Column by ‘NRA Hunter’ Writer Infuriates Gun Rights Activists
By Dave Workman
Republished with permission
A pair of newspaper columns authored by veteran outdoor writer Pat Wray of Oregon that detailed why he thinks the National Rifle Association manipulates hunters set off a firestorm among gun rights activists who blistered Wray’s essay on KeepAndBearArms.com (KABA)
While proclaiming that, “I believe in the NRA,” Wray quickly acknowledged in his Dec. 4 article, “And there’s the rub.”
“Because I and millions of others like me believe in what the NRA does on behalf of our right to own guns, we are inclined to believe it when it tells us it’s standing up for our right to hunt. This is a dangerous idea, because where the interests of gun ownership and hunting diverge, I am seeing that the NRA always comes down on the side of guns.”
Wray acknowledges that NRA has “done good things for hunters” including supporting legislation to allow hunting on Sundays in several states, reduce the minimum hunting age in other states and legislation that mandates “no net loss” of hunting land.
But his negatives outweighed the positives. Wray noted, “The problem is not that the NRA leadership acts aggressively to protect the Second Amendment. It is their mission. The problem is that they mislead hunters into thinking that this helps hunting. All too often, hunters are foolish enough to believe them.”
And Wray wasn’t finished.
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In a blistering Dec. 18 follow-up column, he wrote, “The NRA provided critical support to the Bush Administration’s effort to remove federal protection from 58.5 million acres of Inventoried Roadless Areas in the US Forest Service system. This action, the NRA says, will allow construction of roads, which will let people drive to the places they want to hunt. What they don’t say is that new roads will open those areas to extractive industries and all of the destructive effects to follow. They also don’t acknowledge that active roads have a negative effect on our big game animals, as well as on water quality and game fish. In effect, the NRA shilled for the most anti-environmental administration in history, knowing full well what the impact of their actions would be. And why? For administration support of their right-to-bear-arms agenda.
“The bottom line is this,” Wray added, “the NRA is hoodwinking hunters into thinking they are working on our behalf, while they use our money on politicians and legislative efforts which will degrade hunting, now and in the future. Does this mean the NRA is an enemy of hunters? Not exactly. What it means is that they don’t care about hunters except as a cash cow. It means they will sell out hunters as often as necessary, if doing so will give them leverage in the fight over gun ownership rights. It means the NRA considers hunters too stupid to recognize how badly we are being used. Thus far, at least, they’ve been right.”
A 20-year NRA member who has criticized the NRA in the past for supporting the Bush Administration, Wray used part of his first column to target Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, who sits on the NRA Board of Directors.
Wray argued that, “…the NRA aligns itself with politicians who care little about the land or wildlife, but who will deliver votes against gun control…Craig was a primary supporter of the Bush administration’s action removing federal protection of…inventoried roadless areas in our national forests and returning their fate to the tender mercies of individual states. The NRA regularly parrots Craig’s message about our roadless areas, interchanging the terms wilderness, roadless areas and road closures, which confuses the public and convinces hunters that their hunting access will be lost in all of these areas.
“In fact, land covered by any of these three designations is open to hunting; only motorized access is restricted to various degrees,” he continued. “In fact, hunting and fishing are usually better in roadless areas. Exhaustive scientific studies confirm that elk, deer, bears, mountain goats, bighorn sheep and trout do much better in areas away from active roads. They grow bigger, live longer and reproduce more effectively. This is not under debate. People who contest it will probably also argue that cigarette smoke is good for you.”
Wray added this observation: “We hunters are the NRA’s mice. They want lots of us, too, but they worry because there’s always the outside chance we might start thinking for ourselves. So they keep us scared of enemies, or people they want us to think are enemies. Then we dutifully cough up money to help fight those enemies. Think about it. When was the last time you heard of a mouse actually helping a snake?”
Wray defended his remarks in an interview with Gun Week.
“I’m thoroughly disappointed in them,” he said. “I’m very interested in protecting the future of hunting and I think NRA’s actions are pointed in a different direction.”
Wray, whose columns appeared in two Oregon newspapers, but have since been widely circulated over the Internet, insisted that he thinks hunters should join the NRA, to affect change from within. That’s why, he said, that he clings to his membership.
“I believe in what the NRA does on behalf of gun ownership,” he stressed. “I think I can be much more effective working from the inside.”
He told Gun Week that prior to writing both columns, he contacted the NRA to find out if their position on opening up roadless areas had changed since it became a lightning rod issue under former NRA President Kayne Robinson two years ago.
“Had the NRA folks told me that ‘we don’t support this or we have changed direction on this,’ those two columns would never have been written,” he said, “but that’s not what they told me.”
Wray said he has wrestled with this issue because he is very divided, philosophically.
“It’s been an interesting and difficult situation for me,” he explained. “On the one hand, I believe strongly in the NRA and I think they’ve done a great job in so many ways for the Second Amendment…(But) my passion is hunting and I will not stand by and allow people to work in essence against the benefit of hunters and hunting. I’ve got to raise my voice.”
In his follow-up column, Wray offered advice to hunters on how to protect hunting.
“If you are a hunter and not an NRA member, join,” he wrote. “And then raise hell. Let the leadership know that protecting our right to bear arms is not enough. We hunters expect them to protect our wildlife and wild lands as well. If NRA leaders prove unequal to the task, we will need to force them to get out of the hunting business and drop their charade…
“Look around as well for organizations you know are working for our wild lands and wildlife. These include Trout Unlimited, the National Wildlife Federation, Audubon Society, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Wilderness Society.
