Hunters: Enforce current gun laws

Bill Carter sits on a metal folding chair on a sunny January afternoon at Riggles Gap Sportsmen’s Club with his .223-caliber AR-15 propped up on a table in front of him.

He adjusts the stock, pushes a camouflage National Rifle Association baseball cap off his forehead and leans in, his left hand grasping the forward pistol grip as he sets crosshairs from a holographic scope on a target 25 yards away.

This rifle would’ve been illegal to buy under the 1994 federal assault weapons ban, he said.

Though not used for hunting, Carter said he owns guns for more than that and this particular one is “a lot of fun to shoot.” He also has a concealed-carry permit and often keeps a firearm in his vehicle.

Like many hunters, Carter said the implications of President Barack Obama’s 23 executive actions and other legislative proposals announced last week worry him. Any attempts to ban or limit certain firearms likely will be met with the same mixture of anger and distrust from sportsmen around the country, he said.

Most of the executive actions might seem routine.

For instance, No. 7 will launch a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign, No. 11 calls for the nomination of an Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms bureau director and No. 19 calls for an emergency response plan to be used in schools, churches and colleges.

But Obama also said he planned to introduce four legislative proposals to Congress.

The first is to reinstate the assault weapons ban and strengthen it with bans on magazines with more than 10 rounds and armor-piercing bullets.

Obama also wants a crackdown on people who purchase guns for others, so-called “straw purchasers.”

Lastly, he wants to require criminal background checks for all gun sales – closing the longstanding “gun show loophole,” which made background checks optional for unlicensed or private sellers.

The problem, according to avid hunter and Mirror outdoors columnist Walt Young, is the laws won’t have an impact.

“It’s not going to do anything,” he said. “More laws and regulations aren’t going to make the world a better place.”

Hunters are quick to express sorrow for the events of Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo., but equally quick to point out that the person, and not the gun, should be demonized. Carter echoed a sentiment felt by many gun-rights activists: anything can be deadly if used incorrectly or in the wrong hands.

Carter, a 47-year veteran hunting safety instructor, said he worries that a future ban on weapons such as the one in his hands wouldn’t be limited to so-called “assault weapons” – a term many gun enthusiasts dislike – but eventually would extend to other firearms, including hunting rifles or crossbows.

Young said politicians have long been working to undermine the Second Amendment, starting with the 1968 Gun Control Act. “Gun rights have been taken away incrementally” since then, he said.

The act, among other things, banned direct-mail ordering of firearms and regulated certain firearms transfers under the Constitution’s interstate commerce clause.

“I am a responsible gun owner. … I get tired of this,” Young said.

Both men agreed that much of the gun control debate is spurred on by politicians who don’t understand the value of gun ownership or hunting.

Mark Luke, a fellow hunting safety instructor, said he helps to organize a Keystone Sportsmen for Youth field day every year to promote outdoor recreation and natural resource preservation and to teach future generations of hunters about everything from firearms to fishing to archery.

About 200 kids show up each year, he said, and restrictive laws would hamper his ability to teach kids not to fear weapons but to have a healthy respect for what they can do and how hunters can educate themselves to preserve what’s around them to be enjoyed for decades.

Young said no one understands the sanctity of life better than a hunter because “even the cleanest, most humane shot” still is taking a life, he said. He held his thumb and forefinger mere centimeters apart before adding, “Killing is about that much of what hunting is about.”

“We care about conservation first,” he said, and without deer or trout, there would be nothing to hunt or fish.

Taxes on purchases like guns, fishing equipment and licenses help go toward wildlife preservation in the area, including cleaning streams and reintroducing dwindling species, Young said.

Carter said it would upset him if legislators punished hunters and responsible handgun owners for the actions of cowards and mass murderers. That’s not the answer, he said.

“If they just enforced the laws we have now, that’d be all you’d have to do,” Carter said.

Mirror Staff Writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.