Hunters can shape the gun violence debate

Years ago, when I edited the outdoors section of a daily newspaper in Arizona, one of my columnists wrote about his opposition to gun control.

When my boss read it, he briefly demanded it should be pulled.

“The newspaper has already staked out its position on the editorial page,” he said to a suddenly quiet newsroom. “This issue doesn’t belong on the outdoors page.”

The newsroom remained eerily silent. In an odd way, it was the staff’s way of challenging our editor’s pronouncement.

It worked. After a moment, he relented.

“I guess it’s OK,” he said. “As long as we don’t do it all the time.”

He may have backed into it, but my former editor ultimately reached the right decision. The outdoors section is the right place to discuss firearms issues, in appropriate doses. I weigh in occasionally in my outdoors column at the Flathead Beacon. I wrote a three-part series following the Newtown school shooting in 2012 (linked here, here and here) and again in November following the Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas, shootings.

Sadly, it seems, columns like the one in November could be reprinted a couple of times a year. Change the location and the body count and republish, again and again and again.

It’s too early to tell, but there are signs the ground is beginning to move out from under the NRA and the firearms industry following the latest act of murder at a public school. Politicians who have collected big donations in the past have been able to fend off criticism, when the criticism was coming from feckless, mostly Democratic, politicians.

But now the calls for change are coming from the student survivors of the attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. And those students are calling out politicians, by name, followed by the size of the donations they have accepted from the NRA. That’s a message, and messenger, with power. If they sustain it, they may force gun folks off the “no compromises” position that has dominated this discussion for more than a decade.

Until that change comes, we’ll continue to have a dysfunctional debate about firearm regulation. A functional debate would include reasonable consideration of a variety of issues, including some of these:

— Gun Violence Protective or Restraining Orders. So called GVRO’s would create legal mechanisms through local courts for law enforcement to intervene when family or friends become concerned someone may be a threat to others. Gun rights could be temporarily suspended until the state of the individual is evaluated. We’ve all heard how calls to the FBI about the Parkland shooter were mishandled. Local law enforcement and courts are a better solution.

— Improve and make more thorough the background check system, and end private sale loopholes.

— End the ban that prevents the Centers for Disease Control from studying gun violence issues.

— Regulate and ban some of the low-hanging fruit such as bump stocks and high-capacity magazines. The bump stock is simply a technological end run around automatic weapons laws anyway.

— Consider creating classifications for different types of weapons. For simple sporting firearms, such as the double barrel 20 gauge shotgun that is my bird hunting weapon of choice, purchases could remain fairly routine. But if you want an AR-15, is it too much of an inconvenience if local law enforcement pays you a visit after you purchase, say, you’re sixth in a six month period?

We will also have to recognize that all the rules, regulations and good intentions cannot prevent all mass shootings. But regulations may prevent some. As hunters and gun owners we have rights, but we also have responsibilities. We need to exercise the latter in order to defend the former.

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