NRA & Safari Club push Republicans to pass election year boondoggle that Obama may not dare to veto
WASHINGTON D.C.––The National Rifle Association, Safari Club International, and allied hunting industry lobbyists on February 26, 2016 advanced closer than ever before, in eight years of trying, to push through Congress an omnibus package of special favors for trophy hunters, pack hunters, ivory dealers, and users of lead ammunition.
Now titled the Sportsmen’s Heritage & Recreational Enhancement Act (SHARE), H.R. 2406 cleared the House of Representatives by a vote of 242-161, largely along partisan lines.
“Animal rights extremists”
Trumpeted a National Rifle Association media release, “The SHARE Act provides enhanced access to public lands while limiting punitive regulations promoted by ‘animal rights’ extremists.
“The bill now heads to the U.S. Senate,” the NRA release continued, “where a similar package,” called the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015, “has already advanced from the Committees on Energy & Natural Resources and Environment & Public Works.”
Wolves, grizzlies, deer & elephants
Blogged Humane Society of the U.S. president Wayne Pacelle, “The SHARE Act strips wolves in four states of protection under the Endangered Species Act, subverting the judicial process and subjecting hundreds of wolves to baiting, hunting with hounds, and painful steel-jawed leghold traps. It also includes language to block federal wildlife officials from stopping aerial gunning and baiting of grizzly bears and denning of wolves on national wildlife refuges in Alaska. It prevents the federal government from stopping deer hunting with packs of dogs in the Mark Twain National Forest––an activity banned in the vast majority of states. And it blocks the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service from finalizing and enacting its proposed rule to curb ivory trade in the United States, which would help combat the current elephant poaching crisis.”
Hot lead & polar bears
In addition, Pacelle wrote, “The bill contains troubling provisions that relate to the use of toxic lead ammunition, at a time when non-toxic ammunition is available to all hunters, and is less harmful to wild animals, land, and human health. A provision of the bill would roll back the Marine Mammal Protection Act and provide a sweetheart deal to help 41 wealthy polar bear trophy hunters import the heads of rare polar bears they shot in Canada. It’s the latest in a series of import allowances for polar bear hunters, and encourages trophy hunters to kill rare species around the world, then wait for a congressional waiver to bring back their trophies.
“The only good news,” Pacelle assessed, “is that the SHARE Act is so chock-full of insanely far-reaching provisions that it almost certainly cannot pass the Senate or win a signature from the President in this current form. Given that at least two of his priority rulemaking actions would be negated by this legislation, I cannot imagine that President Obama would sign it.”
Trap for Democrats
But Pacelle may be excessively optimistic.
Enjoying the advantage of Republican political control of both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, the National Rifle Association and Safari Club International apparently hope to put a reconciled version of the so-called SHARE Act and the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015 before U.S. President Barack Obama during the run-up to the fall 2016 national elections.
Should Obama veto the bill, the veto could be used to brand Democratic candidates as “anti-hunting” and “anti-gun,” charges that have terrified generations of Democratic leadership since U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower rode organized hunter support to landslide victories in 1952 and 1956.
Post-Eisenhower, both Democratic and Republican office holders have mostly favored hunting. Before 1990, polls found little difference in hunter preference between the major parties and the voting patterns of other men in the same age group, region, and income bracket. Since both parties promoted hunter interests, hunting did not become an election-changing political wedge issue.
That changed after Pacelle, then a Yale University undergraduate, introduced British-style hunt sabotage in response to a 1986 deer cull at the Yale/New Haven Forest.
Hired by the Fund for Animals in 1989, Pacelle directed dozens of hunt sabotages around the U.S. during the next several years, but had abandoned hunt sabotage as a counter-productive tactic by 1994, when he joined the Humane Society of the U.S. as vice president for legislation.
Hunter harassment laws
But Republican strategists had already found in hunt sabotage the issue they needed to capture hunter votes as a block.
In 1986 only two states had anti-hunter harassment laws. By 1994, when the Republicans won control of the House of Representatives for the first time in 42 years, and also for the first time since Eisenhower claiming the overwhelming majority of hunter votes, 48 states had anti-hunter harassment laws, and Hawaii later passed one.
Almost all of the anti-hunter harassment laws were introduced by Republicans, often working from drafts distributed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, founded in 1973 by longtime conservative strategist Paul Weyrich (1942-2008).
