Blood Lust and Bragging Rights

Which organization is the greatest threat to the Second Amendment, the anti-gun Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence or Idaho’s pro-gun Sportsmen for Wildlife?

This might seem like a stupid question until you learn that the Idaho organization recently held three “predator derbies” in which competitors vied to see who could slaughter the most wolves over a two-day period. Similar assaults on wildlife occur in other western states. In Alaska “sportsmen” gun down wolves from airplanes.

The wanton slaughter of wildlife for the fun of killing creates hostility toward firearms among the general public. After all the effort environmentalists made to reintroduce wolves into natural habitat, the wolf killing competitions can’t go down very well with millions of Americans.

Trophy hunters, who kill polar bears with high-powered rifles (from safe distances of course), also contribute to anti-gun attitudes. A large percentage of the American population cannot empathize with the thrill of killing a magnificent animal. Many Americans have an aversion to people who get their jollies by murdering animals. Banning guns becomes a way to protect wildlife. People who love their pets have empathy for animals and none for hunters.

We need the Second Amendment for our own protection and for our constitutional rights. If one right can be taken away or marginalized with regulation, so can all other rights. Americans are going to have a difficult time holding on to the Second Amendment. An armed population is not compatible with the police state that President Bush and the Republicans created and that President Obama and the Democrats have ratified.

The danger to the Second Amendment is great enough without waving wildlife slaughter in the public’s face. The National Rifle Association and wildlife slaughter groups need to exercise judgment and not go out of the way to inflame feelings against guns. Recently while visiting a friend, I happened by chance to see a segment of a hunting experience on the television hunting channel, sponsored, I believe, by the NRA. A man and his wife or girlfriend were after a beautiful 8-point stag. When the woman “harvested” the deer, she jumped with joy and flung her arms around her man. It made even my friend, a hardened gun-nut, cringe at the joy she experienced from killing a beautiful animal.

According to my friend, hunting is not supposed to be an indulgence in blood lust. Bringing home venison as an alternative to factory farming’s beef, pork, and fowl pumped full of antibiotics and hormones is one thing. To search out a magnificent animal for the fun of killing it is another.

The main reason for the hunt is bragging rights. A couple of years ago my friend took me to his gun club to fire an antique Winchester rifle like the ones in the cowboy movies of my youth. A club member was trying to sight-in a .375 H&H magnum big game rifle. His shoulder was taking a terrible punishment, so much so that he was flinching every time he fired.  Flinching was throwing him off and he couldn’t get a group in order to know how to adjust his sights.

I engaged him in conversation and learned that he had been goaded by his friends into keeping up with them competitively by going to Africa and killing a lion. He had booked a trip and paid $25,000 for the experience of shooting a lion, but his heart was no longer in it. He had made his deposit before he learned that the way lions are hunted today is devoid of valid bragging rights.

No one is on foot in the veldt with a double-barreled rifle taking the risk of missing or encountering a pride. Here is the way modern big game hunting works. First, he said, you go shoot a hippopotamus. The beast is cut up and the chunks are hung from trees or posts. The hunter ascends to a platform 20 feet off the ground and 50 or 60 yards from the hanging hypo meat and waits for the lion. When the lion rears up for the meat, the hunter fires.

While recounting the procedure, he looked sheepish and regretful. I have often wondered if he went through with the trip or gave up being an equal among his great white hunter associates.

Many hunters understand that predators are essential to healthy ecosystems and are as averse to slaughtering predators as members of Defenders of Wildlife, who are thrilled by the sight and presence of wild animals. These mindful hunters understand that inhumane wolf slaughter competitions threaten the public’s acceptance of hunting and guns as well as the health of deer and elk populations.

The U.S. Forest Service is, alas, showing poor judgment on a par with the organizers of predator derbies. This government agency is fast-tracking oil-drilling in the Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming. The Shoshone is home to endangered grizzly bears, lynx, and wolf. But the Forest Service thinks that the profits of an oil driller are more important than the health of what might be the last complete natural ecosystem in the 48 states.

This raises the question whether government does protect the environment. The George W. Bush administration seems to have cleaned all environmentalists out of the Forest Service and the EPA, just as it banished civil libertarians and constitutionalists from the Department of Justice (sic) and its appointments list to federal judgeships. As far as I can tell, Obama has taken no corrective measures.

During the 1980s it was an article of faith among conservatives and Republicans, usually the same, that environmentalists ran the government and were destroying the economy. There is no sign of that now. Alaska is faced with a new round of oil drilling in pristine areas. The initial oil onslaught on Alaska was done in the name of “energy independence.”  But it was a lie. The oil is “heavy oil,” unsuited for the American refineries. It is exported to Japan.

In Florida I have watched developers, aided and abetted by state and county governments and Florida’s Department of Environmental Policy, destroy the environment and a way of life. Now the beautiful beaches of the Florida panhandle with their clear water and white sands are threatened by Texas oil man M. Lance Phillips.

Mr. Phillips wants Florida panhandle residents to give up their tourist economy, their beautiful beaches and water, the values of their beachside homes, their beautiful view of the Gulf of Mexico and its extraordinary sunsets in order that he can make profits by despoiling the views, the sunsets, the beaches, the water, and the value of residents’ properties by placing his platforms and oil rigs in the Florida Gulf. They will be just three miles offshore, he says, which is in plain view and just perfect for ruining everything.

Mr. Phillips has a stable of minions, and they are at work holding staged “debates” in which they promise a New Florida Economy, jobs, and no oil spills.

It is not clear who can stop him. Not the Republican governor or the Republican members of the legislature. These “representatives of the people” are already in his pocket.

The only hope is the seaside developments that the developers have built.  Destin, Florida, would be destroyed if offshore Destin looked like offshore Texas or Louisiana.

In South Walton county, upscale Gulf front developments such as Seaside, site of the movie “The Truman Show,” and Rosemary Beach might have some clout with Florida’s government. Perhaps the best hope is St. Joe, the former paper company, which owns one million acres in the Florida panhandle including miles of beach front. Driven into the real estate business by environmentalists opposed to its paper mill at Port St. Joe, this company has been the 800 pound gorilla of panhandle politics.

It is ironic, isn’t it, that those who care about the beauty of where they live and the livelihood that this beauty provides are now dependent for its defense on the real estate developers who first assaulted the undisturbed beauty of the Florida panhandle.

PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS was an editor of the Wall Street Journal and an Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.  His latest book, HOW THE ECONOMY WAS LOST, has just been published by CounterPunch/AK Press. He can be reached at:

Paul Craig Roberts is a former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury and Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal. Roberts’ How the Economy Was Lost is now available from CounterPunch in electronic format. His latest book is The Neoconservative Threat to World Order.