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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Are 'Assault Weapons' Suitable for Hunting?

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, February 16, 2013.)

One of the hot topics today is whether the guns people call “assault weapons,” or “ARs,” or “modern sporting rifles” are suitable hunting tools. People are making lots of uninformed statements about them.

So-called “assault weapons” are used 
 in less than 1% of murders with firearms, but 
they’re used on thousands of feral hogs and coyotes

Political arguments, self-defense arguments, and constitutional arguments aside, this is a hunting column. I’ve heard at least four arguments that “modern sporting rifles,” or “tactical arms,” or whatever you want to call them, are not suitable for hunting. Here they are:

“No one needs one of these to hunt deer.”
If “need” is the standard, we might as well ban hunters from using any firearms and make them use bows, because “need” is an arbitrary line and it will keep moving. Deer, the most common big game animal in North America, are not the only species hunters pursue. For hunting some species, “modern sporting rifles” are often the weapon of choice.

“High tech isn’t what hunting is about.”
Semi-autos are not new technology. John Moses Browning developed the most popular semi-automatic handgun more than a century ago. It was dubbed the Model 1911 in the same year Orville Wright flew a glider for 10 minutes at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.

“No hunter needs such a powerful gun.”
It’s misleading to say these rifles are especially powerful. Most are chambered in .223 caliber (5.56 X 45mm in military terms). It’s underpowered for animals bigger than deer, and inadequate for large deer. Compared to the most common deer caliber, the .30-06, it’s a pipsqueak. The .30-06 was the US Army’s primary rifle cartridge for nearly 50 years, it’s 2½ times more powerful, and no one ever said it’s too powerful for hunters. Even that has less firepower than an ordinary 12 gauge shotgun with a single load of #1 buckshot – one pull of the trigger launches 16 .30 caliber projectiles all at once, into whatever is in their path. Five shells in a simple pump shotgun – awesome indeed.

“No civilian, not even hunters, should be able to own a military weapon.”
This argument changes the subject. Although these rifles fire the same moderately-powered cartridge used by NATO forces, they are not military weapons. They only look like military weapons. No military in the world uses the semi-automatics commonly available to American civilians.

Besides, civilians actually do own military weapons, though not for hunting, and almost never for crime. The National Firearms Act of 1934 designated “selective fire” weapons, the type militaries use, as Class III weapons. “Selective fire” means they can fire one bullet per trigger pull, and with the flip of a switch they fire multiple rounds with one press of the trigger until the gun is empty. That firing mode makes Class III weapons unsuitable for hunting, but semi-autos lack that firing mode.

History proves that civilians who own Class III weapons have been very trustworthy. Since 1934, only once has a civilian used a lawfully owned Class III weapon to commit a crime – a doctor murdered another doctor. Non-civilians? Also just once – a corrupt policeman murdered an informant.  

One problem with the term “assault weapon” is that it confuses common firearms with Class III machine guns. Yes, they have cosmetic similarities, but semi-autos have more in common functionally with millions of hunting rifles, shotguns and the majority of handguns.  

What are some cosmetic similarities to full-auto military rifles? An adjustable stock – same as my hunting crossbow. A pistol grip – each of my bolt-action deer rifles has a type of pistol grip. A bayonet lug – I’ve never heard of an assault committed with a bayonet on the end of a gun. Most are black; some competitive shooters favor pink; and many hunters prefer camo.

And that brings us back to hunting. Where are semi-automatic “modern sporting rifles” suited to hunting? They’re perfect in the South, where wild pigs are an ecological menace. They’re commonly used in the West for varmints such as coyotes and prairie dogs.  

I’m not arguing politics, self-defense, or the Second Amendment. I’m reviewing facts about the rifles as they relate to hunting – facts as sure as this one: so-called “assault weapons” are used in less than 1% of murders with firearms, but they’re used on thousands of feral hogs and coyotes.

“Are these guns suitable for hunting?” The answer is “yes.” They’re not suitable for all types of hunting. No firearm is, but they are well suited to some types of hunting. In fact, they’re used for everything from hunting to target shooting to competition. They may look as mean as the rifles we see soldiers carrying on TV, but they have more in common with traditional sporting arms than with modern military rifles.

