Stop using hunters as an excuse for assault weapons

After the Parkland shooting Republicans biggest worry was about “trampling” the rights of gun owners. Specifically they wanted to shield hunters from the slightest hassle in getting a military weapon as fast as they want.

This rationale harkens back to an America that never really was. Even in 1955 only 10% of the population hunted. The numbers have been withering. Now it’s down to 5%. The vast majority of gun owners don’t hunt. Meanwhile, 30% of the population owns guns. The bigger reasons people are protection, fun and crime.

Still, politicians cling to hunters. So why do so many Republicans get so gung-ho about hunting? Hunting is the most socially acceptable of the three traditional reasons people say they need guns: defending yourself, defeating tyrants and killing deer.

The number of hunters keeps falling, down 8% in the last five years statistics are available, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Only 11.5 million Americans (5% of the adult population) hunted in 2016; nearly eight times as many Americans thought it was more fun to see living wildlife, instead of shooting it. (The industry trade group, the National Shooting Sports Foundation claims 18 million Americans hunt, which is about on par with tennis, but far less than the number who practice yoga or weight-lifting.)

The hunter excuse probably feels especially outdate to the generation of kids that attended the Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Hunting was most popular with the Baby Boomer generation and has been dying off ever since. Less than 1 in 20 16-24 year olds hunted deer in 2011; the highest rate was for 55-64, about 6% the last time the government released stats. Wisconsin hunters expect their rates will fall off a cliff (drop 28%) when Baby Boomers hit age 65.

Self-defense far surpasses hunting as the reason people say they want guns. Hunting? About the same people own handguns for the quaint pastime of collecting as hunting, according to a National Shooting Sports Foundation report.  Self-defense isn’t a very defensible political boat to ride in because study after study shows you’re more likely to hurt yourself or your family than to live out some action movie fantasy and defeat some bad guy.

When I analyzed handgun sales and crimes for Lawyers, Guns and Money about a decade ago I found what other researchers have found: there is about one handgun crime for every five handguns sold. So about 20% of handguns purchased end up in crime.

But instead of having arguments about what people actually do with guns–have fun shooting in the woods, deluding themselves about self-protection, or rob someone–we have these absurd arguments over whether Ted Nugent really needs an AR-15 to kill a deer.

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