Friday, August 22, 2008

Man bites dog: Hunting group attacks NRA

Well, isn't this interesting: A group called the American Hunters & Shooters Association blasted the NRA this week for giving millions of dollars in campaign contributions to members of Congress with bad records on conservation.

"Our goal is to pull back the curtain on the ugly truth: The leaders of the National Rifle Association, who have long claimed to represent hunters and shooters, have instead overwhelmingly supported the biggest conservation opponents in Congress," AHSA president Ray Schoenke wrote in the Huffington Post on Thursday. " We want America's 70 million gun owners, most of whom, like me, consider themselves conservationists, the opportunity to learn about the NRA's dismal record on conservation."

Click here for Schoenke's piece, and here for AHSA's special website on the contributions, "Real Hunters, Real Conservation."

I'm still digesting this, but I'm having a few reactions so far:

The cynical part of me says that the NRA's No. 1 mission is protecting gun rights, so of course it's going to give its money to strong supporters of gun rights, regardless of what else they do in Congress.

The hunting cheerleader part of me thinks it's really important that the non-hunting public understands what hunters are really about, and anything that highlights the strong connection between hunting and conservation is a good thing. Coincidentally, I'm about to interview Jon Schwedler, the guy who organized Sierra Sportsmen, for a piece on that very concept for the JHO Journal.

And the journalist part of me wants to look at this in more detail. Here are a few things that have struck me so far:

One: AHSA was founded in 2005 by Massachusetts developer John Rosenthal. Rosenthal, who enjoys shooting clays, had been working for the anti-gun/pro-gun control Brady Center and found its positions to be too extreme. But the NRA was too extreme for him too. So he teamed up with Schoenke, a former Washington Redskins football player who owned a 300-acre hunting preserve, to form American Hunters & Shooters with the goal of preserving gun rights for responsible hunters and shooters while supporting reasonable restrictions on guns. (My source for this is a 2006 Boston Globe Magazine story -click here to read it.)

So, here's your grain of salt to go with this: It appears this organization's roots are in the gun issue - particularly providing an alternative to the NRA - not in conservation.

Two: Because I really love salt, here's another one: This organization tilts leftward. It endorsed Barack Obama for president in April (click here for press release).

Now, I don't personally think that's an inherently bad thing. When I interviewed former NRA lobbyist Richard Feldman earlier this summer, he told me there are 10 million liberals in America who own guns, and I thought it was an important point: We shouldn't assume that liberals are the enemies of hunting. (In fact, in that same interview, Feldman suggested AHSA as an alternative to the NRA for gun owners who aren't happy with that organization.)

Three: One more thing to chew on: American Hunters & Shooters held a press conference Thursday on its report on NRA contributions, and I can't find a bit of coverage of that event, aside from Schoenke's piece in the Huffington Post.

Now, there are many press conferences that are indeed so boring or ridiculous that they shouldn't be covered - we refer to such banal happenings as "dog bites man stories."

But when a hunting group attacks the NRA, that is a "man bites dog" story worth coverage, and I'm not sure why this story was - apparently, anyway - ignored. That's usually a sign of poor publicity of the press conference (which was at 9 a.m. Eastern time, not friendly to Western outdoors writers), a perception that the sponsor of the press conference isn't credible, or maybe just too many competing news events.

Like I said before, I haven't figured out what to make of this turn of events. But I figured it was worth discussing, so please pile on and tell me what you think.

© Holly A. Heyser 2008


Blessed said...

I think this is interesting. I want to know more about this new organization and what exactly they are doing. Then if they truly are simply an alternative to the NRA with a slightly different viewpoint I want to understand why they would spend energy and resources attacking the NRA instead of promoting their real cause to people who care.

I doubt that their press releases, press conference and other efforts are making any of the leaders of the NRA stay up at night worrying...

I've never even heard of this organization before now - and they are only a few years old, wouldn't their time and money be better spent promoting themselves and building their membership - I can't find anything on their website about their membership numbers and etc... I don't think they have really established their credibility yet. This group is like a lot of other small groups I've seen but not joined - I like the concept, but no one has sold me on the product yet.

OK, I haven't had my coffee yet and I'm rambling... I'm interested to see what other people think.

Othmar Vohringer said...

