Weeks after Delaware's Democrat-controlled legislature opted not to vote on three gun control bills, many are still left wondering what happened.
Senate leadership, in defending their decision, has repeatedly cited a lack of support among Democrats. Some have said that the bills need to be amended before they are given a chance to become law.
But outside Dover, it's a different story. Many pro-gun residents credit the decision to a multi-pronged attack from gun owners, gun businesses and union members.
It included a growing guns rights group on Facebook flexing its muscles, gun business owners getting more involved, and pro-gun union members threatening to pull campaign dollars from legislators who supported the bills, according to some gun rights advocates and union leaders.
"The union pressure is what finally sealed the deal," said Mitch Denham, leader of the 20,000-strong Facebook group Delaware Gun Rights. "When you're trying to get elected, it costs money to get elected. The person that writes the check, you kind of have to take care of sometimes."
James Maravelias, president of the Delaware Building Construction Trades Council and head of the state AFL-CIO, witnessed the shift in his own ranks. He worries that union members will resist putting money toward upcoming campaigns for certain Democrats following the gun control debacle.
Maravelias said he also fears his members will begin siding with Republican candidates in an effort to protect gun rights, even though the GOP is perceived as less friendly to labor.
"We side with the Democratic Party until our union membership says, 'I don't want that guy, I want the other guy,'" Maravelias said. "That's what we're facing right now."
"It's going to be a mess ... if these things don't just go away," he added.
They probably won't.
Gun control has been one of the most contentious topics in Dover, where the three gun control measures — a proposed assault weapons ban, high-capacity magazine ban and permit-to-purchase mandate — were expected to have a relatively smooth journey to becoming law.
Many gun owners and gun rights advocates credit the bills' fate to several groups working in concert.
"It just snowballed," said Denham. "And it worked really, really well."
Opposition to the proposed laws wasn't new. Many gun rights advocates have felt under-represented by their lawmakers in recent years. Recent polling backed by gun control advocates Mothers Demand Action shows support for these bills in Delaware. At the same time, a 2017 nationwide study by the Pew Research Center indicates that citizens in the past decade have become increasingly concerned about protecting gun rights.
The mobilization this year was partly a reaction to new bills, which were introduced on top of those that failed last session and were reintroduced. For many gun rights supporters, it seemed like evidence of a long-feared slippery slope that would lead to unconstitutionally strict gun control laws.
At the same time, many firearms dealers felt their business was increasingly threatened.
"One of the problems that gun activism has always had is that gun stores have been non-participatory in the past," Denham said. "Now, they're starting to participate."
This year, that included white cards that were distributed at gun shops across Delaware. One was directed at any resident, and one was specifically directed at union members.
The union one, printed in red on white, said, "As a member of local Union (fill in the blank), I will NOT vote for you, if you vote in favor of any of these 3 bills SB68 SB69 SB70."
It was in reference to the three gun control bills.
"They had 5,000 cards printed up, and they were out of them in the first couple days," said Denham. He and others advertised on social media about where to sign the cards.
A handful of gun shop owners who helped spearhead the effort to get the cards signed declined to comment for this story. One owner, who didn't want to be identified, said he planned to repeat the process when the gun bills return for debate.
Some gun shop owners, who know many of their customers to be union members, said that customers were enthusiastic about signing the cards.
"I was surprised," said Jim Beatty, whose gun shop in Bridgeville was one of the venues to hand out the cards. Normally, he said, people are hesitant to sign anything. "But we couldn't even get them fast enough for people to sign them."
The cards were also said to be handed out at a recent rally organized by the Delaware State Sportsmen’s Association, the local NRA affiliate, where hundreds of people showed up. The organization's president, Jeff Hague, said he did not know how many of those attendees were union members.
It's not clear what happened with the cards.
Signatures weren't the only ammo. The attack was also built around a tsunami of emails, letters and phone calls.
Senate Majority Leader Nicole Poore, D-New Castle, who sits on the committee that stalled the three bills, said she knew about the cards but did not receive any after they were signed.
