Like every hunter worthy of the name, I want to protect our hunting heritage so men and women many years from now can experience the same love, awe and respect for wild animals that I've been privileged to know. But the two bedrock requirements for that to happen are the health of animal populations and the health of the lands on which they depend. Without those two, nothing else we do will make a difference, and of the two, the land is most important.
If our lands are healthy, wild animals will proliferate. If the land is made uninhabitable by excessive development or natural resource exploitation, wild animals will be lost, no matter how pure our intentions.
That's why I've decided to run for a position on the board of directors of the National Rifle Association. How, you might ask, will being an NRA director help me preserve our hunting heritage? Simple. If I have a voice at the table, I have a shot at stopping the incredible damage the NRA is doing to the long-term prospects for hunting in this country.
Ever since the NRA convinced hunters that the organization protected their interests, it has taken money from hunters and funneled it into the coffers of politicians they could count on as dependable voters for gun rights. The problem, of course, is that many of the strongest gun rights advocates care nothing at all about the health of public lands or wild animals. The NRA's ability to take money from hunters and use it in ways that will ultimately ruin hunting constitutes one of the most dishonest public relations campaigns ever perpetrated on the American people.
Consider the support the NRA provided to disgraced former Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., prior to his co-sponsorship of a bill permitting the sale of millions of acres of public land to mining companies. Consider also, NRA's support for politicians like Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig, who has made a career of opening up public lands for private exploitation. Craig remains a member of the NRA board of directors. We also shouldn't forget the NRA's aggressive and public support of the Bush administration's effort to remove federal protection for 58.5 million acres of Inventoried roadless areas, in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence that roads and traffic diminish wildlife populations and hunting opportunities. These examples, and others too numerous to mention, illustrate that the NRA has
been willing to sacrifice anything in its quest for Second Amendment votes -- including our hunting heritage.
I am a life member of the organization. I fully support its efforts to protect our right to bear arms, and I want the organization to be aggressive in its work. But the NRA in its present form is incapable of working simultaneously on behalf of hunters and gun rights. Pretending otherwise is a blatant, if well-camouflaged, lie.
In my opinion, the board of directors should:
*Demand that the organization divest itself of the bloated bureaucracy that's ostensibly devoted to the welfare of hunters and hunting. Create a new, entirely separate hunting-based organization that succeeds or falls on its own. We've had enough institutionalized deceit.
*Require honesty in NRA editorials and messages. The group's misleading and inflammatory writings have created paranoia and suspicion among gun owners. This shameless fear-mongering, coupled with intense fund raising, has pushed hundreds of thousands of reasonable people away from the NRA and outside the conversation we need to hold about responsible gun ownership. We need those thoughtful people back in.
*Stop the endless search for enemies of the NRA. Not everyone who disagrees with the NRA is the devil incarnate. Require the organization to work with politicians who care about the environment, wildlife and wild lands in addition to their support of our Second Amendment rights. The two are not mutually exclusive.
There's my platform. Am I electable? It's a fair question. I have been blasted in several NRA publications because I have publicly disagreed with its positions, its campaigns and its political relationships. But I'm not alone. Many other NRA members agree with me, and if my name and platform are placed before them, I think I have a reasonable chance. Even if I am not elected this time, the discussion will at least force an honest self-examination of the organization's way of doing business.
It might make the NRA leadership answer the question, ‘Is the future of hunting an acceptable sacrifice on the altar of the Second Amendment?'
Pat Wray is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He is an avid gun owner, reloader and hunter. The author of A Chukar Hunter's Companion, he lives with his wife and three hunting dogs in Corvallis, Oregon.
Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at firstname.lastname@example.org.