Gun violence is a divisive issue in America, but one gun-related trend has become clear over the last 30 years: Fewer Americans hunt.
Corporations that make guns and hunting accessories are busy trying to fight this trend and get members of Congress to promote hunting by arming them with specious arguments about the right to bear arms. But Americans outside the Beltway get the absurdity—the 2nd Amendment was drafted to defend citizens against a government gone haywire, not against ducks and deer.
Consider what new Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanJuan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Cheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' Cheney allies flock to her defense against Trump challenge MORE (R-Wis.) says of a pathetic little group in Congress called the "Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus": "It's about protecting our rights, our habitat, and our access." For him to imply that hunters are victims is absurd, and he is far too clever to believe it himself.
Perhaps we might learn something about members' motivation from revelations like this: In April 2013, Ryan cosponsored HR 322, a pro-hunting bill that the Safari Club International (SCI) wanted passed. Just 5 legislative days after doing what SCI wanted, Ryan accepted a $1,000 check from SCI. The House Ethics Committee is being asked to investigate this seeming transaction and others like it in which gun and hunting industry corporations give cash to members' re-election campaigns in order to get what they want.
SCI couldn't be further from American public opinion. SCI promotes the killing of the "Big Five" species (elephants, rhinos, leopards, Cape buffalo, and lions), which requires no skill, just deep pockets and the ability to squeeze a trigger. Walter Palmer, the dentist who murdered the beloved lion Cecil, was a member, as was German entrepreneur Rainer Schorr, who shot the biggest elephant seen in Zimbabwe in decades. It's less of a sport than a pathology: "Big Five" hunting, like sex tourism, enables men to fulfill dark empowerment fantasies that hurt victims on foreign soil.
But the above-mentioned "Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus" is not much better. Do most Americans even want this caucus to exist? Do we want our national leaders supporting a hobby that teaches children to kill others? It is this lack of empathy that PETA works to counter: Whenever hunters accidentally get shot, PETA contacts them and asks them to realize that the animals they hunt experience the same thing or worse and encourages them to rediscover the empathy that got buried within them when someone taught them to hunt.
The panicky last gasps of the hunting industry can also be seen in the "right to hunt" amendments that it has been sending to state legislatures in hopes of protecting hunting despite public opinion against it.
Does Ryan's support for hunting represent his home state of Wisconsin? Not really, 2014 Wisconsin hunting license sales were the lowest since 1976. It’s not even accurate to say that he's representing most members of Congress. Many members in both chambers and both parties work hard on behalf of their constituents to protect animals by getting the federal government to hold animal abusers accountable and ensure that the Animal Welfare Act is enforced.
A practicing Catholic, Ryan's bloodlust is also contrary to many Americans' religious beliefs, including his own. His church clearly dictates that we should respect creation, not destroy it, and Pope Francis has condemned violence on numerous occasions. Yet Ryan frequently cites his faith during political discourse.
Ryan's zeal for hunting isn't even representative of conservative values. Hunting celebrates death, exposes children to gun violence and wastes millions of taxpayer dollars every year through the bloated U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its state agencies. And the U.S. taxpayer foots the bill.
Americans hate oppressors, and hunting epitomizes oppression: the powerful ganging up on the weak. A wise elected official would recognize that it's not just human beings who have a right to fair treatment and protection from cruelty.
Americans across the political spectrum have a right of their own: the right to be disappointed that Speaker Ryan would ignore public sentiment, take SCI's money and do SCI's bidding. I join the millions of Americans who hope he will stop doing the hunting industry's bidding and shift his support away from the cruel blood sport.
Newkirk is the president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.