Sun Ra - Column for 3/5

Firing One's Mouth Off

I come from a family of hunters.

As an aside, I’ve never really gotten the term “sportsmen”. I mean, it’s so vague. Somehow it has come to mean “hunters”, but really it could mean anything related to a leisure activity. Are athletes “sportsmen”? They play sports, don’t they? And why not simply use “hunters”? Is there something wrong with hunting? I can understand cripples wanting to be called handicapped (although not, as I explained some time ago, “physically challenged”), but why do we need the term “sportsmen”? Who does it include that “hunters” doesn’t? Fishermen? Call them, oh, I don’t know, “fishermen?”

Anyhow, I come from a family of hunters and fishers. My grandfather was in the forest service and lived in the high Sierras, fishing constantly; his brother was a football coach and went hunting damn near every weekend and twice on holidays. (Frequently on property he did not, technically, own.) Their sons were raised in the outdoor life, and passed it along; my cousin owns a salmon boat which he takes out on the Monterey Bay throughout the season. I’ve already made plans to go fishing with my uncle as soon as the season begins.

I grew up spending weekends in the high Sierras fishing; I spent high school hunting rabbits and quail in the vineyards around my house. Although hunting never appealed much to me personally – I get my enjoyment from the hiking part of the activity, not so much the stalking and killing – I can certainly appreciate the hunter’s point of view. I understand the love, the challenge, the sport.

Gun control is not a hot-button issue for me. I personally see no reason that we should allow people to possess, or at least to easily possess, firearms that were designed to kill people rather than game, namely handguns and semi-automatic weapons. On the other side, long guns – shotguns and rifles – are extremely useful as tools and for recreation and don’t have nearly the downside of weapons designed to kill people. Frankly, I think that Canada has a very sane approach to gun legislation and we’d be well-advised to simply copy it.

But I understand that some people feel differently. And those people have some valid arguments. If there is an intruder in your house, the police are in fact not going to stop them from doing what they want. We may, theoretically, one day need to defend ourselves from the government, and that would require firearms of greater than shotgun or rifle lethality. And guns are, in fact, a lot of fun, and quite fascinating embodiments of technology.

Were someone to say “Look, I accept that liberal (in the actual meaning of the word) firearms legislation means some greater amount of deaths, but I find that an acceptable trade-off for the above reasons,” I would disagree with them but certainly accept their point of view. We make those sort of societal trade-offs all the time; freedom is inherently dangerous. I’d rather see fewer people overall get killed and not be able to possess a pistol; but if a majority of people felt the other way, that would be fine.

What bothers me – incenses me, really – is that, just like the Republican party, the anti gun-legislation group has been entirely hijacked by the craziest, most mendacious wing of the group.

Have you heard about Jim Zumbo? He’s a big game hunter. The hunting editor for Outdoor Life magazine, host of Jim Zumbo Outdoors on the Outdoor Channel. Wrote his first hunting article in 1962. Eats, sleeps, and breathes hunting. A real hunter, in the stamp of my great-uncle Tom, the football coach.

On February 16th of this year, while on a hunting trip, Jim posted the following on his blog:

I must be living in a vacuum. The guides on our hunt tell me that the use of AR and AK rifles have a rapidly growing following among hunters, especially prairie dog hunters. I had no clue. Only once in my life have I ever seen anyone using one of these firearms.

I call them "assault" rifles, which may upset some people. Excuse me, maybe I'm a traditionalist, but I see no place for these weapons among our hunting fraternity. I'll go so far as to call them "terrorist" rifles. They tell me that some companies are producing assault rifles that are "tackdrivers."

Sorry, folks, in my humble opinion, these things have no place in hunting. We don't need to be lumped into the group of people who terrorize the world with them, which is an obvious concern. I've always been comfortable with the statement that hunters don't use assault rifles. We've always been proud of our "sporting firearms."

