Friday, March 02, 2007

On guns and hunting

This is inspired by the whole Zumbo thing and the current flap of "hunters vs. shooters". More specifically, this is inspired by a post at Bodio's Querencia by Matt Mullenix, see here:
Before I get right into my thoughts, I'm going to digress. One of my stated goals in trying to write a blog was to improve my writing. As anyone who has ever suffered through correspondence or conversation with me knows, one of my weaknesses is for digression. Nonetheless, I will digress and preface what I say here by noting that anyone reading this should go right to the Querencia blog and read it. Bodio doesn't publish enough books (which can be said of any great author) and doesn't do book reviews for Gray's or Fly Rod & Reel anymore, but you can tide yourself over with topical bits of his writing at the blog. On top of that, his co-bloggers are unusually articulate and interesting, making the whole thing very worthwhile. The blog is particularly good for the naturalist hunter, as the bloggers are extremely well educated and two of them are falconers, a group I hold in considerable awe. Falconry requires so much dedication just to get to the point where you can get into the field to hunt and then injects so many variables into the hunt that I am amazed by those who practice the sport. Without being familiar with the falconry community (my knowledge comes from reading about them) I generally believe that most falconers speak with considerable authority when it comes to the ethics and aesthetics of sport. Bowhunters using self bows and hard core primitive hunters using period gear and dress are the only other groups which seem to me to compare.

In the post referenced above, Mullenix (one of the falconers) offers a view of former Outdoor Life editor Jim Zumbo's recent blog post decrying "terrorist rifles", defined as those with actions based on the AK-47 or M-16 (known as the AR-15 in the civilian, non-automatic, version) and calling for their ban from hunting fields. That post created a storm of commentary and invective on the internet, losing Zumbo sponsorship and, ultimately, his job. Scroll down a bit and I express an opinion on the whole thing.
Mullenix notes that he views the post as mostly expressing an aesthetic point of view that AR and AK or other military-style weapons do not belong in the hunting field. He then includes some correspondence with Bodio regarding his question of "what did Zumbo say that was a big deal?" In the comments, other folks note that this dispute has been picked up by the mainstream media, with predictable inaccuracy or misunderstanding.

As is probably clear from my earlier post, I don't see things the same way Mullenix does. I think that Mullenix's view could be summed up by his question "He [Zumbo] was stating, essentially, an artistic opinion. Right?" Adopting that view, though, I would say that one reason that folks got so upset over the blog is that Zumbo's argument (that "those guns have no place on our prairies and mountains) nearly inevitably leads to the conclusion that "those guns have no place".
Although the Second Amendment doesn't mention hunting, for decades "sporting use" has been used as a measure of the legitimacy of firearms ownership. More importantly, a new "assault weapon" ban, much more sweeping that the version which passed in 1994 and expired in 2004, has been introduced in Congress. See It leaves with the Attorney General wide discretion to ban manufacture of many firearms and would place limitations on the private sale or transfer of guns it designates "assault weapons". Here is one provision of that bill, a catch all provision placing under regulation "[a] semiautomatic rifle or shotgun originally designed for military or law enforcement use, or a firearm based on the design of such a firearm, that is not particularly suitable for sporting purposes, as determined by the Attorney General. In making the determination, there shall be a rebuttable presumption that a firearm procured for use by the United States military or any Federal law enforcement agency is not particularly suitable for sporting purposes, and a firearm shall not be determined to be particularly suitable for sporting purposes solely because the firearm is suitable for use in a sporting event."

It is almost impossible to find a semi-automatic weapon which is not based upon a design for military or law enforcement use or used by either of those groups. Back when most of the semi-automatic actions were designed, the big bucks were in military sales. Even if a pistol or rifle wasn't marketed to the military or law enforcement, it saw use by them.
I will provide an example. Take the Remington Model 8 (, which was designed for hunters. The U.S. Border Patrol bought a few and used them for years, particularly on road checkpoints. Some were used by airmen in WW I before the rapid escalation of the war in the air led to Lewis guns being employed. Under the new bill, a century old, funky hunting rifle, (look halfway down the page), could be designated an "assault weapon unsuitable for sporting use". After such a designation, you would only be able to transfer (that is, give or sell) your great-uncle's old Model 8 to your son or daughter by going through a federal firearms dealer in a recorded transaction, likely paying the dealer a fee for his trouble and paperwork. If your son was under 18, you couldn't do it at all without committing a felony punishable by 10 years in prison. The same thing could happen to the Remington Model 11 shotgun (, also known as the Browning Auto-5 and beloved by millions of hunters, but used by lots of police and, occasionally, as a trench gun. Now, I would hope that the presumption that these two guns are not suitable for sporting use would be easily rebutted. However, I wonder who will invest the money in the lawyers to take the case to an AG who decides to declare them "assault weapons". The manufacturers? I know the Model 8 hasn't been made in decades, I don't believe Browning's humpback (the Model 11) is under production. I know I wouldn't have tens of thousands of dollars to throw at it.
In other words, expressing the opinion that a given firearm should be prohibited from a particular use, particularly when the person expressing the opinion has a significant voice, cannot solely be an artistic opinion given our long-running cultural battle over guns and over hunting. Now, stating that such and such a firearm or technique has no place among ethical sportsmen and that only an ethically and aesthetically challenged dolt would employ such, that will get you a lot of flak but no cries for blood. Well, maybe not.

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