What about here in Pennsylvania? Many hunters use semi-auto shotguns, but no semi-auto rifle is legal for hunting, even if it’s operated Barney Fife style – one bullet at a time. So, I don’t have one. But if I shot competitively, or if I hunted in the South or the West, I probably would.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

What Happened To the Eastern Sport Show?

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, February 2, 2013.)

This year’s Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show in Harrisburg, slated to open February 2, ended before it started. Besides leaving a 10-day gap in the calendars of over 1200 vendors, hundreds of thousands of show goers still wonder what happened.

January 24, with the show just 9 days away
 Reed Exhibitions pulled the plug.

Reed Exhibitions, long-time owner of the show, has put on a great event for years. It grew to become the largest consumer outdoor show in North America – probably, in the world – thanks to show director Chris O’Hara and his hard-working team. Virtually every outdoor celebrity has appeared. Often, something new is added – this year Reed promoted “a new Tactical Gun & Accessories Section” to draw new show goers. Reed invited vendors to exhibit these weapons, and announced it to the public on November 26.

Sometime in the middle of January, Reed reversed its original decision and decided to ban “tactical” weapons –prohibiting even pictures of them. People began talking about a boycott, and someone created a Facebook page promoting a boycott. Within days, it had twice as many “likes” as the show’s own Facebook page. Cabelas, a corporate sponsor, withdrew on January 19, followed by four of the five corporate sponsors, including the Outdoor Channel.

News reports falsely claimed that the boycott was driven by the National Rifle Association, which participates in the show to build relationships with members and recruit new ones. But while sponsors, celebrity seminar presenters and vendors were dropping out, the NRA and the National Shooting Sports Foundation were calling for patience. In the end, they failed to persuade Reed Exhibitions to reverse their decision and return to their originally advertised plan. By the time about 400 vendors and seminar speakers had pulled out, the NSSF and the NRA joined them. On January 24, with the show just over a week away, Reed pulled the plug.

Who won? Not hunters, fishermen or gun owners. For 57 years, they have been gathering in Harrisburg for a mid-winter celebration of the hook and gun sports. Not this year.

The anti-gun crowd didn’t win. They might have blocked the display of what is arguably today’s most controversial weapon, but they probably didn’t prevent the sale of even one of them. Worse for them, the pro-gun crowd is more unified than ever.

Reed Expositions, owner and promoter of the show didn’t win. They are refunding roughly $2000 for every one of the 1200 or more booths they had rented, plus $14 for every pre-sold ticket. Other losses include advertising costs, parking revenue, food services, and other support services.  

Vendors, probably the least able to afford it, have lost in a big way. They ship booth furnishings to Harrisburg from around the world, print millions of brochures to distribute, and order extra merchandise to sell. Now they have a boatload of excess inventory on their hands, and a huge gap in their travel schedules. Reed's decision has cost them many millions of dollars in lost business. Some may use legal channels to recover losses.  

The city of Harrisburg lost, too. Estimates of between $44 million and $80 million in revenue has been lost to the city. Hotels and restaurants lost business from one of the biggest events Harrisburg ever sees. People all the way down to the bottom of the economic scale will feel it.

Some news outlets have not performed well. Stories were written about the cancellation of the “gun show,” complete with photos showing table after table full of guns – pictures that were not even from the Eastern Sport Show. Anyone who has ever been to a gun show and an outdoor show knows the difference, but mistaken reports that a huge “gun show” was canceled continue to be published.

Some stories lauded Reed Expositions for its bravery in standing up to the powerful gun lobby by cancelling the show. Those stories misled in failing to mention that it was Reed’s idea in the first place to bring tactical weapons to this year’s show. 

Chet Burchett, Reed Exhibitions President for the Americas, said, “Our original decision not to include certain products in the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show this year was made in order to preserve the event’s historical focus on the hunting and fishing traditions enjoyed by American families.” That statement seems crafted to camouflage the fact that Reed’s real “original decision” was actually to include and promote the “certain products” he refers to.

By comparison, archery was a much larger part of the show than guns. A national archery tournament was to be held, one whole building was dedicated to archery, and show goers could actually shoot bows. The truth is that guns have always been a very small part of the event. In fact, in the 10 years I’ve attended the show, I’ve seen several major gun manufacturers displaying guns. I wasn’t aware that any were selling them.

Will this great American hunting and fishing event return next year? I hope so, but planning an event of this size is always a huge challenge. If it’s successfully brought back next year, overcoming this year’s disaster will be double the challenge.