Some years back when I was editing the outdoors section of a daily newspaper, one of my columnists penned a piece on gun control. While examining the page proofs, the newspaper’s editor spotted the column and announced he was pulling it, apparently because my writer’s defense of Second Amendment rights conflicted with the newspaper’s recent editorial position supporting the assault weapons ban.
“Besides,” the editor continued, “what does the Second Amendment have to do with the outdoors?”
While my newsroom colleagues picked their jaws off the floor, I talked the editor down from the ledge. The column ran and, based on the absence of any critical response, our readers were unfazed by one of our writers taking a stand contrary to the newspaper’s editorial position.
Since the horrific mass murder in Newtown, Conn., there have no doubt been thousands of conversations, millions maybe, about gun control and what can be done to prevent gun violence.
I am especially interested in the conversations hunters are having. Generally, assault-style weapons such as the AR-15 used in Newtown are not considered hunting firearms. But that is changing.
A few years ago, longtime outdoors writer Jim Zumbo penned a brief entry on his blog chastising hunters who used assault rifles out in the field to hunt varmints. Zumbo wrote:
“Sorry, folks, in my humble opinion, these things have no place in hunting. We don’t need to be lumped into the group of people who terrorize the world with them, which is an obvious concern. I’ve always been comfortable with the statement that hunters don’t use assault rifles. We’ve always been proud of our ‘sporting firearms.’”
Within days Zumbo was cast out of the firearms community. Gun manufacturers pulled their endorsement deals and publications severed ties with a guy who had been a leading outdoors and firearms writer for decades. To save his career, Zumbo trekked to Texas to genuflect at the throne of the Gonzoed one, Ted Nugent, where he learned that the true path to enlightenment includes vaporizing prairie dogs with AR-15s. Only then was he allowed back into the fraternity.
Zumbo got what those who speak honestly about difficult topics usually get: banishment. But we’re a forgiving society so once he offered the proper apologies Zumbo received his redemption. There’s just one problem. He was right the first time.
It won’t do hunters any good if the general public comes to associate us with weapons such as the AR-15. Though these firearms are mechanically identical to many “legitimate” hunting rifles, the perception of their cosmetic differences in the eyes of the general public is anything but the same. In a nation where hunters are a respected, but shrinking minority, the way we are perceived by the majority of non-hunters is critical to the long-term survival of our hunting traditions. Remember, there is no constitutional guarantee to hunt.
Nugent’s my-gun-is-an-instrument-of-God shtick may play well to the converted, but can offend non-hunters expecting us to display a more dignified, sober attitude. Jim Posewitz laid out the standard 20 years ago in “Beyond Fair Chase,” a book that should be required reading for every hunter. Our responsibility as enlightened hunters is not to do just what’s legal, but to do what’s right as well. For me that means not carrying military-style firearms while hunting.
My old editor wasn’t a hunter, and didn’t have much experience with firearms. Because of this he didn’t understand how hunting, the outdoors and the Second Amendment are inextricably linked. But thoughtful people understand that link. Because of this we do have to be protective of the way we are perceived by the non-hunting public. Hunters are the bulwark against which the Second Amendment leans when gun rights are under assault. Ask the citizenry at large how they feel about gun ownership, and the closest you’ll get to universal support is when you ask about hunters who use firearms to kill wild animals under fair chase conditions to provide food for their families.
If public support for hunters craters, the firearm confiscation squads may not be far behind. So we better get it right.
Next week: Even a broken clock is correct twice a day. Wayne LaPierre gets it right, sort of.