The National Rifle Association claims to be the largest pro-hunting organization in the world. But as a hunter, I say the NRA couldn’t represent me less. The NRA isn’t for hunters any more than AAA is for bicyclists. Sure, some hunters are NRA members, but first and foremost, the NRA serves gun fetishists and the firearms industry. In 2011, nearly 14 million Americans hunted. NRA members number about 4 million—fewer than half of whom hunt.
Hunters actually use their guns as the killing tools they are. I don’t shoot for the joy of killing, or for the thrill of a loud explosion an inch from my head. The gun is not a toy that we have a constitutional right to play with, but a tool to which we’re guaranteed access.
While most hunters don’t have the firearms experience or training of law enforcement or military personnel, a hunter’s experience nonetheless imparts a significant level of competence with a gun. Hunters feel the jitters while trying to shoot, and we shoot in all kinds of uncomfortable and less-than-ideal circumstances. We’ve seen what bullets can do to a body. And if, for some reason, a nongovernment militia had to be organized, it would doubtless be composed largely of hunters, along with military veterans and, of course, the gun freaks.
The NRA wants desperately to welcome more hunters into its ranks, but fewer than one in five hunters is a member, and most hunters who haven’t joined by now probably won’t. Like me, many hunters consider the NRA a bunch of paranoid loonies, with an increasing volume of innocent blood on its hands.
The NRA is a bullying organization, quick to use language like “traitor.” But the very fact that it’s kind of scary to say “Screw the NRA” is one of the biggest reasons to say it. NRA members have a lot of guns, and the organization appears to keep track of who does and says what. When I take my gun to the store to get it worked on, the information slip I fill out includes a line for my NRA number—despite the fact that only about 4 percent of gun owners are NRA members. Will the gunsmith treat my gun with less love if I leave that line blank? Does the NRA keep track of who services which gun when—even as it decries federal attempts to keep track of guns?
Among Americans with experience using guns as weapons, rather than as toys, compare 14 million hunters with 3 million active and reserve military, 1 million police officers and 7 million military veterans with combat experience. Of course, there is some crossover among these groups. And hunters have the least amount of formal firearms training. But in terms of votes, any way you slice it, there is no larger population of Americans with experience shooting at things than hunters. The NRA doesn’t speak for us; we need to speak for ourselves.
How is it that the NRA has so much power and the seeming ability to control politicians like marionettes? Money, of course—more than can be raised from membership dues and bake sales. Between 2005 and 2010, the NRA took in about $40 million from the nation’s gun manufacturers, according to the Violence Policy Center.
Fear-mongering is one of the best ways to create demand for guns, and nearly every piece of NRA propaganda does that. We need guns to protect us from the government, home intruders and strangers on the street. We all need to be armed! On the Monday following the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings, a West Kearns Elementary School sixth-grader in Utah took a pistol to school for “protection.”
The unprecedented national trauma and soul-searching that Sandy Hook has inspired could spell tough times ahead for the gun industry. On the Tuesday after the shooting, Cerberus Capital Management announced it was selling its 95 percent stake in The Freedom Group, a privately held conglomerate whose companies include some of the world’s largest weapons manufacturers, including Remington, Barnes bullets and Bushmaster, which makes the AR-15 assault rifle used by Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter Adam Lanza.
Could an armed citizen have prevented the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings? Such a thing has not happened in at least 30 years, according to a recent study by Mother Jones, which looked at 62 mass shootings in that time: “In not a single case was the killing stopped by a civilian using a gun … in recent rampages in which armed civilians attempted to intervene, they not only failed to stop the shooter but also were gravely wounded or killed.”
Meanwhile, a growing number of studies support the observation that gun owners and their families are more likely to be shot—by their own guns or by someone who sees their gun—than to successfully repel attackers. In pretending otherwise, the NRA is selling the myth of security while it sells public safety down the river.
The NRA needs hunters a lot more than hunters need the NRA. And the nation needs the opinions of hunters more than it needs the opinion of the NRA. Hunters are intermediaries between government armed forces and private citizens. We are armed citizens who know what guns can do, and if sensible gun-control policy is ever to be pursued, hunters need to be part of the conversation.
And we can start by saying, “Screw the NRA.”
Ari LeVaux writes Flash in the Pan, a syndicated weekly food column, and is a restaurant critic for the Weekly Alibi in Albuquerque, N.M.