As a long time hunter and shooting sportsman who is not an NRA member, I cringe when the the topic of guns and hunting comes up in political circumstances. Guns and hunting inspire a unique sort of political pandering. Hillary Clinton recently led a long line from the left, who mysteriously develop a shooting and hunting heritage when they get a whiff of the wind in a place like Pennsylvania. John Kerry tried it in 2004 and it didn’t fly then either. To be fair, candidates on the right occasionally catch the sickness – the most recent example: Mitt (Varmint Hunter) Romney. I’ve got a better, very simple idea, for connecting with the hunting community, even if you don’t hunt – but first, a little history.

Ninety years ago, the Canada Goose and White-tailed Deer were all but gone. Today we have deer eating the azaleas and ending up as roadkill, the geese crapping all over the golf course – pests! So how did endangered species become pests? Dedicated citizens in the early conservation organizations worked diligently at promoting habitat preservation, pollution reduction and scientific game management. Few people outside of the sporting community though, realize that I’m not talking about the weeping kiddies watching Disney’s Bambi who grew up to become card-carrying PETA members. No, I’m talking about hunters. The BAD GUYS!

The White-tailed Deer resurgence in the Eastern United States directly resulted from the efforts conservation organizations founded by hunters and fishermen. The Canada Goose enjoys a similar status. As absurd as it sounds, dedicated hunters, in trying to preserve the game supply and their hunting heritage, helped to create the over-abundance of wildlife that we have now in the suburbs and exurbs of the East and (the West too, but I don’t have any personal experience there.)

In the 1920s and 1930s, hunters and freshwater fishermen formed organizations like The Izaak Walton League of America (IWLA) and Ducks Unlimited. Ordinary people (who enjoyed fishing and hunting both as sport and a means of sustenance) formed organizations to stop the rape and pillage that was commercial hunting at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. They also realized the dangers to the game stock posed by pollution, particularly water pollution.

It took almost fifty years of prodding by these groups and others for passage of the first comprehensive clean water legislation, but they did have early success in other areas that laid the groundwork. Shortly after the IWLA was formed, they convinced Congress to create the Upper Mississippi Wildlife and Fish Refuge and in 1937, Congress passed the Pittman-Robertson Act and FDR signed it into law.

The Pittman-Robertson Act, or by it’s official name, “The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act” constituted a federally mandated usage tax on sporting equipment, earmarked to pay for conservation programs run by the states. The act imposed an 11% excise tax on sporting guns and ammunition, the proceeds of which, go to state programs for: “…acquisition and improvement of wildlife habitat, introduction of wildlife into suitable habitat, research into wildlife problems, surveys and inventories of wildlife problems, acquisition and development of access facilities for public use…” The excise tax was later expanded to include non-hunting firearms (pistols) and ammunition, and again for archery equipment. The act provided the funds that made scientific game management possible through the efforts of the game and fisheries management departments in the states.

These early successes demonstrate rational and creative public approaches to a public problem by groups that continue to advocate for the environment.

So a bit of advice for candidates (and their advisors): If you want to connect with hunters without subjecting yourself to ridicule, skip the staged photo shoot in the duck blind. Learn about people like Will Dilg, Aldo Leopold, and Joseph Knapp. Read A Sand County Almanac. Then, talk about groups like The Izaak Walton League and Ducks Unlimited. Talk about the contributions of hunters and fishermen to the conservation movement in the United States. You might even connect with the environmental crowd too!


3 Responses to “Guns!”

  1. Timothy Peach Says:

    I’m surprised Granulous hasn’t “chimed” in with the famous Monty Python line already: “I love animals, that’s why I kill’em….”

    My father, when he was younger, was a hunter and not an NRA member, and he loved animals, dogs above all else. And he was generous when it came to environmental/conservation efforts. It was a paradox, of sorts, one he finally resolved by giving up hunting. The love of dogs stayed with him to the day he died.

    I’m personally conflicted on the gun issue. I’m conservative (duh!), and I lean to liberty when in doubt, but I am generally skeptical of interpretations of the Second Amendment that result in any conclusion other than that sometimes ancient documents, however profound, contain stale provisions.

    You cannot own a tank. Why not? A tank is a great big gun (or set of them) with wheels. Well, as it turns out, it’s just too damned dangerous to let folks own tanks. (Or ICBMs. Or nuclear weapons.)

    If there really was a principle of law that folks are allowed to own guns, without restrictions, then tanks should be fine. They’re not, because their danger outweighs their utility. It’s a relatively simple matter.

    Knives are generally in. They are super useful, and it’s hard to kill lots of people with them before being disarmed.

    Guns are in between. They need to be carefully regulated. Certain kinds are ok under certain circumstances, for people with the right (demonstrated) qualifications. Others (e.g. machine guns, Glock 17’s, etc) are just way too far over the utility/danger line to be reasonably legal under any circumstances.

    Do rational people really disagree with this? What do you think about this? I’m forcing you to discuss gun law now even though that wasn’t really the original topic — it was about how hunters love animals, which, despite the paradox, is, in my experience, amazingly true.

  2. Mark Esswein Says:

    No, I don’t think rational people disagree.

    With the recent death of Charlton Heston, there was much discussion of his “Cold dead fingers” speech. One comment I read said he was reprising his role as Moses. When I see the picture of Heston holding the rifle in the air, I am reminded of Curry’s “Tragic Prelude” – the famous painting depicting John Brown. John Brown was certainly fighting for a just cause, but he was also a lunatic.

  3. David Fitzgerald Says:

    At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the dispute about guns is another example of literalism run amok. Going back to at least Teddy Roosevelt, and as Mark reminds us, hunters are the greenest constituency in America there is. You would think they could find common cause with more lefty environmentalists and work together to both educate and legislate for environmentally friendly policies. A bargain involving reasonable restrictions on weapons designed to kill people in exchange for freedom to exercise an ancient lifestyle in an environmentally friendly manner free from harrasment would be a great thing for the res publica. Isn’t the Supreme Court currently deciding a gun case that would absolutize the 2nd amendment and prevent the federal government (would it be incorporated against the states?) from passing gun control legislation? Will media friendly and well connected PETA continue to prevent reasonable discussion? Is it possible that Barack Obama holds out the promise to overcome both absurd extremes? Good questions…I guess we have to stay tuned for the answers.

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