By Pam Linn

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NRA wasting member dues on political fear campaigns

A guest column in the morning paper written by Pat Williams, a former congressman for Montana, decries the National Rifle Association’s move to the Far Right.

During his nine terms in the House of Representatives, Williams had a 100 percent voting record with the NRA.

“Not once did I vote for gun control. Not for the Brady Bill, nor ammunition registration, not for the assault weapons ban, nor any of the other futile attempts to fight crime by simply putting people’s name on a list.”

Williams notes the NRA endorsed him in all of his election campaigns. He is, however, remembered more for his considerable legislative efforts to improve game animal habitat in the West. He has been saddened and alarmed, he says, to watch the NRA’s “lurch toward the political Far Right.” Beginning in the 1980s, the association has done a disservice to both its members and the historic legacy of hunting and game habitat in the U.S. Far too much money (members’ dues) and time have been consumed in the “seemingly insatiable effort to elect candidates on the political fringe who also happen to oppose gun control.”

A case in point is the rush by some gun owners to stock up on assault weapons before they are banned by the NRA’s latest boogeyman, President-elect Barack Obama. Actually, as Williams cites in his column, Sen. John McCain, not Obama, has the record in Congress of voting for gun control, having supported registration at gun shows and a ban on assault weapons.

Who can say that the organization’s tactics haven’t benefited, at least, gun dealers? During the weeks prior to the presidential election, the shelves in local sporting goods stores were swept clean by those who believed that Obama would block gun sales. As if he would even be allowed by the Supremes. Last summer, the court overturned Washington D.C.’s 30-year-old ban on handguns within the district, spawning a nationwide run on concealed weapon permits.

The NRA’s primary focus should be on vastly improving game habitat, advancing hunting fair play and the safety of our youngest hunters, Williams says. Instead, the organization “has eagerly espoused the politics of resentment and become a pawn of one political party.”

Here in Montana, hunters and environmentalists seem to share equally the political heavy lifting required to secure wilderness, other wildlife habitat and access for hunting. In the same way, organizations such as Trout Unlimited have fought for clean water and access for fishing. I assume they don’t approve shooting fish in rain barrels.

This brings me to a more worthy cause to which the NRA might devote some of its considerable resources. Despite the efforts of smaller organizations, not much has come of proposals to protect condors and other raptors and scavengers from poisoning by lead ammunition.

It has been illegal to hunt ducks and other waterfowl with lead shot since 1991. But lead bullets are still preferred by many hunters of deer and upland game birds. California actually proposed a ban on hunting with lead ammo, but only in condor country. Tejon Ranch announced last year that licensed hunters who pay to hunt on their property would not be allowed to use lead ammo.

McCain’s state of Arizona has offered hunters coupons for free unleaded shells, a program that was popular last year, and has promoted education on incidental killing of nontarget species.

Lead bullets often explode on impact, scattering as many as 500 tiny fragments through the victim. Ravens and other scavengers feeding on carcasses and the gut piles from field-dressed deer and elk are sickened when they ingest the tiny shards.

Meanwhile, preliminary results of a study by a University of Montana graduate student suggest that lead bullets may be poisoning grizzly bears in the Yellowstone ecosystem.

Blood tests from 24 grizzlies showed elevated levels of lead in 13 during hunting season. Blood taken from 11 bears outside of hunting season were not contaminated with lead, which typically stays in the blood stream for about two weeks before it collects in organs and other tissues. The highest level of blood contamination in a grizzly was about 28 micrograms per deciliter. The threshold for human lead poisoning is 10 micrograms.

Lead fragments in elk, dear and other game have caused food banks in North Dakota to discard frozen carcasses and to refuse donations of game until the meat is deemed safe. At the present time, they are accepting only archery-killed deer. Officials have warned about eating venison killed with lead ammunition since spring, when a physician conducting tests using a CT scanner found lead in samples of donated meat. At a time of economic hardship when pantries that serve the poor are having trouble meeting demand, this can be tragic.

Why wouldn’t the NRA support these logical steps toward safer hunting practices instead of just saying No to any restriction on any type of guns and ammunition? What good is political clout if it isn’t used to protect the public instead of inflaming irrational fears?

Williams was right to remind NRA members of wasteful spending of dues on politics and “useless protest campaigns like that of Charlton Heston’s ‘pry it from my cold dead fingers’ speech.”