As NRA members, we can all be proud of what our organization has done through the years in the political process to preserve and enhance our essential firearm freedoms. It is one of the primary reasons America is exceptional. NRA also does the same sort of important work with regard to hunting. From being the first organization to develop and advocate for truly meaningful state constitutional amendments protecting the future of hunting, to assisting in the effort to pass apprentice hunting license laws that ensure the recruitment of the next generation of hunters, we do it all. NRA is commonly referred to as the “800 pound gorilla” with regard to our involvement in the gun rights fight but the same can be said of our involvement in the hunting policy realm.
If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard, “Why is the NRA involved in this hunting issue? It has nothing to do with gun rights!” I would owe much less on the dream hunting rifle I just ordered. The question and statement are often delivered with a healthy dose of indignation. The speakers are usually disgruntled because they disagree with some position we’ve taken on hunting laws and regulations.
While the NRA’s fight for firearm freedom is legendary throughout the world, it should be no surprise that NRA-ILA, the Association’s lobbying arm, also works on hunting issues. As manager of hunting policy for NRA-ILA, it is my mission to ensure that hunting rights and hunting opportunities are protected and expanded state-by-state and locality-by-locality. Article II, Section 5 of the NRA’s Bylaws [see bylaws text at the end of this article] directs us to fulfill this role and our members rightly expect it of us.
When I hear angry people accuse us of overreaching when we engage in hunting issues, the first thing I think of is American Hunter magazine. It has been one of the NRA’s official journals since 1973 and it happens to be the “largest-circulating pure hunting magazine in the free world,” as its proud editor-in-chief enjoys reciting when given the opportunity. NRA dedicates hundreds of man-hours to its fantastic and educational content every month. Why wouldn’t NRA-ILA work with similar diligence to ensure hunter interests are powerfully and aggressively represented in the political process?
A political pragmatist would also contend that NRA-ILA’s work on hunting policy pays big dividends with regard to the never-ending effort to protect and strengthen our right to keep and bear arms. Though it’s often surprising to those who own guns for self-defense, sport shooting and collecting, a significant number of people would not continue to own and use firearms if not for hunting. If they stop hunting and they stop owning guns, then the rest of us lose them as part of our collective political muscle.
The fact that our strength is in our numbers—including a large number of hunters—is not lost on those who want to disarm Americans. There is a reason that the zealots at the deceptively-named Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the Violence Policy Center, for instance, rail against youth hunter recruitment efforts and propose federal “cop killer” bullet bans that would ban virtually every centerfire rifle cartridge used for hunting. If they succeed, it will ravage the hunting ranks. They are sophisticated enough to know that fewer hunters will mean fewer gun owners. This will result in a weaker NRA and their frightening ultimate goal will become that much more obtainable.
Some others who are suspicious of our involvement in the hunting realm like to argue that the Second Amendment “isn’t about hunting.” Certainly, the amendment’s “militia” clause shows that our Founders wanted to ensure Americans would be armed in order to forever preserve the liberty they risked and sacrificed so much to bestow upon us. However, we must all work to remember that the Second Amendment did not “give” us the Right to Arms. This right pre-existed the Bill of Rights.
As Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in his majority opinion in the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Heller decision of 2008:
“It is therefore entirely sensible that the Second Amendment’s prefatory clause announces the purpose for which the right was codified: to prevent elimination of the militia. The prefatory clause does not suggest that preserving the militia was the only reason Americans valued the ancient right; most undoubtedly thought it even more important for self-defense and hunting.”
So, while the Second Amendment may not specifically address hunting, the preexisting right that it formally recognized and secured for future generations was certainly “about hunting.” Firearms of the era were a primary means of obtaining food, an activity humans have found to be fairly essential since the beginning of time. It all makes good sense when put in this context.
NRA-ILA’s effort to represent hunters in state legislatures and regulatory bodies throughout the country is the right thing to do for a number of reasons. Doing so maintains our political strength that helps us prevail in all of our ongoing battles, ensures we stay true to our obligations as set forth in the organization’s bylaws and helps to maintain the integrity of the Second Amendment and the reasons for which it secured our right to keep and bear arms.
There is room for disagreement in the hunting realm, and sadly, some hunters will always contend their way of hunting is the only way. But as the nation’s leading group representing all hunters and gun owners, our path is clear. As is the case with the struggle for our firearm freedoms, we will never be deterred from doing what is right with regard to the growing battle to preserve and enhance our hunting heritage.
NRA Bylaws, Article II, Section 5:
“The purposes and objectives of the National Rifle Association are… to promote hunter safety, and to promote and defend hunting as a shooting sport and as a viable and necessary method of fostering the propagation, growth and conservation, and wise use of our renewable wildlife resources.”