WASHINGTON – The days are growing colder, and soon millions of American hunters will pursue a time-honored tradition. They will load their automatic weapons with armor-piercing bullets, strap on silencers, head off to the picnic grounds on nearby public lakes – and start shooting.
If you do not immediately recognize this pastime as part of America’s heritage, then you are sadly out of step with the current Republican majority in Congress. On Tuesday, a House panel takes up the “Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act of 2017,” which promises “to protect and enhance opportunities for recreational hunting, fishing and shooting.”
Among these recreational enhancements:
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▪ Allowing people to bring assault guns and other weapons through jurisdictions where they are banned.
▪ Rolling back decades-old regulations on the use of silencers.
▪ Protecting the use of armor-piercing bullets.
▪ Easing importation of foreign-made assault rifles.
▪ Protecting the practice of baiting birds with grain as they migrate and then mowing them down.
The House Natural Resources Committee was to have had a hearing on the bill in June, before the baseball-practice shooting that seriously wounded House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) led to its cancellation.
But the National Rifle Association was not to be denied. In a statement last week, the gun lobby’s director applauded the revival of the bill, which, he said, “will protect America’s hunters and recreational shooters and help preserve our outdoor heritage.” Among the GOP witnesses for Tuesday’s “recreational shooter” hearing: Stephen Halbrook, author of a book that draws parallels between the current gun-control debate and Nazis’ disarmament of Jews.
The bill, notably, has not been embraced by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, and it is likely to draw a lot of opposition from Democrats. Clearly, both groups are dominated by elites who do not understand the joy of pheasant hunting with tungsten-tipped bullets. Allow me to explain.
Consider Title XV of the sportsmen’s bill, also known as the “Hearing Protection Act,” which makes it easier for gun owners to buy silencers for their weapons. The uninformed might suspect that silencers are used by people who want to fire weapons without being caught by cops or observed by witnesses. But more and more hunters are finding that conventional earplugs and muffs are not adequate for today’s weapons – for example, quail hunting with an M777 howitzer or grouse hunting with an FIM-92 Stinger missile launcher.
Sportsmen are further protected by a “Destruction of Records” provision requiring the government to delete silencer sale and transfer information. For obvious reasons, law-abiding hunters would not want silencer purchases to be logged. Such a paper trail would be an obvious tip-off to game animals, particularly those, such as the white-tailed deer, with access to the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record.
Title XVI of the bill, the “Lawful Purpose and Self-Defense Act,” denies the government authority to reclassify bullets as “armor piercing ammunition.” It’s OK if the ammunition pierces body armor, as long as the manufacturer claims the ammo is meant to be used for sport and not for killing people wearing body armor. This provision is particularly timely because a growing percentage of Western grizzlies have been seen in recent years wearing Kevlar vests when they attack schools in Wyoming.
I take personal comfort in Title XI of the sportsmen’s bill, which says that if you can legally own a gun in states with anything-goes gun laws (such as Texas), you can transport that gun through places with restrictive laws (such as Washington, D.C.). People could be free to take their AR-15s, their AK-47s or perhaps even their M134 machine guns to the capital. They wouldn’t be allowed to leave them here, but it’s likely some would do so anyway – a welcome development, because I have discovered a population of moles burrowing in my lawn. A weapon that fires 100 rounds a minute would make quick work of them.
Title V, the “Farmer and Hunter Protection Act,” would enhance hunters’ enjoyment (and farmers’ finances) by allowing them to lure migrating birds to certain fields where crops have not been harvested – and shoot them. Those “Sportsmen” who find this unsporting could instead make their way to one of the recreational areas run by the Army Corps of Engineers, which receive 370 million visitors a year – and would receive armed visitors under Title III, the “Recreational Lands Self-Defense Act.”
The need for this is transparent. Suppose you are with your family, drinking beer on a pontoon boat on the lake, and another family’s boat bumps yours. Under current law, you have no recourse. But under this bill, you could settle things according to your sportsmen’s heritage, by raising your silencer-equipped assault gun and firing armor-piercing bullets at migratory birds.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.