Monday, January 31, 2011

Gun Owners Who Avoid The NRA

I've been thinking--and writing. Part of my writing has been working on the next issue of The Pines Review, but I've also been lost in thought on some of the issues we are going to be facing in the next couple of years. Sometimes there is a bit of coincidence with other events and it sparks me to write some notes for later use. Following is a cleaned up set of notes that came from a combination of reading my latest issue of Rifleman (NRA's publication)and watching CNN.

I am always amazed at the number of gun owners who are convinced the National Rifle Association is their enemy. How they became convinced of this is a mystery to me, although I do believe the news media is largely responsible, but irrespective of the source, the outcome is the same—they want to believe their strongest ally is their enemy. This came home for me recently (again) while I was watching CNN. I usually watch CNN because I can’t stand soaps and CNN at least has news feeds from around the world. I’ve tried watching Fox but honestly, I want to know what the “other” guys are thinking. I already know where Fox news and its commentators’ heads are, but I’m not always sure where the other media heads are—other than locked step in “stupid” comments. In a recent newscast CNN’s Ali Velshi, who is supposed to be the business anchor, decided to promote an article from the “New York Times” headlined, “N.R.A Stymies Firearms Research, Scientists Say” and then Velshi called for viewer comments. Since I was still in my “reading” time and my laptop was not on, I opted not to read the article nor respond to another CNN push against guns. Besides, I was still stinging from learning that someone I thought was pro-NRA actually isn’t. He’s a gun owner, hunter and member of the military and I learned of his position when I asked if he would support me if should decide to run for the NRA Board of Directors.

Why are so many people who enjoy the rights and privileges that the NRA defended and won for gun owners hostile to the NRA? I believe their hostility stems from misunderstanding the NRA’s political role and its effectiveness, a misunderstanding resulting from misinformation and from the use of a grungy “tough guy” image as representative of the NRA’s grassroots membership during the NRA’s growth periods of the 1980s through much of the 90s. The image was popularized by the media which zeroed in on the “cold, dead hands” position that epitomized the entrenchment of gun owners against the suddenly powerful anti-gun community, which had grown exponentially following the failed Reagan assassination that left James Brady disabled. Sarah and James Brady capitalized on their new political influence with a wide segment of the population; they used the shooting and its aftermath to provide political fuel to Handgun Control, Inc. (now Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence). The anti-gun community’s most recent gambit is to characterize gun owners as psychology off-balance and then link this image to the unkempt tough guy, the cold, dead hands, Wild West, and other characterizations, all intended to create an unacceptable image of contemporary gun owners. The antis are trying to fuel this characterization by redirecting the national outpouring of support for Congresswoman Giffords, and the other victims, into a personal distaste for, and misunderstanding of, the verbal political jousting of recent elections by creating a “guilt by association” perception of gun owners, although there is no actual association! Regardless of the absence of legitimacy for the claims the anti-gun community is able to feed sound bites and features that imply the lunatic fringe dominates gun ownership.

Now, and in the coming few years, it is essential for the NRA to connect with the grassroots society, creating a repeat of the NRA’s successful defeat of most (not all) anti-gun legislation of the 80s and 90s by mobilizing this segment of society. Unfortunately, the grassroots movement, no matter how influential at the time, did not completely resonate throughout the nation’s gun owner/hunter population and many supportive elements have drifted away in the past ten years. The simple truth is that to expand NRA’s membership beyond its present community will become more difficult, even with the growth of the outdoor media personalities on the outdoor channels, because the once successful NRA costumes no longer resonate with much to the gun owner population.

One persistent problem is that when we put our NRA leadership before the press they appear to be Wall Street clones. Some people might believe that red ties and dark suits radiate confidence and a rock solid public image, but it doesn’t. It is a costume, just as the hunter who wears his cammies into a shopping mall is wearing a costume. Each one is trying to project an image for others to notice. All of us wear costumes, whether it is blue jeans and tee shirts with political slogans or a tailored blue suit and a red tie. What we are trying to project with each costume is important to our success or failure as public representatives of what we are. It is unfortunate that the costumes holding down each end of the NRA spectrum are sending mixed signals to the public they are meant to influence. The “suit” no longer conveys confidence and a solid public image; a decade of broken promises, lies, and marital infidelity and embezzlement schemes by politicians has turned the suit into burnt toast. As for the grunge and tough guy look at the other end, it has lost resonance with much of the grassroots population for many of the same reasons.

