Thursday, July 5, 2012

For Shooting Trade, Trenton is Open for Business

Re (“Bill advances to permit real guns, not photos, at auctions for non-profit groups,” 11 June) and Blue Jersey

By Susan Russell

The Inquirer recently focused on New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney’s (D-Gloucester) Angler and Hunter Conservation Caucus for legislators and Camden Senator Donald Norcross’s sudden devotion to blood sports. The shooting caucuses are nationwide, and they are commercial.

At industry’s behest, Mr. Sweeney and other South Jersey, Norcross Machine Democrats have rammed a series of de-regulatory and “hunter access” bills through the Legislature, often at the expense of suburban and rural homeowners. Industry writes the model bills and cooperating legislators enact them.

The National Sportsmen’s Caucus “delivers returns on investments” to the National Rifle Association., the Archery Trade Association, Titanium, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (“the firearms industry trade association”), Safari Club International, Browning, ATK Federal Premium ammunition and others. [1] It is now calling the shots in Trenton and other state capitals.

Ammunition and firearms manufacturers have launched legislative and hunter “retention and recruitment” efforts in 39 states precisely because hunter-clients are sharply dwindling.[2] The goal is to bring “shooting and hunting close to population centers by making it easier” for clients to use their wares: Roll out of bed, step out the back door, and fire.

In 2007, the National Rifle Association in Fairfax, Virginia, and the National Shooting Sports Foundation in Newtown, Connecticut, contributed $6,000 and $1,500 respectively to New Jersey Senator Sweeney’s campaign.[3] The National Institute on Money in State Politics lists the NRA as a top contributor to Stephen Sweeney in 2007.[4] The Foundation and NRA were generous to Cape May Senator Jeff Van Drew.[5]

In 2008, Sweeney “delivered returns on investments” by forming the New Jersey Angler and Hunter Conservation Caucus. Sweeney’s caucus is part of the aforementioned National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses, which meets with its legislators in Trenton.[6] The national trade provides the legislative agenda, model bills, campaign position papers, political advisors, and “communications” or public relations support.

There is nothing “grassroots” about it.

For appearances, and at the same time, a political action committee and industry front that calls itself the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance emerged from the ether.

In 2010, Van Drew delivered his law that slashed home safety buffers for bow hunting from 450 to 150 feet in suburban and rural areas.

Despite sharply reduced numbers, and through Mr. Sweeney’s office, self-interests have purchased disproportionate and unprecedented power in the New Jersey Legislature.

As shooting, by design, encroaches into neighborhoods, it has become difficult for the majority of residents who do not hunt to avoid the disturbing sights, sounds, and risks of recreational killing, especially in previously off-limits suburbs.

“Something is seriously wrong, here,” wrote Rumson parents of young children when, as a result of Van Drew’s stripped safety buffer law, a hunter killed a deer in their suburban backyard. “Yet hunters can fire deadly weapons within 151 feet of our homes, send crazed and wounded animals onto our properties to leave behind pools of blood and state-of-the-art, designed-to-kill projectiles hidden amid the fallen leaves – all without notification.”[7] The bill drew fire from rural Millstone Township and the state’s largest newspaper. The town stated that it did not have a deer problem; it had a hunting problem.

The trade is not done yet. Crowning the caucus’s national agenda in New Jersey are several proposed constitutional amendments elevating hunting and trapping, privileges bestowed by society, to a constitutional right.

In practice, the legislation is intended to further abridge the genuine property rights of everyone else, and to effectively bar the majority from due process participation in wildlife laws and related land-use policy. Homeowner and local government objections to bows and guns too close for comfort, or enactment laws prohibiting cruel traps, for example, would be deemed “unconstitutional.”

If hunting is a “right,” the Archery Trade Association, not society, decides what is too close for comfort and appropriate. When the Reston, Virginia Homeowners Association acted against the use of deadly weapons directly adjacent to their houses and yards, the Archery Trade Association sued, and won.

The trade association’s message to affected local governments and homeowners: Tough luck.

“Local authorities cannot stop citizens from bow hunting deer on their property when hunting itself is a right conferred by the state’s Constitution” boasted the Archery Trade Association. “Maybe now they’ve learned they can’t make laws just because they don’t like bow hunting . . . when local groups or local governments force bow hunters to restore their rights in court, it’s going to cost them.” That is the trade’s Hunter Caucus in a nutshell, and that is who these legislators serve.

Something is indeed “seriously wrong here.” It is past time for the majority of responsible legislators who represent all citizens to stand up to the political bosses, both in, and out of, state.

[1] Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, “About Us,” (accessed June 2011).
[2] National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses, “2011 Issue Briefs,” (Accessed June 2011).
[3]National Institute on Money in State Politics, “Follow the Money,” (Accessed June 2012)
[4]National Institute,
[5]National Institute,
[7] Commentary, TWO RIVER TIMES, 3-10 Dec 2010

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