Now that Gun Nation has managed to get a bunch of craven politicians to vote for unlimited CCW in just about every state, you knew that sooner or later the next issue to be pushed would be abolishing gun-free zones. There is absolutely no credible evidence, of course, that gun-free zones attract people who want to commit mass murder or any violence with guns, but since when did Gun Nation base any of its arguments on credible evidence, or evidence of any kind? Sorry, but an anecdote here and an anecdote there isn’t evidence, even when the almost-putative Republican nominee for President tells his NRA audience that he ‘knows for a fact’ that the Paris terrorist attacks were successful and inevitable because the civilians didn’t carry guns.
I happen to support the concept of gun-free zones, but in my case I’m referring to what the term ‘gun-free’ originally meant. And what it originally meant and still means for those of us willing to engage in a rational discussion about guns, is the idea that there are many places where guns cannot be used except at specified periods during the year. In other words, during the hunting seasons that have been established in every state and regulate when guns can and cannot be used to shoot birds or animals, from ducks, geese and turkeys to hogs, moose, bear and deer. And in certain Western states, let’s not forget antelope, elk, the mighty cougar and Dall sheep.
America is a bird and game-hunter’s paradise for one reason and one reason alone; because virtually all of the places where you can hunt birds and animals of any kind are largely gun-free zones. Oh, you can tote a rifle out of season and tramp up the Brooks Range with a revolver on your hip. But you can’t actually shoot any gun except during the brief, allowable periods for each type of animal and I guarantee that you won’t find yourself facing down one of those celebrated ‘street thugs’ at five thousand feet. You see, most game animals have a funny way of knowing that where they flourish best is where humans find it difficult to tread. Which is why so much of the United States contains many more animals than people, the result of mandating most wilderness areas to be, for the most part, gun-free zones.
Wilderness was defined by the Federal Government in 1964 as an area which “in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” I was in just such an area this past weekend when I hiked through a small part of the Hoosic Range that runs from northern Massachusetts through southern Vermont. These mountains lie 100 miles equidistant from Boston and New York, which means they are within a three-hour drive of some fifteen million folks. But when you get less than a mile from where you park your car, you are in as untrammeled a region as you could ever hope to be.
Our 26TH President, Theodore Roosevelt, loved hunting, loved guns, and loved wilderness zones. But the first time he hunted the wilderness in 1883 he recognized the vulnerability of wilderness spaces in the face of human advance. So he teamed up with America’s first naturalist, George Bird Grinnell, and created a national hunting organization, the Boone & Crockett club, which then and now is a leader in the protection of wilderness zones.
Want to get a feel for today’s wilderness? Read Nick Kristof’s column on hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Many years ago I walked a bit of the Southern portion outside of Palm Springs – twenty miles from a million people and I was alone. It’s time to remind the pro-gun noisemakers that what protects these remarkable places is that they are gun-free zones.