Thursday, March 01, 2007

Compassionate Gun-Nuttery

John Derbyshire writes on the growing divide in the gun community between hunters and the non-hunting enthusiast crowd, as recently highlighted by the firestorm over Jim Zumbo's commentary on the infiltration into the hunting community of "terrorist rifles":

And that helps explain last week’s huge and passionate reaction to Jim Zumbo’s blog comment, the story of the year in shooting circles.

Zumbo is — though it would be more accurate, as we shall see, to say was — a writer, educator, and lecturer on outdoor sports, mainly hunting. He lives in a log cabin near Cody, Wyoming, and is a 42-year member of the National Rifle Association (who, by the way, have just started a spiffy “NAR News” website). He had a show on the Outdoor Channel, a column in Outdoor Life, and gun-company sponsors paying him retainers and helping fund his hunting trips. He was on the advisory board of the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance. Life was pretty good for Jim… until February 16.

That Friday Jim was out in the field in Wyoming on a coyote hunt with some other outdoor-sports writers and a couple of fellows from the Remington Arms Company. Back at camp, Jim filed a report on his Outdoor Life blog. In that report he passed some remarks about a certain category of long guns, popularly called “black rifles,” modeled on military assault rifles like the famous Soviet-made AK-47, or the ArmaLite favored by the Irish Republican Army. One of the guides had told Jim that these “black rifles” are often used to hunt coyotes with, a thing Jim apparently did not know. He sounded off about this on his blog:

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.” This really has me concerned. As hunters, we don't need the image of walking around the woods carrying one of these weapons. To most of the public, an assault rifle is a terrifying thing. Let’s divorce ourselves from them. I say game departments should ban them from the praries [sic] and woods.

The gun websites lit up like a Hamas wedding party using tracer rounds. At the time of writing, a week later, Jim has lost his show, his columns, and his sponsors. He is penniless and disgraced. His lecture bookings will likely be canceled. I have not yet heard that he has been drummed out of the NRA, with Wayne LaPierre himself ripping off Jim’s buttons and epaulettes while the NRA band plays the Dead March from Saul, but it can only be a matter of time. Some of the stuff has been really vituperative — this, for instance. Note the graphics: “Jim Zumbo — Quisling is Spoken Here”; “P***ing on Your Gun Rights with Zumbo.” The piling-on was so intense it has spawned a new verb: “to zumbo,” meaning to annihilate, by use of the internet, the career of one who violates the solidarity of a common enterprise.

It was hard to find anyone speaking up on Zumbo’s behalf; though there were, along with the vituperation, some calls for civility from anti-Zumbo bloggers like author and outdoorsman Steve Bodio. (That blog of Steve’s, by the way, includes Jim Zumbo’s public apology, which of course did nothing to abate the storm.)

It helps to understand what’s going on if you remember that there are subcultures within the gun culture, and these subcultures do not always see eye to eye. There are the hunting-outdoors gun people; there are the target-shooting range people; there are the military-weapons buffs, the skeet-and-trap folk, home-security specialists, the antique-weapons crowd, and so on. (You know you’re graced with the presence of an antique-weapons enthusiast down at the range when you hear a sort of WHOOOMPF! and see a vast cloud of dense white smoke coming towards you. That was a pan of black powder going off.) Of course, there is lots of overlap — the range is always more crowded just before hunting season, as the hunters prepare for business — but there are frictions, too.

As the Zumbo case illustrates, the point of maximum friction is between hunters and the rest. There is a lurking suspicion among non-hunting gun sportsmen that the hunters will sell them down the river, if some clever politician can clinch the deal. As an e-correspondent of mine put it:

A problem with the duck hunter crowd is that politicians try to take away our handguns or my black rifles, but insist they’ll never go after your over-under. The duck hunters nod and let the confiscation proceed, and before long all that’s left are the duck hunters, who have no support as their shotguns are confiscated.

The mirror-image among hunters is a certain disdain for weapons that, in the hunter’s opinion, are no use in the field, or are in some way “unsporting.” This usually includes any weapon that can fire on fully automatic. If you imagine a 1920s street gangster bringing down a deer with a tommy gun, you will see their point. With some hunters, the prejudice extends to semi-automatics, or even to anything that just looks “military.”

What the Zumbo case shows is that these minor differences will be brushed aside when gun enthusiasts sense a threat to their rights. Hunting-outdoor sportsmen piled on with the rest — though in general, like Steve Bodio, with a bit more regard for civility. As I started out by saying, for all the magnificent achievements of the NRA in keeping gun rights secure, gun hobbyists and sportsmen live in a state of mild, if permanent, insecurity, and our natural posture is defensive.