Just a few days ago I read an article that claims that the brass of the AHSA is largely made up of man that have connections with or worked with the Handgun Inc. and other anti gun lobby groups. Another one is a disgruntled lawyer that worked previously for the NRA.

The article goes on to say that this new organization is fake. In fact it is a anti gun organization founded with the sole propose to pull members away from the mighty NRA. The AHSA believes that if they weaken the NRA the anti gun lobby would have in easier time to get anti gun measures passed in congress.

I would not be surprised if that were true. There are also other fake hunting organizations with an anti hunting agenda. Our adversaries are masters at disguising and think constantly of new ways to promote their lunacy. Now they start to set up straps for us too it seems. All this is done in an effort to pull members from our organizations that protect our rights.

NorCal Cazadora said...

It turns out the National Shooting Sports Foundation has a backgrounder on AHSA - click here. Its perspective is like Othmar's - that this is an anti-gun group masquerading as a hunting group.

I don't know any of the principals in AHSA, but I have met someone with peripheral connections, and while I haven't talked to him yet about this, I do know - 100 percent certain - that he is neither anti-gun nor anti-hunting.

I also know that there are hunters who genuinely dislike the NRA, so it's not inconceivable that this group could be legit. But with roots so deep in the gun-control movement, it appears AHSA has a lot of work to do to establish credibility.

Native said...

I tend to (as I usually do) agree with you all largely in part and mostly. The only thing which I can add here would be that if it were not the N.R.A. which was being attacked, it would be some other high profile individual or company.

These type of people, with their thinking process in truth, get some sort of strange satisfaction when they try to topple an established and respected organization.
The easy, quite large and obvious target would be the N.R.A.

The fact of the matter is when you take a look at the numbers, the N.R.A. has achieved so much more for hunters and gun owners than any negative
things which they might be accused of doing or not!

I, most certainly have had my own issues with the N.R.A. but statistically they, along with S.C.I. have done much to solidify we hunters and gun owners that it would take a lot of cold hard facts for me to believe any negative press coming from "any" organization about them.
This new organization, like blessed say's, is not making me lose any sleep either.

NorCal Cazadora said...

I think there's room for lots of different perspectives in the world of hunting and guns. The question to me is can different groups work together when they have common interests and agree to disagree when they don't?

That NRA exile I interviewed, despite all his issues with the NRA, is still a member, and still said without hesitation that if it weren't for the NRA, we wouldn't even have the gun rights we have today.

So is it productive to attack the NRA? Or would it be better to get proactive in areas where the NRA isn't, e.g., saying, "We're going to go out of our way to support members of Congress who are pro-gun, pro-hunting and pro-environment"?

Personally, I have huge issues with some of the things some pro-hunting groups do because I think they're counterproductive. But I tend to vent about them in private, because when it comes down to it, we're on the same side, and attacking my own people doesn't serve any purpose.

Thanks to everyone, as always, for a good conversation. It is one of the joys of blogging that I can count on each of you to weigh in.

SimplyOutdoors said...

From everything I've seen, and I don't have time to quote sources, especially since I'm just commenting, I tend to agree with Othmar.

This organization is just an anti-hunting/anti-gun group masquerading as a legitimate pro-hunting/pro-conservation group.

If I'm wrong, and I hope I am, then someone point me to where the evidence is, but every single thing I've seen on this particular organization seemed very anti to me.

Anonymous said...

I'll have to look into this a bit more. Thanks for pointing it out Holly. I'm not sure what I think about it yet, but at least now I know the issue exists.

Phillip said...

While I can definitely agree that the NRA is not much of a friend of hunters (despite their claims to the contrary), I'm definitely pretty skeptical of the AHSA.

Of course, the NRA made a pretty damning case against the AHSA from the day that organization was founded, and most of what you'll read about them now (e.g. NSSF articles) recycles the talking points made by the NRA early on. And we all know the NRA is not opposed to a little muckraking and propagandizing... so sometimes it's pretty wise to take their facts with a grain of salt. But in this case, most of it does stand up to closer scrutiny.

The NRA's primary objective, as Holly pointed out, is the preservation of gun rights. Support of conservative politicians and organizations is a key part of their strategy, and the fact that these conservatives are generally more kindly disposed toward industry vs environmentalism really shouldn't come as a shock to anyone.

