Hunters and the NRA
Lily Raff McCaulou is part of a new generation of hunters that has come about in the last few years. These hunters are an offshoot of the locavore movement which is made up of people, usually urbanites, who want to get more in touch with their food and where it comes from. Locavores like McCaulou’s take this a step further by hunting for their own meat. She has recently written a book on the subject and has been making the rounds with public radio stations and other media. Promoting her cause is helped by the fact that she is a woman (sadly, women hunters remain a small minority) and a good writer.
In April McCaulou wrote an article for the New York Times titled I Hunt, but the N.R.A. Isn’t for Me. In the piece she discusses why she believes the NRA doesn’t really represent hunters.
The N.R.A. has never had much to do with hunting. It was founded in 1871 by two veteran Union officers who were dismayed by the poor marksmanship of their Civil War troops. The organization promoted safe gun handling and target practice. By the 1970s, after rising gun violence prompted a national debate over the interpretation of the Second Amendment, the N.R.A. also made it its business to oppose gun control.
On its Web site, the N.R.A. calls itself the “largest pro-hunting organization in the world.” Yet during election season, the N.R.A. makes endorsements based largely on candidates’ voting records on gun control — with little if any concern for their views on other issues of interest to hunters. Candidates who voted to allow the ban on assault weapons to expire, for example, are labeled “pro-sportsmen” often despite their weak voting records on environmental issues.
She is absolutely right on this score. The NRA’s focus is not on sportsman, but on gun ownership, gun laws and safeguarding legal access to firearms. They aren’t out there trying to protect hunting rights specifically or create new hunting opportunities. When they say that they are ‘pro sportsman’ they are, but in an ancillary way. Hunters need guns to pursue most of the game we hunt. The NRA’s goal is to protect the tools we use in our sport. But if hunting was banned nationwide tomorrow the NRA’s mission would still continue.
I look at the NRA as part of a larger tapestry of organizations that hunters need in order for our sport to continue. Gun rights are just one part of that equation. Of equal or greater importance are the various organizations that protect and promote healthy wildlife populations and work to ensure our access to them during well-regulated hunting seasons. Organizations like Ducks Unlimited, Quail Unlimited and state-level departments of fish & wildlife do this work for our benefit. Without them the question of hunters and firearms would be moot.
McCaulou talks about how the NRA only represents a fraction of American gun owners and points out that many hunters are not NRA supporters. I am part of that demographic because I choose to give my money to Ducks Unlimited rather than the NRA because I am more comfortable with their mission and the way they pursue it. But I also think the NRA has done a lot of good for firearm enthusiasts over the years and I am glad they are around.
The comment from McCaulou that bothered me the most was this:
Even if the N.R.A.’s worst nightmare were to come true nationwide — expanded background checks, mandatory waiting periods, limits to the number of guns purchased by an individual per month — hunting could continue as it has for more than a century, with rifles and shotguns.
What she is saying here is that she isn’t bothered by the spectre of a full handgun ban or draconian regulations because she feels shotguns and rifles would be protected. The slippery slope argument aside, this is the worst kind of dismissal. She isn’t worried about firearm restrictions because the firearms she uses are likely safe. This strikes me as naive.
McCaulou is open about the way she perceives guns. She hunts because of the connection to wildlife and the desire to feed her family more ‘honest’ food. While she admits that she takes pride in a successful hunt, her pride is about accomplishing her goal, not her skill as a marksman. The flaw in her NYT piece is that she implies that many hunters are like her. In my anecdotal experience this is incorrect. To hunt we all had to learn to shoot first. Most of us get bit by the shooting bug. All of the hunters I know are also recreational shooters. The thousands of dollars we spend annually on range time is a testament to this. If hunting was banned, we would still shoot. We cherish our guns and for that reason, the NRA remains important to outdoorsman.
I am like McCaulou in that I support some gun control measures. I even support new laws provided they are well-crafted. I am interested in ideas like microstamping and serializing ammunition, if the technology can be made affordable and effective. I don’t like the so-called ‘gun show loophole’ and I want to see greater federal involvement in stopping gun trafficking. But at the end of the day I also believe we need the NRA and that hunters must support pro-gun organizations. That doesn’t mean we can’t be critical when they overstep, but we can’t simply wish them away either.