The political lesson to be taken by any contender for the Republican nomination who is seriously short of creds on gun rights issues — no names, no pack drill — is that Second Amendment enthusiasts stand head and shoulders above other conservative groups in their passion and solidarity on behalf of their constitutional rights. You will need to work very hard and tread very carefully if you want the support of this large and well-organized constituency. Set a foot wrong and you could find yourself being zumboed!

Yes, even in the world of gun nuts, there are stratifications of class. The Zumbos of the world are very smug and satisfied with their Remington Model Seven CDL .308 at $907 with ammo that runs $1.50 a round, but what of the average working class schlub who can't afford such rich fare? He's forced by economic deprivation to resort to the international military surplus market. How could he pass on a Yugoslavian SKS carbine at $209, or an AK47 at $289? Not to speak of 7.62x39 ammo that runs $0.15 a round? Is it so wrong for Joe Lunchbucket to reach out for that golden ring of 2nd Amendment self affirmation? When the Black Helicopters come, can we rely on Wellington Sniffbottom III and his custom Ruger No.1 Tropical single shot .458 Win Mag to save the day? I think not!


Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Well, since Wayne LaPierre has been advocating for at least 20 years that machine guns should be freely available, Zumbo seems quite a mild radical.

They don't call 'em gun nuts for nothin'.

March 01, 2007 7:07 PM  
Blogger David said...

There's just a bunch of stuff here; Zumbo could hardly have written a more inflammatory post if I have tried.

Worst of all, he referred to the AR-15 guns as terrorist guns. The AR-15's (here are the Smith & Wesson's versions) are civilian/semi-automatic versions of the M16. In other words, if he had known what he was talking about, he would have known that, by saying that these guns are used by "terrorists," he was talking about the US military.

Almost as bad, he reopened the whole assault rifle mess. The federal "assault weapon" ban was allowed to lapse early in the Bush administration. That was considered a great victory by the NRA and other Second Amendment enthusiasts. The ban was widely seen by gun owners as unfair ("assault weapons" were just rifles with certain cosmetic features that don't make the weapons any more likely to be used in crimes) and as a first step to a more general ban.

Not nearly as bad but more perplexing is Zumbo's ignorance of the large number of people who own and shoot these weapons. For competitive rifle shooters, there isn't really any alternative. A well made, well cared for AR-15 is among the most accurate of mass-produced rifles. An equally large number of people use these weapons for hunting. Here is a review of S&W's MP-15 rifle that mentions what a great coyote rifle it is.

Bringing up the rear is Zumbo's amazing ignorance in thinking (apparently) that an AR-15 assault weapon would be fully automatic. The AR-15 are single shot semi-automatic weapons and any hunter running around the woods with a fully automatic weapon would be (a) nuts; and (b) arrested if (c) another hunter didn't shoot him first.

March 01, 2007 8:11 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

When the Black Helicopters come, NO civilian-owned small arms are going to save the day.

So I, for one, welcome our new Black Helicopter Overlords.

March 01, 2007 11:53 PM  
Blogger joe shropshire said...

The really strange thing in all this is that, for the last 40 years, we have been sending our soldiers out to shoot people at short ranges armed with a cartridge designed for shooting woodchucks at long ranges. The .223 Remington, which the 5.56 x45mm NATO round is based on, is a varmint cartridge, in turn derived from the old .22-250. James Fallows had an article in the Atlantic way back when on the whys and wherefores of all that(unfortunately it's not online.) The other pretty strange thing is that the Marine Corps got away with converting the M-16 from a carbine into a varmint rifle in the late '80s, with the A2 model. That's more-or-less what the yahoos who frightened Yumbo so much were shooting. If you've ever shot an M16A2 they're really quite nice: heavier barrel, better trigger, just generally points well. (We Air Force guys used to qualify with chewed-up Army reject A1s, so when we finally got a few of the newer guns everybody was amazed -- it was like, hey, you can hit something with this.)

March 02, 2007 12:01 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

My ignorance on this subject would be very difficult to surpass, but isn't the primary difference between "assault" rifles and the rest muzzle velocity?

March 04, 2007 5:02 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Good question, but no. Hunting rifles and assault rifles are comparable as far as muzzle velocity. The main round of ammo for military use in the US prior to the Cold War was the .30 06 Springfield, which was also the most popular hunting round.

You need high velocity to be able to deliver a killing blow out beyond 200 yards or so, or to even reach out that far. The physics of killing a human are about the same as killing a small deer. As Joe mentioned, the caliber of ammo used in the M16 is actually smaller than what you'd take into the woods to shoot deer.

The main differences are high capacity magazines, and semi-automatic or automatic fire. Other refinements were to make the rifle lighter and cheaper to manufacture. I'm not exactly sure what the benefit of the pistol grip was, but that is another difference between the two.

March 04, 2007 5:26 PM  

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