A Different View of the 2nd Amendment.

Ask anyone who is engaged in making noise for Gun-nut Nation why they think the 2nd Amendment is so important and they’ll tell you that we ‘need’ the ‘2nd Amendment’ to keep us ‘free.’ Or they’ll mumble something about the God-given ‘right’ to self-defense. Or you’ll get some half-cocked lecture on the ‘tyranny’ of government or some other nonsense.

I prefer the argument about the importance of the 2nd Amendment made by one of America’s most fervent gun owners, who not only was a life-long devotee to hunting in all forms, but also just happened to be the 26th President of the United States. In 1887 Roosevelt formed the Boone and Crockett club whose mission, then and now, was to develop public policies that would create a balance between the desires of hunters to kill game and the necessity to preserve species. Ultimately, B&C’s membership included just about every major figure in the environmental movement (Grinnell, Pinchot, Leopold) because they all agreed with Thoreau who said, “In wilderness is the preservation of the world.”

Teddy Roosevelt National Park – Thank you Sean Palfrey.

Here’s how Boone & Crockett defines the importance of the 2nd Amendment today:
“The Club is concerned with any restriction on the public’s legal right to own and use firearms for hunting that could weaken or undermine our unique and successful system of wildlife conservation.”

Hey! What happened to the God-given ‘right’ to self defense? Where’s all that talk about protecting us from the ‘tyranny’ of government? What about all those ‘patriots’ who demonstrate their love of country by walking into a Starbucks with an AR-15 slung over their backs?

I’ll tell you where it is. It’s a crock of sh*t. You want to believe that there is one, single community in the entire United States that is safer because everyone’s walking around with a gun? Tell that one to the residents of Sanford, FL whose armed, community-watch guy named George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin in 2012. Or try that argument out with the families and friends of the teachers and children slaughtered at Sandy Hook. After all, both Adam Lanza and his mother believed that having an assault rifle in their home represented their first line of defense.

I have spent the last seven years trying to convince gun owners that the armed, self-defense argument is nothing but a marketing scam. I have also spent the last seven years trying to make Gun-control Nation understand that ‘reasonable’ gun restrictions which preserve legal access to lethal products like assault rifles and hi-capacity, concealable handguns is also a marketing scam. Both arguments are nothing more than what pro-gun and anti-gun organizations believe their constituencies want to hear. To quote myself this time, both arguments are a crock of sh*t.

On the other hand, everyone likes the idea of wilderness. Nobody would dare argue with the concept of a tree. And this is why I think both sides in the gun debate need to spend some time thinking about the 2nd Amendment in terms of what the Boone & Crockett club has to say. Not only thinking about it, but thinking that perhaps here is the real common ground where both sides should meet.

Stay tuned and enjoy a lovely weekend.

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Why Do We Buy Guns? It Sure Isn’t Because We Need Them.

In 1883 a young New Yorker named Theodore Roosevelt went out on a hunting trip to the Dakota and Montana territories.  His goal was to get a trophy-sized American bison and mount the trophy in the family home at Oyster Bay.  The reason he went on this hunt, and he did bring back a bison trophy, was he had been told that the bison herd was about to become extinct.

TR           This was not the only game animal that was fast disappearing from its natural habitat; the white-tailed deer was also an endangered species by the end of the nineteenth century, the carrier pigeon was almost gone (and did disappear), and had it not been for the foresight and advocacy of conservationists and naturalists like Roosevelt and George Bird Grinnell, many other animal and game species would have also faded away.

How did this happen?  It happened because almost from the moment that Europeans arrived on America’s eastern shore, hunting became a commercial endeavor in response to a growing population that wanted and needed animal products both to consume for food and to use for clothing and other consumer wares.  Bear in mind that hunting in Europe, particularly England, was an activity reserved only for the nobility and the Crown.  Commoners, on the other hand, didn’t hunt, they poached, and as late as 1820 in Britain poaching was still a crime for which one could be hung.  But the United States had vast amounts of open space and if much of that space belonged to Native Americans nobody really cared.  These open spaces and the animals that roamed or flew there meant meat on the table for the average diet, leather coats for men, fur coats for women, feathers for decorative purposes and style – all of these products created opportunities for commercial endeavors resulting in the massive destruction of herds, fish and fowl.

And when it came to killing off all those animals, what could be more efficient than using a gun?  But with all due respect to how Davy Crockett ‘kilt him a bar when he was only three,’ very little of this hunting activity was done either then or now for sport.  Know how many hunting licenses were sold in 1955?  Roughly 14 million.  Know how many were sold in 2014?  Roughly 14 million. That’s an astonishingly flat trend line for nearly sixty years.  But there’s only one little problem.  During that same period, the country’s population grew from 166 million to 319 million, an increase of nearly 100% while the number of hunters hasn’t changed at all.  In other words, hunters constituted 8% of the national population in 1955, now they constitute a whole, big 4%.

Let’s remember something else.  Guns aren’t like television sets, laptop computers or cars.  They don’t wear out. And hunters are a funny breed because once they find a gun that really shoots perfectly for them, the last thing they’re going to do is trade it in.  There have been some product changes that have kept the hunting gun market from total collapse, most of all more powerful calibers like 44 magnums replacing the venerable 30-30 for deer, or 3 ½ inch magnum shotgun shells for those hy-flyers zipping by or those turkeys cluckety-clucking through the woods.

Take a look at Pamela Haag’s study of the marketing strategy adopted by Winchester Firearms which recognized that the idea of the gun as a necessary ‘tool’ was failing to attract consumers before World War I.  So Winchester began marketing its products to what they referred to in company discussions as ‘gun cranks’ –  people who wanted guns even if they didn’t particularly need them for any practical use.

Sound familiar?  The gun industry now sells guns as protection against crime, even though the number of times that people use guns as protective devices is actually little to none.  In 1910 Winchester discovered that people would buy guns even though there was no practical reason to own a gun.  Boy, things have really changed.

 

How Come You Never Hear The NRA Talking About These Gun-Free Zones?

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.

TR           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.