Saturday, March 19, 2011

Letter to "The Progressive" responding to Ruth Coniff on gun politics

I make no secret that I think the NRA is ultimately an anti-hunting organization and that hunters who are serious about our future should call them out and set to work on forming a different gun politics in this country. The NRA's extreme gun politics trump all else, when faced with choosing between expanding, (not just defending), gun rights and conservation initiatives that are critical to hunting, they will throw hunting interests under the bus.

Typically the way this plays out in electoral politics is they will support Republican candidates who favor expansion of guns into more aspects of daily life over a Democrat who does not favor the expansion, but the Dem is supportive of conservation efforts that are good for hunting and is generally supportive of private firearms ownership.

Additionally, the NRA takes a lot of forays into other issues, and often they are directly at odds with what the hunting community wants or is ultimately in our interest. For example, take a look at this article from New West on the NRA's opposition to the designation of Brown's Canyon in Colorado as wilderness area, on the basis that wilderness designation would close the canyon to ATV use. Organized hunting interests in the area that had something to say on the subject wanted Brown's Canyon to be designated wilderness for that very reason. The ATV use and abuse in the canyon was disrupting elk hunting and damaging their habitat, yet the NRA cynically argued that they were defending disabled and elderly hunters, yet they produced no one in either category to publicly support their position.

Having said all that, I can understand why the NRA's baiting of liberals as anti-gun works with average hunters who don't share the NRA's views on guns and how and when they should be regulated. The fact of the matter is, a significant minority of the progressive community is ignorant of guns and the shooting sports. These progressives are ambivalent about hunting, or don't view hunters and hunting as constituencies and activities that should be actively supported, even if they think hunting should be a legal activity. Additionally, they have a substantial part of their political base that is anti-hunting. So, when a progressive writer or legislator takes a strong position on stricter gun laws, it often makes many of us deeply suspicious.

The most recent column by Ruth Coniff, the political editor of "The Progressive" magazine, which I subscribe to, is a case in point. As a Wisconsin resident, Ruth is not anti-hunting, she told me in a phone conversation. She has written columns strongly supporting stricter gun regulation and is very critical of the NRA, as she was in her most recent column praising the progressive stances of the freshman class of Democrats in the U.S. house. I can't provide a link to the column, that portion of the magazine is not online. But, my response below gives you a sense of the content as far as guns and gun politics is concerned:

"The general point of Ruth Coniff's piece on the positives of the new class of congressional Democrats moving leftward I agree with. However, her discussion of guns and gun politics is very misinformed and naive. I am an avid hunter and our family owns seven firearms, and like many gun owners, I have no time for the NRA. I generally support stricter gun regulations on the federal level, especially if they are combined with government support for shooting sports. However, many regular gun owners not affliated with the gun rights movement are rightfully suspicious of the likes of Coniff and the freshman class of Democrats she celebrates. They are either ignorant of or ambivalent towards shooting sports and a large part of their political support base views guns simply through the prism of crime, suicides, and accidental shootings. They think of shooting sports as a value-neutral or even negative activity.

Coniff quickly reveals her own ignorance about firearms. She repeatedly calls assault rifles 'automatic weapons', or what would be referred to commonly as machine guns, which they are not. They are a class of semi-automatic weapons designed for military purposes. Many hunters use semi-automatic rifles and shotguns, but they are commonly limited to five rounds, and don't have higher-capacity detachable clips like assault rifles. Hence, like many mainstream gun owners, I support much stricter regulation of the ownership of assualt rifles and high-capacity clips and oppose their use in the field for hunting on the grounds of hunting ethics. While such a mistake may seem minor to non-gun owners, it is easily exploited by the NRA to scare gun owners who disgaree with the NRA's extreme gun politics into their camp. Questions are raised in the minds of moderate and liberal gun owners about what kinds of restrictions would be placed on firearms they own if urban non-gun owning legislators and activists were to control gun policy in America.

For example, Congresswoman Karen Bass, former speaker of the California state assembly, comes from a state that has lots of gun regulations, and is from the southern, urban part of the state that produces legions of anti-hunting activists. While Bass herself never has supported anti-hunting legislation, hunters and other mainstream gun owners are not a constitutency that are a priority for her. She and the other Democrats Coniff praises come from the east and west coasts, where antigun and antihunting sentiment is much higher than in both liberal and conservative areas of America's heartland. If progressives are serious about weakening the power of the NRA and winning stronger gun regulations. they need to make it clear they support shooting sports as positive activities, regardless of their personal attitudes towards firearms. Legal, regulated, hunting in particular has environmental, health, and social benefits, and hunters are often a key support base for conservation efforts."

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Back to Outdoor Blogging, After the Other Half of My Political Identity Interfered for Awhile

Expect more signs like these with conservative power at the Minnesota legislature

I'm back to outdoor blogging, as the other half of my political identity - that of a trade unionist and union reformer - took over for awhile. There was an election for delegates to the International Teamsters Convention in my Teamsters Local 320, ballots were counted March 4th and I was part of a winning slate. What it took to win was not only good issues, such as reducing the top leadership's outrageous pay packages while the membership of public employees, like other workers in this economy, suffer pay freezes, furloughs, and benefit cuts -but a lot of hard work as well. It's been said that the winning side in politics usually has a bigger mouth than the other side, be it money for media or boots on the ground organization. Our side had the latter, which meant many people, including myself, spending a lot of time visiting worksites and calling people to get out the vote.

Of course, there's been the massive attack on collective bargaining in Wisconsin, so I've spent some time on that attending support events, and plan on being at another today.

However, I have managed to keep up on outdoor politics in Minnesota, and the picture with the conservative movement in charge isn't pretty. There are massive attacks on hunting and angling interests at the state legislature. The worst is probably HF 332, an egregious piece of anti-hunting legislation, which would mandate the DNR not increase acreage of publicly held land. Additionally, there are attacks on the funding recommendations for the use of lottery money, and the outdoor heritage fund, which is constitutionally mandated to fund wildlife habitat. The legislature is also refusing the DNR's proposed hunting and fishing license fee increases, even though the game and fish fund is getting depleted and the increases are supported by hunting and fishing organizations.

We had our problems with the Democrats in charge, but through our efforts and coalition-building we were able to fend off most of the attacks on our interests. However, the GOP victory has empowered voices within the Democratic party who are anti-public land, and thereby created a powerful alliance to attack hunting and angling interests. A powerful push-back is needed, as well the building of a long-term movement of progressive sportsmen and women to preserve our hunting and angling heritage and opportunities.