never mentioned in anything I said. That was disinformation campaign stuff.
But let me say this, I do think it’s incredibly important that the gun industry more overtly support gun making. And that’s why it’s so great that the National Association of Sporting Goods Wholesalers were sponsors at the Gun Makers Match. They see the importance of gun industry companies supporting gun makers. So for example, I want the Smith & Wesson company to license the current generation M&P to Polymer 80, so Polymer 80 can make frame kits that are slightly different shape, feel, whatever or exactly the same on the inside at least. And then I want Smith & Wesson to sell gunmakers the internal parts kits. Right now, that’s not happening, because it’s still seen as a little taboo by the big companies. I want to change that and I think things like the Gun Makers Match will do that.
SG: Turning to the other significant area of activism that you’ve been involved with, in recent years, the National Rifle Association. Now obviously, the leaders at the NRA and Wayne LaPierre and, and others don’t like you. They don’t think people should listen to you. They don’t think board members or NRA members should listen to what you have to say about the group’s activities or its leadership or the way it’s run. What made you want to get involved in the first place in fighting Wayne LaPierre and company?
RP: Well, sometimes I think I peak early, and people forget like maybe pre-Instagram or pre-social media, I was doing a lot of this stuff. I don’t know that Wayne doesn’t like me. We had a nice cordial, “Hey, how you doing?” in the hallways at the last board meeting I attended a couple months ago. Maybe he doesn’t like me, maybe he doesn’t even notice that I exist. There are definitely other people inside the system that resist any influence that I might have. And anyone involved in reform, Frank Tait, Adam Kraut, the entire Save the Second organization. I worked very closely with the NRA for over a decade, developed a lot of training material for them, which was distributed by them under the NRA brand and the American Rifleman brand. And I saw a lot of this stuff that was happening on the inside. And I got very very disillusioned over that period of time, and actually ran for the board as a write-in candidate in 2014 and was successful in that write-in campaign in the major election, the election at large, and was pressured by Wayne LaPierre, his office, and his other people that have since left the organization on the side for membership organization, where we were doing a lot of the DVD distribution and stuff, to withdraw my name right before the convention in 2014 and step aside from that appointment. I was promised I’d be put on committees, there would be a lot of different ways I could influence things that were happening in the training environment, and then with their support run for the board in a traditional way in the future. Well, of course I withdrew my name and then that didn’t happen. There was a lot of pressure on some business partners of mine, things like that. Over the years, I sort of shrugged and walked away from the NRA.
In 2019, that all changed when Oliver North, openly as the president of the NRA, and in a very high-integrity, risky, against-the-orthodoxy kind of move, challenged Wayne LaPierre to answer for a lot of the problems and the dysfunction and to step down and let the NRA start working on cleaning itself up. I joined that loud crusade, if you will, with with Adam Kraut and Joshua Prince and several others. Stood up during the members meeting in 2019 and challenged the leadership to be better, get better, get transparent, accept the fact that there was a lot of wrongdoing, open up the books, take their lumps, and let the NRA move on. And as I said, then and as I’ve said several times, get back to the business of defending gun rights.
I think a big part of the problem there also was that they had essentially become a wing of the Republican Party, getting into social issues that had nothing to do with gun rights, abortion, immigration. NRA TV was decimated and turned into a right-wing talking points channel, not about gun rights or gun news 80 percent of the time. Guys like Cam Edwards went from three hours a day to 30 minutes a day. You know, he was one of the best journalists we had, one of the best communicators we had in the community. Still is. But NRA TV, he basically built it as a gun-communication platform, and then it was all wiped out with Grant Stinchfield and these people who were just talking about conservative activism against “them” and “they,” and I think that really hurt our cause. So it became important for us to stand up and say, “You know what, the NRA isn’t us. They never have been us. At best they’ve represented five or six percent of us. And they need to reform if they really want to do the work that they’re supposed to be doing for gun rights and gun owners.” And obviously, Firearms Policy Coalition and many others have stepped up. Second Amendment Foundation has been active for decades in the courts. Many other organizations exist now to fill the role that the NRA lost.
SG: And what is your ultimate hope for the outcome of this attempt to reform the NRA? What do you want to see happen, specifically?
RP: A change in leadership, a restructuring of the board, change in the way they do business, so the board is far more accountable to the members and far more involved in the day-to-day operations, a much smaller board, and a limiting of the NRA’s activities to specific gun-rights activities. I think that the other activities they’ve been involved in, you know, have been largely taken over by other entities. I look at USCCA as an example. In the community, they are the rising stars in education and training, and the NRA has been losing influence there for many, many years for a bunch of good reasons. And they should just let that go. And I get that it’s a fundraiser, and it’s awareness, and it’s all those things for them. But the NRA—NRA-ILA probably should probably be its own organization separate, again, from the dysfunction of the current NRA. Let them do the good work they do in D.C., and in any other elections around the country, for gun owners in a way that isn’t encumbered by the stink of the current NRA leadership. So I think smaller, better, more accountable to the members, and certainly with an entire new slate of leaders is the goal of the reform. Specifically at savethe2a.org, people can see the five specific issues we think would lead to that kind of reform, one of which we’ve already partially achieved with a mandatory attendance policy for board members, which seems to be not too much to ask, but it was never a thing with the NRA.
SG: With the failure of the bankruptcy strategy, where do you actually see things headed for the NRA? With the New York case moving along and little hope that there’s going to be some sort of Deus Ex Machina solution to that issue?
RP: Unfortunately, it was just that the bankruptcy case was thrown out. It is just, because that was a legal maneuvering that was poorly handled by the NRA. It was a gambit that didn’t work for them. Asterisk: I kind of wish that it had worked because if the bankruptcy had gone forward and the courts had put some other people in charge, if they’d have put someone—whether it was a trustee or a group of members in charge of the NRA—and removed Wayne LaPierre’s cabal from running it under the protection of bankruptcy, that would have taken the politics of New York out of events. Well, now we’re right back in the hands of New York and the bankruptcy, in Wayne LaPierrew’s own testimony, exposed a lot of the dysfunction in what a lot of people would rightfully call corruption inside of the organization. And now, New York gets to go to town on them. And that could be very, very damaging, financially, politically. And it’s going to make it drag on longer for the NRA. So I don’t see a good, happy, positive outcome.
The best outcome we could have had for the NRA would have been Wayne LaPierre stepping aside before the 2016 election and admitting that a younger group better prepared for the fight ahead should have run the NRA’s involvement in the 2016 election. He had another opportunity when Trump won to say, “Okay, Trump’s won, we have a little bit of breathing space, I’m going to step aside and let a transition happen.” When he didn’t do that, for the insiders, those of us who knew what was going on, that was the writing on the wall that it was going to take something like what Oliver North tried to do very publicly in 2019. Unfortunately, now it’s left in the hands of New York, who are not our friends, as gun owners, but they are about to force some kind of evolution at the NRA. It could have been a lot better than it’s going to be. That’s my prediction.