In Washington, the acts of a deranged madman have once again thrown the nation’s capital into disarray. The true scope of the Las Vegas tragedy took some time to unfold, but it was immediately apparent that the hunters’ agenda would be set aside yet again while the facts were established. At this writing, some two weeks after the attack, many of the facts are still disturbingly unclear. But the immediate ramifications have already come into sharp focus.
The SHARE Act, which was a candidate for a House floor vote sometime in the week after the attack, has now been delayed indefinitely. Its provisions, of course, have no nexus to the attack in Las Vegas. But the decision to defer discussion of controversial issues of any stripe is now a routine part of the post-traumatic policy response. It is a gesture of common sense decency and respect for the victims to express only condolences and sympathy in the wake of such a heinous attack. That respect allows for a period of collective mourning, during which even the vast majority of politicians refrain from commenting upon policy debates.
Unfortunately, no such restraint is felt by the agitators of the gun control lobby, who immediately leap forward in the wake of tragedy to dust off their collection of tired restrictions and press to mold them to fit the uncertain facts of an unfolding investigation. In this case, the gun control propagandists were quickly dealt an unexpected hand. Investigators announced that the perpetrator had deployed obscure aftermarket “bumpfire” stocks on a number of conventional rifles, in order to accelerate their rate of fire. Anti-gun zealots were rendered temporarily mute until they could learn about these devices and attempt to fashion a new restriction that would encompass them.
The National Rifle Association pre-empted them by soon releasing a statement. It called upon the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to revisit its 2010 ruling that originally legalized the bumpfire stock. While it did not mention them by name, the scope of the statement also encompassed binary triggers, trigger cranks, and related devices that ATF has legalized in the past.
Converting a semiautomatic firearm to fully automatic is expressly illegal, but ATF has nonetheless in its infinite wisdom legalized an array of gadgets made solely for the purpose of converting semiautomatics to function at a speed that approaches an automatic rate of fire. Anti-gun politicians quickly drafted and introduced sweeping legislation to ban the devices, but of course the bill was written much more broadly and threatened to criminalize all semiautomatic firearms.
The NRA statement was met with disagreement from some corners, of course, with former ATF officials responsible for the legalization decisions at the top of the list. But the announcement muted the fervor on Capitol Hill, and deflated the knee-jerk reflex to legislate from the headlines. It was quickly echoed by a similar statement from the firearm industry trade associations, and lawmakers on Capitol Hill rapidly expressed support for the call to re-examine ATF’s decision.
So for now at least, we have traded one delay for another. Congress has pushed the pause button on both our march for a floor vote on pro-hunting reform, as well as the anti-gun cattle call to immediately push legislation to further restrict our Second Amendment rights. In all honesty, that’s the best outcome we could hope for at this point.
But it doesn’t mean that Congress has shut down all legislation beneficial to hunters. In the most recent example, the House Natural Resources Committee has approved H.R. 3990, the National Monument Creation and Protection Act. It would reform the 1906 Antiquities Act, which gave presidents the unfettered power to block off millions of acres of federal land. H.R. 3990 would introduce a sliding scale of checks upon the president’s authority based on the size of a given proposed monument, including a requirement that local officials approve the largest monument designations.
Committee Chairman Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) summarized the reform bill by stating,” "Under this new, tiered framework, no longer would we have to blindly trust the judgement or fear the whims of any president. The bill ensures a reasonable degree of consultation with local stakeholders and an open public process would be required by law. It strengthens the president’s authority to protect actual antiquities without the threat of disenfranchising people. Ultimately, if enacted, it will strengthen the original intent of the law while also providing much needed accountability.”
Even in the current stalemate, the opponents of hunting have sensed that attacks on our conservation heritage won’t be successful anytime soon in the nation’s capital. So of course, they have now turned their focus to the individual states.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has fixed its insidious gaze upon SCI’s home state of Arizona, lending considerable support to an effort to ban the hunting of mountain lions and bobcats. The proposal would also remove the ability of the state fish and game agency to manage populations to prevent conflict between the cats, humans, wildlife and livestock.
Sound familiar? It’s a boilerplate proposal from the HSUS anti-hunting playbook, of the same type they have been pushing for decades. Once HSUS discovered that voters could be gulled into voting for bans on specific seasons and species, they pushed the technique into multiple states. HSUS banks on the general public’s ignorance of the role of hunting in conservation, and dumps vast sums into airing emotional ads designed to coax voters in voting to ban the selected target of the moment.
HSUS ran the table in the early 1990s, securing bans on hunting certain species and types of hunting for several years, until the hunting community organized a clearinghouse approach to centralize and coordinate opposition to HSUS. With that approach, we were able to not only defeat HSUS at its own game, but also to win “Right to Hunt and Fish” constitutional amendments in more than 20 states.
But in Arizona, that effort was blocked with the defeat of Prop 109 in 2010, marking Arizona as the only state to ever defeat such a provision at the polls. Arizona became the demarcation line, and now HSUS is now clearly hoping to capitalize on that defeat by renewing their effort to roll back existing hunting seasons -- much as they did in California and other states. This proposal is also a warning shot that HSUS may soon renew its nationwide push to restrict hunting through direct voter initiatives elsewhere in other states that permit them.
Rest assured that SCI will lend its every available resource to defeating this effort, in Arizona and anywhere else it may emerge. And your SCI Washington team is poised to counter new threats while seeking new opportunities to move our agenda forward.--Patrick O'Malley, Washington Correspondent