When it comes to political discourse and campaign rhetoric on Second Amendment Rights, there are two events that have shaped the current landscape more than any others: the 1994 mid term elections and the 2000 Presidential election. In 1994, gun owners turned out in record numbers to send a message to the Clinton Administration that the gun bans and the anti-gun laws they had pursued were unacceptable. And in 2000, Vice President Al Gore lost because his position on guns was unacceptable to voters in states that had been reliable for his party for decades.
The result was a watershed change in American politics, and a change in the way many anti-gun politicians campaign. Rather than talk openly about their desire to ban guns, register gun owners and regulate firearms sales, anti-gun politicians talk about their “support” for sportsmen. Rather than admit they oppose the individual right protected by the Second Amendment, they claim they “support firearms ownership for hunting.”
This is all an effort to mislead and divide the gun owning community and to dilute gun owners’ political impact. Anti-gun activists want to ensure that 1994 and 2000 never happen again. To achieve their goals they have created new organizations with names designed to confuse gun owners and hide the real agenda. The American Hunters and Shooters Association (AHSA) is one of those groups.
AHSA was created with the specific intent to provide political cover for anti-gun politicians by allowing them to claim support from a “sportsmen’s” group. In truth, the anti-gun credentials of AHSA’s leadership is well documented. For instance, AHSA president Ray Schoenke has a long history of giving political donations to some of the most anti-gun politicians, including Al Gore, John Kerry, Barbara Boxer, Bill Clinton, Dianne Feinstein and Ted Kennedy. In 2000, Schoenke donated $5,000 to Handgun Control, Inc. (now the Brady Campaign) and the Ray and Holly Schoenke Foundation also made donations to the Brady Campaign. AHSA Board member John Rosenthal remains the leader of Stop Handgun Violence, the Massachusetts anti-gun group. And one of the leading organizers of AHSA is Bob Ricker, who has been a paid expert witness against gun manufacturers in a number of reckless lawsuits. (For more information, see Anti-Gunners Don Camo As Elections Loom.)
AHSA’s political activities are predictable when you consider its primary goals are to discredit the NRA and advance the interests of anti-gun politicians. AHSA's first effort was in the 2006 Missouri Senate race. AHSA used direct mail to mislead sportsmen and distort the landmark work NRA was doing to protect millions of acres of wetlands in Missouri. While NRA was working with legislators to protect the 100-year flood plain in Missouri from development and ensure that land would be available to hunters, AHSA produced direct mail falsely claiming the NRA had “sold out hunters” so that they could mislead sportsmen into voting for anti-gun candidate Claire McCaskill (See Who Needs Another Alternative To NRA for more information.) Unfortunately, AHSA’s lies were at least partly to blame for McCaskill’s election and the loss of Sen. Jim Talent, a valuable friend of gun owners and sportsmen.
While the NRA counts membership in the millions, AHSA can only claim a few hundred members and has done nothing to advance the issues important to sportsmen. On top of that, in its first foray into Second Amendment issues, AHSA chose to stand alongside one of the leading anti-gun politicians in America: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. AHSA supported Bloomberg’s effort to repeal the law that protects confidential law enforcement data from disclosure that threatens the privacy of gun owners and the safety of law enforcement officers—all so that Bloomberg could use the information in reckless lawsuits against the firearms industry (for more information, see: The "Tiahrt Amendment" on Firearms Traces: Protecting Gun Owners' Privacy and Law Enforcement Safety). By standing with Bloomberg, AHSA President Ray Schoenke made his claims that “we are a gun rights organization” impossible to defend.
AHSA has also attempted to use the District of Columbia v. Heller case as an opportunity to create false pro-gun credentials, but its effort reveals the group’s real agenda. In its friend of the court brief—ostensibly in support of the challenge to D.C.’s gun ban—AHSA claims to support the individual rights interpretation of the Second Amendment, but a complete reading shows a different story. The AHSA brief actually makes the case that the D.C. gun ban is mainly improper because D.C. is not a state, and the gun ban has not been authorized by Congress, saying “as a federal district, D.C. enjoys none of the indicia of statehood absent congressional legislation to the contrary and, therefore, basic notions of federalism cannot logically or semantically apply to the District.”
If AHSA’s position were adopted, it would strengthen the ability of states to pass more restrictive gun laws and lessen the impact of a pro-Second Amendment ruling in any of the fifty states. Unsurprisingly, in its conclusion, the brief states:
The argument advanced by [AHSA] would in no way prevent the D.C. Council from enacting reasonable regulations relating to possession, safety, and registration of firearms in the District. Indeed, it has a responsibility to the public to do so. [AHSA believes] that the District’s Gun Law was a laudable effort.
“Reasonable regulations,” “a responsibility to the public to do so,” a “laudable effort”?
No organization that claims the D.C. gun ban is a “laudable effort” or claims the gun regulations supported by the D.C. Council are “reasonable” can be described as pro-Second Amendment by any stretch of the imagination. And the claim that the gun ban’s primary flaw is that is was not enacted by a state eliminates any doubt that AHSA opposes a true individual right to keep and bear arms. If AHSA’s view were adopted, states would largely not be subject to the ruling—and to the extent they were, would not be prevented from enacting a broad range of laws as “reasonable regulations.” In fact, they would say, it would be their “responsibility to the public to do so.”
AHSA would be more correctly called the “American Association for the Protection of Anti-Gun Politicians.” No gun owner or sportsman should fall prey to its carefully crafted lies and deceptions.