An Open Letter From Hunters About Gun Reform

Rights come with responsibilities.
grinvalds via Getty Images

We are Republican, Democratic and independent. We come from the East, South, Midwest and West. We are conservative, progressive and liberal. We are men and women. We include eight members of the Circle of Chiefs, the highest conservation honor of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. We are all different in many ways, but we have important commonalities. We are Americans; we are gun owners; we are hunters; and we support responsible firearm regulation.

Yes, the Second Amendment conveys a right to “keep and bear” firearms. But rights come with responsibilities, and we all have a moral responsibility to address America’s crisis of gun violence.

We avoid the term ”common sense,” understanding the wisdom in Voltaire’s words ― “Common sense is not so common.”

Perhaps nature’s unpredictability, or the predictability that either our abilities or our equipment will fail at the most inopportune moment, have conditioned us to find solace in simplicity. We believe simple and responsible steps can and must be taken to end the cycle of gun violence and tragedy to which we are all witness in today’s America.

“We do not need AR-15s or any assault-style weapon to hunt game.”

We are at a turning point. There are now 265 million guns in private ownership — more than at any time in our nation’s history, and owned by a smaller proportion of the population than ever. Only about 30 percent of Americans own guns, and about 60 percent live in gun-free households. The long-term trend away from gun ownership will continue. As people who own and use guns respectfully, we feel an urgency to speak up for a simple, sensible approach.

Hunters and hunting are also declining. In 1955, 10 percent of Americans hunted. Today, it’s less than 5 percent. But the positive image of the hunter as a skilled and conscientious “sportsman” is being abused in defense of an out-of-control gun culture.

Most hunters own guns principally to hunt game. We use them safely and respectfully: If someone is injured during their use, it will most likely be a friend or family member, since that is who we hunt with. We don’t buy a lot of guns. We usually have a few favorites, often passed down to us by fathers or grandfathers. The gun industry figured that out decades ago, and switched to creating guns for a different market.

That’s not to say that all hunters are like-minded on the issue of regulating firearms. As our numbers have dwindled, many have found a comforting alliance with Second Amendment radicalism. But we believe this is not representative of most hunters, and certainly not the tradition of the hunter-sportsman.

We do not need AR-15s or any assault-style weapon to hunt game. That’s not to say some people won’t use them to hunt. But they are simply not necessary, and are actually not preferable for legitimate, fair-chase hunting.

We believe that simple, responsible reforms in firearm policy are an urgent necessity. Hunting and hunters should not be seen, or used, as a shield against constructive bipartisan solutions. We see the need and opportunity to frame compromise between the Second Amendment’s right to keep and bear arms and the Fifth Amendment’s right to life and liberty.

Here’s where we would begin:

1. An age minimum of 21 years to purchase any gun;

2. Anyone on the Terrorist Screening Center’s “no-fly list” may not purchase or possess firearms;

3. Anyone on Social Security disability due to mental illness may not purchase or possess firearms;

4. Prohibit new sales of semiautomatic assault or tactical-style weapons;

5. Prohibit new sales of semiautomatic shotguns or rifles (except .22-caliber rim fire) that can hold more than 10 rounds;

6. Prohibit any accessory designed or mechanical modification intended a) to increase the rate at which any firearm may be discharged; or b) to increase the magazine capacity of a semiautomatic rifle beyond 10 rounds (except .22-caliber rim fire);

7. Mandatory and universal background checks for all firearm sales;

8. Prohibit sales of firearms except through registered/licensed dealers (no direct private sales);

9. Enact gun violence restraining order authorities allowing courts to temporarily prohibit a person from purchasing or possessing firearms when a family member, community welfare expert or law enforcement officer presents evidence of a threat; and

10. Repeal the “Dickey ban” on scientific research in the area of gun violence and implement the Institute of Medicine’s 2013 gun violence research agenda.

These suggestions are simple to implement and enforce. They do limit the rights of honest and law-abiding citizens, but they are responsible limitations that do not infringe the ability of Americans to hunt, shoot, or protect themselves and their families. And in comparison to the 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who have been stripped of all of their rights, and of life and liberty, it is a small price to pay.

There are simple, responsible solutions. No one should use hunters and hunting as an excuse to avoid pursuing them.

Daniel M. Ashe, former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director
Ted Williams, environmental journalist*
Paula Del Giudice, outdoor writer and hunter*
Mike Furtman, outdoor writer and photographer, hunter and former gun dealer*
Jim Low, former president of the Outdoor Writers Association of America and 13-time recipient of the Izaak Walton League’s Outdoor Ethics Communication Award*
Dr. Leonard Lee Rue III, wildlife photographer*
Brian Rutledge, conservation leader and naturalist
Scott Stouder, outdoor writer, conservationist and lifelong hunter*
Dr. Kris Thoemke, outdoor writer, conservationist and hunter*
Joel Vance, current member and former president of the Outdoor Writers Association of America*
George Harrison, retired nature journalist*
Rich Patterson, former president of the Outdoor Writers Association of America*

*Member of the Circle of Chiefs, the highest conservation honor of the Outdoor Writers Association of America

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