Hunting Deer In Pennsylvania? Don’t Bring A Modern Sporting Rifle.’

At the end of this month the Pennsylvania Game Commission will hold their first quarterly meeting of 2017, and the agenda will include approval of new changes in hunting regulations which go into effect.  Hunting is a big deal in Pennsylvania; only one state (Wisconsin) issues more resident hunting licenses, and the only state which derives more licensing revenue is Colorado because buying a license to hunt elk ain’t cheap. So when the Game Commission sits down to revise hunting regulations, the changes will affect a lot of Pennsylvania hunters this year.

hunting             Yet despite these impressive numbers, the truth is that hunters in Pennsylvania, like everywhere else, are a vanishing breed.  Since the early 1980’s, the Pennsylvania deer-hunting population has dropped by more than 25%, and in a 2004 survey, more than one-third of all Keystone State hunters said that declining health and increasing age would keep them from engaging in the sport any more.

So what do you do if you’re an industry that depends, in part, on hunters to buy your products and those particular consumers tell you that they no longer want or need the products you sell? You come up with a new type of product, sell it to a new group of consumers and let them decide how best it can be used.  Voila! – the modern sporting rifle, a marketing slogan of the gun industry whose nomenclature bears absolutely no resemblance to even the remotest definition of the word ‘truth.’  But now that we have a President who also seems unable to discern the difference between the words ‘true’ and ‘false,’ what difference does that make?  Well, in the case of the Pennsylvania Game Commission it seems to make a big difference, at least when it comes to the 2017 version of their hunting regs.

What the Commission is proposing is a rule change which will define the capacity of any rifle that can be used to hunt big game, which in Pennsylvania basically means the ol’ white-tail deer.  Pennsylvania contains some of the most rural (and beautiful) uninhabited landscapes in the eastern half of the Lower 48, and the deer abound, even if the number of hunters keeps dwindling down.  And what the new regs say is that if you want to go into the woods to take a pot-shot at Bambi, your rifle cannot have a ‘total aggregated capacity’ (breech and magazine) of more than five rounds.  Which means that you can’t go hunting with an AR-style rifle and only put 5 rounds in the mag. It means you can’t take an AR-style rifle (that’s an assault rifle, by the way) into the woods to go hunting at all.  Period.

Try as they might, the geniuses in the gun marketing community have obviously not convinced the Pennsylvania Game Commission that an AR-style rifle is no different in form or function than the old, semi-automatic Remington or Winchester hunting rifles that have basically stopped selling because the kind of people who used to buy them are either too dead or too old.  The industry has been lying about ‘modern sporting rifles’ ever since Chuckie Schumer and Di Feinstein first started going after assault rifles in 1994. And the NSSF has convinced a lot of people who should know better that any rifle that can’t fire all its ammunition with one squeeze of the trigger is just another type of sporting gun which can and should be used for any kind of shooting at all.

The military rifle – M4 – that our troops use in battle theaters does, in fact, allow its user to pull the trigger once and shoot a three-round burst.  But the gun can also be set to fire one round at a time, just like any other semi-automatic rifle.  So when a soldier decides that the tactical situation calls for using his rifle in semi-auto mode, does this mean he’s going into battle with a ‘sporting’ gun?  At least the Pennsylvania Game Commission seems to understand the difference.



‘The Gunning Of America’ Is A Good And Serious Book.

Pamela Haag describes herself as an “award-winning nonfiction writer, essayist, cultural commentator, and historian.”  And she has just published a new book, The Gunning of America, which fills some interesting gaps in the history of America’s first manufacturing industry, a.k.a., small arms.  The book is based on painstaking and detailed research in documents from, among others, the company archives of Winchester, Remington and Colt, supplemented by generous citations from primary and secondary sources, including personal correspondence of the early gun makers, articles and notices from the daily press and a pretty comprehensive knowledge of other contemporary, secondary works.  In other words, this is a serious history book.

         Winchester 1873

Winchester 1873

What Haag attempts to show is that guns may not have been an intrinsically American phenomenon had it not been for the marketing energies and activities of the founders of companies like Colt, Remington and Winchester, all of whom attempted to push as many guns as possible into domestic and foreign markets in order to protect and improve company bottom lines. On more than one occasion, companies like Colt and Smith & Wesson were only able to keep the factory doors open by aggressively pursuing government contracts both here and abroad; the senior management of Winchester never stopped reminding the sales force of the necessity to sell every single gun.

One of the gaps filled by this book is its focus on guns not as representing political beliefs or cultural attitudes, but as a business in and of itself.  The author quite rightly says that “the gun business, as a business, remains invisible, a secret in the closet of the gun culture,” and this book is an effort to bring it out of the closet, so to speak, and examine it on its own business terms.

The problem in trying to look at the gun business through a business prism develops, however, when the author attempts to compare how the gun business marketed itself in past times as opposed to the way it explains itself now.  The author is absolutely correct when she says that current-day efforts by the industry to picture itself as ‘exceptional’ based on a unique relationship that America has with guns is not an accurate picture of how and why the civilian ownership of hundreds of millions of small arms came about.  Rather, the idea that every American should have a gun was a marketing strategy of gun makers from the earliest times precisely because some way had to be found to convince consumers that guns were not just another ordinary product that they could either own or do without.

What makes Pamela Haag’s argument somewhat problematic, however, is that while she captures nicely and accurately the marketing message employed by the gun business today, she basically ends her discussion of the actual workings of the gun industry in the 1920’s, nearly a century ago.  So while she is correct in saying that by 1900 gun sales were relying on demand caused by “desire and affinity, rather than utility,” the marketing message has now swung back to the argument for utility, except that utility is now defined in a much different way.

The reason that the numero uno gun company in America happens to be an Austrian outfit by the name of Glock is because the gun industry has replaced the iconic figure of the gun totin’ Western sheriff (or the gun-totin’ San Francisco cop) with the gun-totin’ armed citizen whose right to defend himself and his family doesn’t just derive from the 2nd Amendment, but comes straight from God.  And if you think I’m overstating the case for the alliance between guns, concealed-carry and the Almighty, just listen to Wayne-o’s convocation speech delivered at Liberty University earlier this year.

I like books that are well written and well researched and this one is both.  And I agree with Pam Haag that in our efforts to reduce gun violence the spotlight needs to shine more brightly on gun makers themselves. Too bad she couldn’t gain access to the archive of the NSSF.