“Right to hunt”
The coalitions formed to pass anti-hunter harassment legislation kept going, funded by national pro-hunting and pro-Republican foundations. The aroused pro-hunting lobby went on to pass “right to hunt” amendments to 16 state constitutions, with more such amendments introduced in each legislative session.
Predictably, Chris Cox, executive director of NRA Institute for Legislative Action, singled out eight prominent Republicans for special thanks after the passage of H.R. 2406: House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California), Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana), Natural Resources Committee chair Rob Bishop (R-Utah), Rules Committee chair Pete Sessions (R-Texas), and lead H.R. 2406 sponsors Robert Wittman (R-Virginia), Tim Walz (D-Minnesota), Jeff Duncan (R-South Carolina) and Gene Green (D-Texas).
Geography vs. demographics
That the hunting industry continues to hold the clout that it does results from the geography of the U.S. political landscape, rather than demographics.
Relative to the U.S. population as a whole, 40% fewer hunting licenses were issued in 2014 than in 1970.
Nearly every form of hunting and fishing has been in steep decline for more than 30 years, according to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service data.
The total number of hunters is now falling at 1% per year, and is expected to fall even faster as the Baby Boom generation passes the age range in which hunters most avidly participate.
More illegal drug users than hunters
The 12.5 million hunters in the U.S. constitute just 4.2% of the U.S. population. The estimated 20.4 million illegal drug users constitute 8.3%, according to the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration. Thus, if numbers alone translated into political influence, vote-hungry candidates might just as well seek the support of pot-puffers, crackheads, speed freaks, and heroin addicts as continue to court hunters.
There are now far more vegans and vegetarians in the U.S. than either hunters or illegal drug users––but vegans and vegetarians are relatively concentrated in about half a dozen major metropolitan areas, overlapping perhaps a dozen mostly coastal states, which are seldom in political sway.
Therefore no politician needs to cater to vegetarians and vegans as a key “swing” constituency.
How hunters control the Senate
Hunters by contrast are broadly distributed throughout the conservative rural and semi-rural “red” states which form the base of the Republican constituency. The combined human populations of six of the most strongly pro-hunting states amount to less than the human populations of the Los Angeles and San Francisco metropolitan areas, yet those six states have 12 U.S. Senators, while the entire state of California has just two.
In addition, among the states with the most hunters per capita are the “swing” states of Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, where Democrats must win to regain the Senate majority.
Accordingly, Elmer Fudd continues to find dancing partners among Democratic candidates as well as Republicans.
Republican bill originated with Democrats
The direct predecessor to the so-called SHARE Act and the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015, for example, was S. 2363, introduced by U.S. Senator Kay Hagan, a North Carolina Democrat. Hagan incorporated into S. 2363 many ideas borrowed from a proposed Hunting & Fishing Bill of Rights and Responsibilities introduced by John Edwards, who held her Senate seat before her, in 2007.
Among other ploys by Democrats to woo hunters away from block support of Republicans, former U.S. president Bill Clinton, boosting the unsuccessful effort of then-U.S. vice president Al Gore to succeed him in 2000, opened more National Wildlife Refuges to hunting than any previous president.
By the end of the Clinton administration, 311 of the 540 National Wildlife Refuges allowed hunting and 280 allowed trapping, even as 78% of U.S. voters continued to believe that both hunting and trapping were still illegal within national refuges, according to a 1999 survey by Decision Research Inc.
Currently 321 of 553 National Wildlife Refuges allow hunting.
Evolutionary biologist Bekoff weighs in
“The last time I looked,” wrote Psychology Today blogger Marc Bekoff of the passage of H.R. 2406, “the word ‘refuge’ meant a place where individuals are protected from danger and trouble and free to live in peace and safety.”
“It is essential to note that the SHARE Act is not at all about sharing or any sort of peaceful coexistence,” Bekoff continued, in his Animal Emotions column, “but rather about killing animals in places where they should be and have been relatively safe, namely on public lands.
“Labelling those who oppose the SHARE Act as animal rights extremists is ludicrous,” Bekoff added. “Many people who support protecting animals in different venues are not extremists in any sense of the word. And, why is protecting animals ‘extreme,’ while wanting to kill them is not?
“There still is time to act,” Bekoff finished, “and I hope that readers here and elsewhere and conservation psychologists and anthrozoologists will weigh in strongly about how there are numerous other and patently obvious ways for people to enjoy the great outdoors that does not involve killing animals on public lands.”