Jim Schulz/Chicago Zoological Society via AP

A “Free State Project” Inspired Gun Owner Migration Strategy to Win Elections

The Free State Project (FSP) is a political migration project founded in 2001. Its goal is to move 20,000 libertarians to a single low-population state to tip its political balance and turn it into a bastion of libertarianism. FSP participants voted for New Hampshire as their destination in 2003; since then, more than 6,000 people have moved there.

The FSP has had a noticeable impact. As of late 2021, 40 Free Staters had been elected to the New Hampshire legislature, including the House Majority Leader. Besides the electoral wins, the FSP has also had an ideological impact on the Republican Party, making it more libertarian.

If you loosely define libertarianism as “fiscally conservative but socially liberal,” that’s only about 16% of the electorate according to Nate Silver. Clearly, the FSP has punched above its weight class, using a thoughtful strategy combined with persistence spanning two decades.

In my previous article, I talked about how the migration of just 2% of New York gun owners to Pennsylvania can change presidential elections. What if a similar strategy of concentrated fire is replicated nationwide? In other words, what if Second Amendment advocates do what Free Staters have done nationally?

There is an advantage that gun owners have: there are a LOT more of us – close to 100 million – than there are committed libertarians. Since the last presidential election, around 22.3 million people have become first-time gun owners. That gives us a lot of power nationally although our power within states varies. Some states have a higher concentration of us resulting in “wasted votes,” while others have too few of us resulting in our rights getting trampled.

Taking a page from the Free State Project, Second Amendment voters can embark on a political migration project as follows:

  1. Find swing states with the narrowest margins of victory.
  2. Migrate disenchanted gun owners from adjacent anti-Second Amendment states.
  3. Migrate some “wasted votes” from adjacent strong Second Amendment states.

This strategy should make it harder for an anti-Second Amendment presidential candidate to win an election. Candidates will need to soften their infringement proposals, stop weaponizing the executive branch, and give us a better judiciary if they want to win.

So, which states should be targets for migration? Starting with the closest states from the past 2 elections, I narrowed it down to those that: 1) had a <5% margin of victory, 2) switched parties between 2016 and 2020. These states, ranked in the order of narrowest margins, are:

Wisconsin (2016: R 0.77% → 2020: D 0.63%)
Pennsylvania (2016: R 0.72% → 2020: D 1.16%)
Michigan (2016: R 0.23% → 2020: D 2.78%)
Arizona (2016: R 3.50% → 2020: D 0.31%)

What would it take to swing the above states? Assuming the 2020 margin of victory holds and other demographic factors don’t change, the following lists potential migration sources:

Wisconsin (20,682 votes)

Adjacent States’ Total Gun Owner Population: ~4.9 million
    Illinois (anti-2A)
        Population: ~12.5 million
      Gun Owners (27.8%) : ~3.5 million
    Iowa (pro-2A)
        Population: ~3.2 million
        Gun Owners (43.6%) : ~1.4 million

Pennsylvania (80,555 votes)

Adjacent States’ Total Gun Owner Population: ~10 million
New York (anti-2A)
Population: ~19.5 million
Gun Owners (19.9%) : ~3.9 million
New Jersey (anti-2A)
Population: ~9.3 million
Gun Owners (14.7%) : ~1.37 million
Ohio (pro-2A)
Population: ~11.8 million
 Gun Owners (40%) : 4.7 million

Michigan (154,188 votes) 

Adjacent States’ Total Gun Owner Population: ~7.8 million
    Indiana (pro-2A)
      Population: ~6.9 million
    Gun Owners (44.8%) : ~3.1 million
   Ohio (pro-2A source also for Pennsylvania
 Population: ~11.8 million
Gun Owners (40%) : 4.7 million
Arizona (10,457 votes) 
Adjacent States’ Total Gun Owner Population: ~12.7 million
California (anti-2A)
Population: ~38.9 million
Gun Owners (28.3%) : ~11 million
Utah (pro-2A)
Population: ~3.45 million
Gun Owners (46.8%) : ~1.6 million

It won’t take much to swing these states in a pro-2A direction. For example, Illinois and Iowa have almost 5 million gun owners combined. Just 20,000 of those gun owners migrating to Wisconsin can change presidential elections.

Of course, voters can migrate longer distances, but I limited my focus assuming that people would want to be within driving distance of family and friends. As an immigrant who moved halfway across the planet, I understand the pain that distance inflicts upon relationships.

There are macro trends that could throw my estimates off. For example, California is on a downward spiral and has been losing people. If enough anti-Second Amendment California voters escape the mess of their own making and move to Arizona, that will cancel out the estimated bare minimum of 10,457 committed gun owners moving there. But overall, the idea should be to get more California gun owners to move to Arizona to put the White House out of reach for anti-Second Amendment zealots.

The Free State Project has shown that organized political migration can have a positive impact. It’s time for gun owners to think and act on a similar strategy.



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