Like most gun owners of America, I do not belong to the National Rifle Association. Sometimes, I am grateful for their work. But it seems ever more often, I find myself embarrassed by this consummate beltway lobby group — a group that seems to be more intent on settling political scores than solving real problems.
I was among several hundred
outdoor writers at the annual conference of the Outdoor Writers
Association of America recently in Spokane, Wash. It’s a
friendly crowd for the NRA, a bunch of shooters and hunters who
happen to make their living writing about shooting and hunting.
I learned one thing: NRA President Kayne Robinson is no
Charlton Heston. It takes real skill to embarrass yourself in front
of this friendly bunch. Robinson pulled it off. As one embarrassed
board member of the Outdoor Writers group told a reporter: "The NRA
made an ass of itself."
Robinson ranted during a group
breakfast. The Clinton administration, he said, had placed 26
million acres off limits to American hunters. He blasted the Sierra
Club, saying the group was out to snatch guns and stomp out
The trouble was, Robinson’s bluster was
full of blatant falsehoods.
The fact is, the Sierra Club
supports ethical and legal hunting and about one in five Sierra
Club members hunts or fishes. (For the record, I’m not a
member of the Sierra Club, either.) The Club was also at the
writers’ conference along with the NRA, trying to build
bridges with hunters. Robinson decided he would rather drive
political wedges. Or throw verbal hand grenades.
other fact is, hunters were not locked out of a single acre of
public land during the Clinton years. Reporters pressed Robinson on
his statements after breakfast and he confessed he could not point
to a single acre where hunting was now off limits on public land
thanks to the Clinton administration. Yet, he refused to correct
Over the years, the National Rifle Association
has become more and more political. It is trying very hard to get
President Bush re-elected. That’s OK, but a fellow has an
obligation to get his facts straight.
Here’s a fact
Robinson missed. Some 8,700 acres of wildlife habitat —
farms, fields and forests — are lost to development every day
in the United States. They were lost to urban development. They are
gone forever behind "No Trespassing" signs and beneath asphalt.
That’s the real enemy of all who love the outdoors.
At the same gathering, the conservation and angling group Trout
Unlimited held a news conference, unveiling a series of reports
that illustrate how America’s finest hunting and fishing
opportunities are in undeveloped roadless areas on our national
forest and Bureau of Land Management ground. Whether you stalk elk
or cast for chinook salmon, our roadless lands often offer the
finest quality habitat for the many game species that Americans
like me love to pursue.
Hunters watch with broken hearts
as our best habitat — our cleanest water and the best winter
ranges and wetlands — is lost to the crush of development. We
are watching the quiet, lovely and open places we love to hunt and
fish become noisier and more crowded.
Hunters need guns
in order to hunt, but we also need natural places and healthy
streams, fields and forests. There should be no conflict between
those who work to protect our freedom to own firearms and those who
work to keep our public lands healthy. Their interests are much the
same. Defenders of both our Second Amendment rights and our public
lands need more allies, not more enemies.
Which leaves an
unsettling question: Why was the NRA president so intent on
slapping the hand reached out to it? Come to your own conclusion.
Mine is this: The NRA is more interested in protecting turf and
throwing its political weight than it is about sticking up for the
true needs of American outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen.
It’s about the habitat. When it comes to defending the hunt,
the NRA would be wise to remember that.