“Don’t hesitate to explore outfits like the Sierra Club,” he added. “Yes, I know, some Sierra Club chapters have a history of taking part in anti-hunting activities, and because the chapters are essentially autonomous, they may do so again. But the Sierra Club headquarters has embraced hunting and fishing in wild lands, and is actively reaching out to hunters in an effort to create alliances on behalf of wildlife habitat. Such alliances, even if they are short term and on an as-necessary basis, will be the salvation of hunting for our children and grandchildren. Hunters can be an effective political force, but when joined together with environmental and natural resource interest groups, we can be unstoppable…”
Wray v. NRA
Ironically, Wray was at the center of a controversy 18 months ago that set off a revolt in the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA), in an issue involving the Sierra Club. He, along with several other OWAA board members, sent a letter chastising then-NRA President Robinson over remarks Robinson made during a speech at the OWAA’s June 2004 annual conference in Spokane, WA. Robinson’s speech came during an NRA-sponsored breakfast. Wray is no longer on the OWAA board, as his term expired.
Wray insisted to Gun Week that his recent columns had nothing to do with the OWAA “brush fire.”
Robinson was critical of environmental groups, specifically the Sierra Club, for pushing efforts to restrict access to public lands, and for supporting anti-gun politicians. He also criticized fish and wildlife agencies for adopting complicated regulations that seem more designed to discourage people than encourage more fishing and hunting.
Wray authored the draft letter to Robinson that set off what many believe had been a “ticking bomb” of disagreement within OWAA over what allegedly was a left-leaning, environmentalist-driven tilt of the organization’s leadership over the past few years. Nearly 500 OWAA members, including several past presidents, signed a letter of protest over the OWAA Board’s action.
This set off a philosophical war within the OWAA as board members defended their rebuke of Robinson, while critics blasted them as arrogant.
The controversy eventually led scores of the nation’s top hunting and shooting writers to quit OWAA and form a new organization, the Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA) last year. Likewise, many of OWAA’s biggest industry supporters quit or simply did not renew their supporting memberships.
At the time the OWAA revolt erupted, Wray was quoted by the Washington Post criticizing the NRA for not pushing hard enough to protect wildlife habitat, while it fought the gun rights battle.
His opinion hasn’t changed, and he accused the NRA of having a “conflict of interest.”
“I believe the NRA is in a position of conflict of interest,” he said. “In their single-minded efforts to protect the Second Amendment and gun ownership rights they are orienting themselves with people who are guaranteed to support gun ownership but who have no feeling for the land.”
Of the NRA’s approach to hunters, Wray told Gun Week, “I don’t like their jingoistic, lowest common denominator approach to things. I think they tend to reach out to folks in ways that are demeaning, simplistic and often inaccurate…I think in a lot of ways, the NRA would avoid reaching out to make friends and allies because I think in a lot of ways, the NRA likes enemies more.”
If it’s enemies Wray is concerned about, reaction to his first column by activists on the KABA forum indicate he’s made a few of his own.
One KABA writer stated, “If it weren't for the NRA this bozo would be hunting with an atlatl,” a reference to an ancient hunting weapon.
Another argued, “This ‘Sportsman’ ignores a number of items. If it were not for the efforts by the NRA in Shooting Range development, he wouldn’t have a place to site in his gun. If it were not for the efforts of the NRA, he wouldn’t have a gun to hunt with as it would have been banned as being a ‘High Power Sniper Weapon.’ If it were not for the efforts of the NRA, he wouldn’t have ammunition to hunt with as it would have been banned as being ‘Armor Piercing Ammo.’ If it were not for the efforts of the NRA, he wouldn’t have a place to hunt or seasons to hunt in as they would have been eliminated courtesy of the anti’s. This moron isn't worthy of smelling the NRA’s (flatulence).”
A third correspondent noted, “Sounds like this letter was a plant from an anti-gun source attempting to divide and disrupt the pro-gun cause with the usual BS about ‘NRA too political.’ Politics is where our gun rights will stand or fall and the NRA must be supported by all. NRA ‘prayer meeting’ with Bush last year no doubt led to (the “Assault Weapons Ban’s) timely demise prior to the election.”
“I’ve lost track how many ‘hunters’ tell me they ‘understand’ the ‘need’ for waiting periods, background checks (which are actually permission checks and quasi registration), gun licensing, machine gun bans, sporting purpose test, and on and on,” wrote one observer.
And another concluded, “When the author is no longer able to hike in to get a deer, maybe he will appreciate the NRA supporting motorized access. Hunters seldom bother to get involved in legislative or political action to protect gun rights unless it is strictly a hunting issue. Maybe that is why pro-gun activists depend more on concealed weapon and cowboy action shooters. Things are run by those who show up, and fewer hunters are showing up.”
While Wray’s column incited many activists, at least one was more critical of the NRA, noting, “I am a life member of NRA and intend to remain so, but their fundraising efforts fall on deaf ears because too often I have seen the money spent on ‘political correctness’.”
Wray told Gun Week that at this point, “I’ve said pretty much what I had to say about the NRA. I don’t intend to stay after them constantly. I am hoping that both within and without the NRA there will be a movement to eliminate the conflict of interest we talked about.”