Friday, February 23, 2007

gun community

I was thinking about gear the other day and considering composing something about gear intensive sports, which can include hunting and fishing, when I came across the recent series of events involving the outdoor writer Jim Zumbo. Zumbo is an editor and writer for Outdoor Life magazine. I believe he took over the position of shooting editor from Jack O'Connor. As such he has had a long career in an influential publication. Over the President's Day weekend Zumbo wrote on his blog (which was on the Outdoor Life magazine web page) a post stating that he was on a hunt and had just learned from his guide that many of the guide's clients shooting prairie dogs and jackrabbits use AR style rifles. That is to say, semi-automatic rifles built on the same action as the AR-15 and the same basic action as the M-16 (lacking the latter's capability for burst or automatic fire). Zumbo then launched into a bit of a diatribe about how he considered such rifles "terrorist rifles", along with AK style rifles, and that such had no place in the pursuit of game. As I recall, he pretty much said there was no need for such rifles, period. One fairly short quote gives the sense of the message: "Sorry, folks, in my humble opinion, these things have no place in hunting. We don’t need to be lumped into the group of people who terrorize the world with them, which is an obvious concern. I’ve always been comfortable with the statement that hunters don’t use assault rifles. We’ve always been proud of our 'sporting firearms.'" The blog has been taken down, but you can find the text at
I'm not going to provide the links to the rest of this story, just go to the home page at Xavier's just above and he has the information. Shortly, the post made it onto a couple of message boards for gun owners and shooters, who were largely responsible for four thousand some comments before the blog was taken down by the magazine. Remington, one of Zumbo's major sponsors, ceased sponsorship and published a message from its CEO to that effect within a day or so. Other sponsors also pulled out. Apparantly, Zumbo has since lost his job as senior editor or shooting editor with the magazine. He has since issued two apologies. Looking around the web, many commenters seem unappeased, with lots of talk about "Fuddites" (aparantly Elmer Fudd- incompetent hunter- Luddites, very funny, really) and the gap between recreational shooters & collectors and hunters.
I'm pretty aware of that gap, as I've lived it. In high school I was on two rifle teams and shot matches and serious practice totalling about 1100 rounds per month at the peak. I attended several state and regional matches a year and went to the highpower championships at Camp Perry a couple of times. I held NRA certification cards in five disciplines (which just means I shot a sanctioned match in five sports, but I wasn't classified "Sharpshooter" or "B" in any of the sports). I hunted, but not that much. I was too busy shooting. In contrast, I haven't shot an NRA sanctioned match in over ten years. I shoot a couple of hundred rounds a year in practice in an effort to maintain my skills at some minimal level. In my spare time, I fish and hunt and backpack and scout. Quite a lot, actually. For a while, I was out 40 weekends a year, leaving only a weekend a month for housecleaning, gear maintenance, and planning. Surprisingly, I didn't date at that time. Nonetheless, I'm now one of the "hunters" rather than "shooters". I could easily live with four sporting arms, none of them semi-automatic. However, I would never choose to do so, nor would I suggest that anyone else be required to so limit themselves. The chest beating by the folks who are into guns, many of whom don't talk about formal competition much, it getting to be a little much. They are verging on committing the same error Zumbo did, which is to divide the community of sportsmen, which is a mistake.
As I see it, Zumbo's errors are three, and I can't feel too sorry for him losing his job because of their egregiousness. The first is ignorance. He mentioned that he heard that some AR type rifles are "tackdrivers". For the last ten years are more, the highpower service rifle competition has been dominated by the AR type rifle. Match shooters will not adopt an inaccurate platform. If he didn't talk to competitors, he could have cruised around the web. Not many custom makers of bolt action rifles offer the accuracy guarantee you can get from Les Baer,, or Clark Custom, who guarantee 1/2 minute of angle (which is to say, a group of shots, usually three to five, will stay within a half inch circle at 100 yards, a one inch circle at 200 yards, and so on) for some of their ARs. That is "tack driving" in the book of any but the most serious benchrest competitor.
The second is pandering to fear of "scary looking guns". He said "As hunters, we don’t need the image of walking around the woods carrying one of these weapons. To most of the public, an assault rifle is a terrifying thing." If my memory serves, Zumbo competed a bit in highpower rifle silhouette in the late 70's and early 80's. That is a competition shot offhand at ranges from 200 to 500 meters. Many of the rifles used for the competition back then looked like ray guns, with brightly painted fiberglass stocks in thumbhole or high combed configurations, heavy stubby barrels, some with flutes cut in them, and large target scopes with enormous adjustment knobs on them. Some even had electronic triggers. While the action might have come from a pre-64 Model 70, the end product bore no resemblence to that sporting rifle and might appear pretty scary to someone not familiar with the game. They were also frequently single shot and, apart from being more accurate and a pain to carry due to their configuration, no different in technology than any treasured bolt action sporter, whether London best or Winchester Super Grade. Scary does not equal deadly. More importantly, any restrictions or guns by action type will be far reaching, as only a half-dozen mechanisms account for the vast majority of our guns. As a gun writer, Jim Zumbo should be aware of this.
Most egregiously, Zumbo fell into the idea that "if it isn't for hunting, we don't need it". He spoke of banning AR and AK type rifles from the hunting fields. The idea that firearms must have a sporting use in order to fall within Second Amendment protection is specious. In fact, in United States v. Miller,, a 1939 Supreme Court case (one of the few addressing the right to keep and bear arms) which upheld a 2nd Amendment challenge to the legality of the National Firearms Act's prohibition on shotguns with a barrel less than eighteen inches, the court premised its conclusion on the fact that such a weapon would have no place in a militia. Arguably, any single shot or double barrelled weapon would have no place in a militia, as they are obsolete, militarily. In contrast, an AR or AK type rifle is eminently suitable for such duty.
Rather than delving into 2nd Amendment analysis and interpretation, I will say that in a world where hunting is practiced by a shrinking segment of the population, we cannot ignore natural allies. Gun hunters and shooting enthusiasts are such. The logical conclusion of Zumbo's post is that hunters should join in condemnation of "assault rifles" and call for their restriction or ban. I suppose we are to then hope that we will be left alone to practice our increasingly esoteric sport. However, when animal rights groups seek to ban hunting as cruel, or gun control advocates declare those precision bolt-action rifles "sniper rifles" and a threat to the common welfare and seek to ban them as well, hunters would find themselves very alone, politically speaking, and likely out of luck.

1 comment:

Steve Bodio said...

Good post-- I agree. And worry about dividing us.

My take is up on Querencia.