Poore also said she did not know whether union members ultimately swayed her fellow lawmakers, though she and her colleagues were "bogged down" by emails from constituents related to the gun control measures.
“I’m not sure whether people were differentiating whether it was a union person or not," she said.
Efforts to reach Senate Pro Tempore David McBride, D-Hawk's Nest, and Sen. Harris McDowell, D-Wilmington North, who also sit on that committee, were unsuccessful on Thursday.
Hundreds if not thousands of union members showed opposition this year, Denham and others estimate.
"We felt the need to let them know that some of their constituent base was gun-friendly people," Denham said. "The union people, generally, are gun-friendly."
How gun owners, businesses spoke out
The Facebook group Delaware Gun Rights was largely spurred by last year's proposed assault weapons ban by Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark.
Denham said he reached out to friends on social media about his concerns over the bill. They suggested he start a Facebook group.
"I added every gun-friendly friend I had," Denham said. "They did the same thing, and those friends did the same thing."
The group had more than 20,000 members in a matter of days, Denham said. Now, its leaders want to help people act as their own lobbyists.
"It's almost become a civics class for gun owners," Denham said. "We're just trying to get people engaged."
Some gun rights advocates said they also helped union members write emails and letters to legislators.
"You can't continually do what is against the wishes of people in Delaware and claim that it's for the wishes of people in Delaware," Denham said.
Some point to the hundreds of gun rights advocates who showed up at the Capitol for a rally and again for a bill hearing, as proof that the majority of voters don't want the bills. Bill supporters argue the crowds were not wholly representative of what Delawareans wants, partly because the protests occurred during weekday work hours.
The cards were one of the ways for people who couldn't attend the rallies to show how they felt.
"Those cards have been instrumental," Denham said. "They're just going to emphasize the fact that it's not what the majority really wants."
Some of the Facebook group leaders say the gun community is becoming more cohesive and active, partly because they're all talking to each other. They believe their social media community instilled confidence for many who were hesitant to speak out about Second Amendment rights.
"We know that our best bet is to work together," Denham said. "You can't let them think that you're done watching, you're done playing. Because then they'll go back to business as usual. So you have to keep a little bit of pressure on them. That's what we do."
"You elect representation, and they're supposed to speak for you," Denham added. "They don't know what to say if you don't tell them what you want."
A growing fear among labor union leaders
While labor unions push a jobs-focused agenda, the gun bills have started to take over the dialogue among their members, according to Maravelias. He said that union leaders need to pay more attention to their members who have shown an increased focus on gun control measures instead of labor issues.
Maravelias' group has taken a publicly neutral position, but individual members haven't.
"Most of the complaints are why we're not getting involved," Maravelias said. "I don't know how we're going to address it."
Members don't seem to find labor issues as urgent as guns, he said, which he suspects is partly because of the economy.
"If they weren't working, and they were on unemployment, they would be thinking the other way around," Maravelias said. He also recognizes that the gun control bills were especially "far-reaching" this year. One, for example, banned certain kinds of magazines.
The new mood among his members could change Delaware's political atmosphere.
Maravelias said he worries that union members may stop wanting to support pro-gun control Democrats, despite those same lawmakers pushing pro-labor issues. That could hurt the labor union agenda, he fears.
He hopes members will be placated by labor union-backed bills on the docket this session.
"They kind of forget about it if it's not on the forefront," Maravelias said. "If it's fresh in their memory and it's fresh in their minds, it's going to be a problem."
Maravelias hopes that the gun bills don't come up until after the 2020 election, in order to avoid a tug-of-war between members and the Democratic politicians they have traditionally supported.
"It would be catastrophic ... for anybody that's voting for a gun bill," he said. "If you go into a union meeting and half the union says, 'I don't want us to help that person,' guess what? That person doesn't get help."
Maravelias added that union leadership is also elected.
"If you're making it hard for me as a union leader to get re-elected, then I'm going to listen to my membership," he said. "Friendships and all that goes by the wayside."
"The purpose of the pistol is to stop a fight that somebody else has started, almost always at very short range." -- Jeff Cooper