I've said all along and still say that hunters need their own organization that will both support gun rights AND support good stewardship of the environment. And if such an organization truly existed, I'd move my support and dollars away from the NRA. I don't think I'm unique in that, which is exactly what the AHSA is counting on. It's a thinly veiled attempt to appeal to people like me who have been disillusioned by the NRA with the apparent offer of a "better way." Take away some of the membership, weaken the political clout of the organization, and rechannel those expatriated members' funds into the AHSA's own lobbying efforts.

If that sounds paranoid and ridiculous, so does the idea that the NRA has been planting "spies" inside gun-control organizations. But look what just happened with all that!

NorCal Cazadora said...

Yeah, that spy story cracks me up. Doesn't bother me a bit. Has anyone complained that HSUS puts "spies" with camcorders in meat processing plants? And please! Politics is war, war is dirty. Who cares.

Regarding the perfect organization, I've gotta say California Waterfowl does the trick for me. Its offshoot, the California Outdoor Heritage Alliance, lobbies for sensible hunting laws and against unreasonable gun and ammo laws. CWA and COHA never do anything that embarrasses me, and they do a lot that I'm proud of - that's why I invest a lot of volunteer time in that organization. Of course, if you're not a California duck hunter, perhaps that doesn't help, but if you are, it's a good group to join.

Othmar Vohringer said...

Just a short note here to clarify my opinion on the NRA, personally I couldn’t care less if the NRA engages in environmental issues or not. We have many fine organizations that do this very successfully.

The NRA’s primary job is to protect Americans rights to own firearms and not hunting rights and environmental issues. I am not an NRA member but I do admire what the NRA does. Simply put, if it were not for the NRA America and to a lesser extent Canada would have been long ago disarmed, like almost every other country in the world.

In these day and age where everybody tries to appease and bow down it is actually refreshing to see an organization that still uses grassroots methods and is not afraid to speak up. We desperately need more such organizations rather than the many spineless groups that believe it is wise to cooperate with the antis.


bill said...

This org is an anti-gun front. The fact that you know people affiliated with it that are pro-gun may demonstrate that they are being successful at confusing honest gun owners.

As you describe above that their endorsement of Barack Obama is "not inherently a bad thing", I can't imagine it being much worse. He has a universal record of extreme gun control and prior to his presidential campaign hoped the Supreme Court would rule against 2nd Amendment rights.

Your best bet would be to educate your friends that this is a gun-banning wolf in sheeps clothing. The gun grabbers are getting more slick - fighting us from 180 degrees isn't working, so sneak attacks at "responsible" organizations in the grey area threaten to splinter us.

The NRA while not perfect is at least one safe refuge to put our lobbying efforts. Any of these "reasonable" groups threaten to divide us, reduce the effectiveness of our efforts and empower risky orgs.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Oh, I agree that Obama's positions on guns have been bad (except for his vote on the Vitter Amendment), and that his understanding of hunters and hunting is a joke.

My point there was just that I think it's a mistake to assume Democrats are bad for hunting, because there are Democrats out there who hunt and own guns. And I'd hate to see hunting associated with just one party - just gives the libs more reason to distrust us.

I also agree with your point that the NRA is a safe refuge. But honestly, I think there should be room for "reasonable" in any debate, as long as it's sincere.

bill said...

In an academic sense I agree with you, my personal opinions on the subject are not absolute. But there are 20,000+ gun laws already. Honestly, I am panicked about "reasonable" in the public-political sense.

The NRA has a track record of not selling out the rights, and I wonder what the price to be paid is for opening up the debate to others. Are you willing to give your personal $ to an untested org at the risk of finding out their definition of "reasonable" is at the expense of your beliefs/values?

The problem stems from who defines what as reasonable. You have communities with total gun bans, you probably have friends or acquaintances who ask, "why do you need so many guns" or "who needs an assault weapon", are they being 'reasonable'?

I could be wrong, but in the debate of "reasonable", the NRA seems to be content with enabling (DC, Chicago, San Fran) or maintaining people's RKBA, and keeping a watchful eye on tricky legislation that erodes more rights. Their kids programs are lauded for teaching responsibility, more than any others have promoted.

NorCal Cazadora said...

And the other shoe drops: Michael Markarian of the Humane Society used the AHSA website in an attack on hunting yesterday on the Huffington Post.