If we truly want to tap into that population of grassroots gun owners who are not NRA members it is time for the NRA leadership to take stock of their costumes and message. President Obama’s counselors understand costuming and they’ve re-crafted his image and delivery. On the news networks I’ve been watching him walk, go up and down stairs, alter his clothing (very slightly); both his delivery and his message have changed subtly and become more effective with many Americans. Neither our NRA suit and red ties nor our grunge members have a voice with a large segment of the millions of gun owners we are trying to reach. The NRA leadership needs to take a few lessons and maybe hire some experts to begin making changes. Remember, we don’t need to convince the gun owners who already belong to the NRA; we need to convince the gun owners who are not part of the NRA.

If you hunt, or just own a firearm and shoot at the local range, and you are not a member of the NRA what would it take for you to become a member? Think about it.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Annual Predator Hunt

When I look outside there is an ever deepening world of white. Snow is piled up from snow plows, my snow blower piles more snow on those piles, and of course nature adds to the pile. Before winter hit I should have spent a little more time hunting. Winter was slow arriving and I could have gotten in a few more bird hunts, but once winter was here it planted both feet firmly on the prairie and its fierce winds, with swirling devils of snow announced its plans to stay. I cleaned my guns and put them away.

For a lot of hunters however, winter does not mean the end of hunting. This weekend the Finley Wildlife and Gun club is hosting their annual predator hunt. Hunters enter the competition by paying a small entry fee and the hunter (or team of two hunters) who brings in the most coyotes and foxes wins the cash. Sometimes, the club gives away door prizes but the annual predator hunt is not about door prizes and the hunting so much as it is an opportunity for hunters coming from the surrounding small towns to hunt coyotes during the day and in the evening enjoy a meal of venison chili that is served by our club members.

A person would think that with all those hunters roaming the surrounding countryside a lot of coyotes would be killed. Not so, most of the hunters don’t bring in a single coyote, they pay their entry fee and show up for the camaraderie and food.

When I first joined the Finley Wildlife and Gun Club I avoided the annual predator hunt because these mid-level predators are necessary in any eco system so I didn’t support hunting them, besides, the coyote is my totem animal. Killing the predators, I firmly believed, was opening the flood gates for the growth of unwanted scavenger species. But the predator hunt, I now realize, has about as much population impact as pouring a shot of water from a full bucket of water. The number of coyotes has increased exponentially throughout the region and their nightly yipping at the edge of town is an affirmation of nature’s nearness. Interestingly, with the increase of coyotes there has been a flood of rural legends, and one of the most popular is that ranchers have reported finding coyote dens with several dozen fawn skulls outside its entrance. Without supportive physical evidence and little contrary to the claims these stories are hard to disprove. To date not a single “witness” has come forward with the needed evidence, such as the location of these dens. Frequently these claims come from hunters who blame coyotes’ deer depredation for their failure to see (kill) deer during the hunting season. Now, however, they are being proven wrong by a University of North Dakota study of whitetail mortality. Fifty whitetail deer (mostly does) that were fitted with telemetry collars showed that hunters accounted for only four does of the dozen deer killed in the first phase of the study. Hunters just weren’t effective—the deer outsmarted the hunters! As for the biggest deer killer—it was the automobile, not predators.

This common coyote/deer misinformation reared its head at a December public forum for North Dakota Game & Fish officials hosted by the wildlife club. The coyote predation question was a central topic and the claim was made that area ranchers had found coyote dens surrounded by fawn skulls. The problem is that as with most rural or urban legends, the story is one that is passed on from one person to another and there is no photographic evidence or an actual person who can produce the den. The wildlife officials did admit that coyotes are responsible for a lot of deer (and other game) depredations, but there are more “tales” than facts. There was one point that both the wildlife officials and the audience agreed on and that was the number of coyotes in the area had increased and that more hunting pressure was needed. I don’t know how much of an impact our annual hunt will have this year because of the sub-zero cold and deep snow, but there will be predator hunters who will try. I suspect that those who benefit most from this year’s hunt will be local towing services and farmers who pull hunters’ trucks out of drifted snow—for a price. Myself, I’ll just enjoy the chili.

Holiday Break Over

Sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves is step away from the pressures we continue to place on ourselves and just think about ourselves and everyone around us. Over the holidays that is exactly what I did. Several times I did some writing and at one point I even printed it out and did some editing. Then I put it away. But, now that I have had my winter vacation from work I am looking forward to getting back to my writing.