Terrorist Rifles?

Concerns about the need for and use (or misuse) of military-style assault weapons have started to get a lot of attention in the last few weeks. On February 16, 2007, Jim Zumbo, a well-known hunting writer, posted a blog on the website for Outdoor Life Magazine, where he has worked since 1962, most recently as hunting editor, talking about "terrorist rifles":

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.

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'.

After posting this blog, Zumbo was fired from the magazine, had his television show on the Outdoor Channel cancelled, and lost his sponsors. The NRA suspended their long-term relationship with Zumbo and pointed to the destruction of Zumbo's career as an example of what happens when somebody crosses them. Some outdoor writers have started to speak up, however.

According to Bill Schneider in New West on February 26, 2007:

Some outdoor writers came to Zumbo's defense such as Tony Dean of South Dakota and Pat Wray of Oregon, but most were apprehensive.... The message was clear. Say the one word the gun rights snipers don't like, and the only job you can get is greeting people at Wal-Mart.

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Yet, this group of NRA-trained thugs can not only eat a good friend alive like meat thrown into a school of piranhas, but they can and have made other outdoor writers ultra-wary about saying anything that might cause their own fate, which is the goal, of course.

To me, it seems like outdoor writers are giving the black rifle Gestapo their victory with their silence. And not just writers. Where is the outrage from millions of hunters who agree with every word Zumbo posted on his blog? Where are the thousands of e-mails to Remington, Outdoor Life or the Outdoor Channel from hunters who wouldn't be caught dead hunting with an assault rifle? Why aren't they coming to Zumbo's defense?

Pat Wray, in the Corvallis (OR) Gazette Times, on February 24, 2007, called those attacking Zumbo "a crowd of vicious, vengeful, vitriolic jackals" and blames the NRA making them so:

For decades the NRA has fostered a climate of fear and paranoia among gun owners. They have hammered home the message that everyone is out to take our guns and that compromise is tantamount to treason. They created an attitude within their membership that anyone who disagreed was an enemy and the best defense was a good offense.

Added into the mix recently were stories like that on the front-page of USA Today on February 19, 2007 which quoted police officials who have seen "more higher-caliber weapons...on the street since the expiration" in September 2004 of the 1994 national ban on certain assault weapons, and "are now 'frequently' encountering assault weapons in local robberies and during simple traffic stops."

Some elected officials are asking whether or not these types of weapons should be so readily available. In response to S.B.43 in Maryland, I had an op-ed piece in the Baltimore Sun on February 27, 2007 and also participated in a news conference and Maryland Senate Hearing on a proposed "Assault Weapons Ban" for Maryland. On average, a semiautomatic assault rifle was traced to a Maryland crime every 48 hours, according to a study released last fall by Ceasefire Maryland. This group relied on ATF data showing at least 789 assault rifles tied to crime in Maryland in a four-year period.

We need to be asking what these weapons are used for and whether they need to be regulated in order to promote public safety. If some don't like the restrictive definitions being proposed, what alternatives do they suggest? Or, should we have no restrictions, even on actual "terrorist rifles"?

(Note to readers: this blog entry, as well as past blog entrees, are co-posted on www.bradycampaign.org/blog/)