Unions Call National Rifle Association's "Conservation" Bluff

According to today's Washington Post, "In a first-of-its-kind alliance that could fundamentally reshape the environmental movement, 20 labor unions with nearly 5 million members are joining forces with a Republican-leaning umbrella group of conservationists--the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership--to put pressure on Congress and the Bush administration."

According to the Post, the new organization, the Union Sportsman's Alliance, has as its primary goal increasing "federal funding for protecting wildlife habitat while guaranteeing access for hunters and anglers." Noting the NRA's long-time support of the Republican Party and its goals--including those beyond staving off gun control legislation--the Post cites Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, who states, "We know that the NRA is communicating to our members what clearly are anti-union positions and urging them to support anti-union candidates." Just recently, the gist of the NRA's pro-business/anti-union pitch was spelled out in a fundraising piece that the NRA claims was secretly purloined from the organization.

Perhaps more important than the unions' recognition of the NRA's below-the-radar support of big business--tort "reform" anyone?--is the fact that this announcement is the latest manifestation of the fact that the NRA doesn't actually represent the interests of the vast bulk of American gun owners. For most gun owners--hunters and sport shooters--guns are just one part of their lives. The NRA's caters to, and depends on, the small percentage (granted, a percentage large enough to make the NRA one of the most potent lobbies in the nation) of gun owners for whom guns are their whole life. Despite whatever lip service the NRA pays to the "hook and bullet" crowd, their leadership and activist base live by the bumper sticker credo, "The Second Amendment Isn't About Duck Hunting." Driven by what is known in pro-gun circles as "the NATO strategy"--an attack on any category of firearm is an attack on all firearms--the NRA leadership spends its time fighting gun controls of any type, while merely giving lip service to conservation issues. This constant tension--between the sport shooters and the so-called Second Amendment activists--has now broken into the open.

Will the Union Sportsman's Alliance succeed? That remains to be seen. The gun debate is littered with defunct organizations that promised to represent the views of traditional hunters and shooters and stand as "the good NRA." But a potential membership pool of five million with a grudge isn't a bad start.