This really has me concerned. As hunters, we don't need the image of walking around the woods carrying one of these weapons. To most of the public, an assault rifle is a terrifying thing. Let's divorce ourselves from them. I say game departments should ban them from the praries [sic] and woods.[2]

Within days, Jim Zumbo was no longer the hunting editor for Outdoor Life magazine; in fact, Outdoor Life will no longer publish anything he writes. His television show has been cancelled. His endorsement deals, from Remington and Mossy Oak and Gerber Knives and other sponsors, were immediately terminated.

Jim Zumbo was blackballed.

All of this, of course, because the gun enthusiast community immediately went berserk, and threatened all of these commercial entities with boycott. Images of Zumbo the Quisling were photoshopped and passed around, long rants about “treachery” were bandied about. For a nearly lucid but no less foamy look at what sort of thing these folks came up with, check this out.

These people are a cult. They aren’t responsible firearms enthusiasts, they’re gun crazies. There is a strict party line and all must adhere to it. There is to be no debate, no dissention, no alternate opinions – or else you are the Enemy.

They’re a cult, and they’re fucking scary.

And the tenets they demand adherence to are just nutty. “The problem is, you see, that gun owners are a persecuted minority.” Nice siege mentality there. As though there were something to owning a gun other than, well, buying a gun. As though we as a society don’t routinely decide what activities are legal and how legal they are. As though all guns were in fact the same.

In fact, that last bit of bullshit is the part that annoys me the most. Because it’s how these gun crazies have adhered themselves to responsible firearms enthusiasts, in particular to hunters. This bizarre belief, shouted over and over again, that somehow outlawing one sort of gun will lead to a ban on all guns. That there’s a “slippery slope” and not a series of discrete choices by lawmakers and citizens.

Banning handguns, say, will not lead to a ban on long guns. The reasoning is stupid. The people, including myself, who feel that ownership of long guns is perfectly legit and reasonable and that there’s no reason for most people to own handguns would vote in favor of a handgun ban and not in favor of a long gun ban. At present, ignoring for a moment the effects of the NRA and their stable of gun crazies, it seems to be generally the case that the majority in this country is in favor of allowing handgun ownership. If that were to change and the majority decided to ban handgun ownership, it would not mean that people had changed their minds about gun ownership in general; it would mean that they had changed their minds about handguns.

Again, take the example of Canada. They have had for a long time a very sane and popular set of gun laws. In the late nineties, they changed those laws to require registration of long guns. This has proven to be less than popular, and they are now in the course of shifting the laws back.

No one outlawed long guns. Nor, in the other direction, are people suddenly clamoring for a total repeal of all gun laws. What’s happening in Canada is that the gun laws are sliding around the point where the populace likes them; which is as it should be.

There’s no such thing as a “slippery slope” in gun laws. There’s only the will of the populace, which is what – in a democracy – we base the rules on.

And what pisses me off about the gun crazies and their promulgation of this “restricting one gun means banning them all” bullshit is that it’s aimed at the hunting community. And the hunting community is one I respect. There are damned few people who promote and understand conservation and passing the land onto future generations like hunters do. Men like my family. Men like Jim Zumbo.

Hell, I probably wouldn’t agree politically with Zumbo on anything, but the man is a real hunter, and the fact that the gun crazies can so instantly and effectively destroy his career – and hence, a big part of his life - simply for daring to depart the party line is a fucking crime. It is a terrible, terrible thing that these nutcases have so deeply and parasitically latched themselves onto a pastime (and to some a way of life) that by rights would and should be of diverse opinion, and crammed their own beliefs onto that community so that none dare disagree.

My great-uncle Tom, who was a better and more fervent hunter than any man alive, resigned his membership in the NRA in the 1980s. It pained him, I can clearly remember. But he saw that they were no longer a hunter’s association, or even a rifle association. They were becoming a gun fanatics’ association and he could not in good conscience continue to support them.

And by God he was right.

- Sun Ra

Columns by Sun Ra