Oh, don't get us wrong. If we had our way, there would be a lot fewer guns, and a lot fewer gun owners, in this country. That would be a natural effect of laws that required a demonstration of competence and concern for safety on the part of owners, as well as the modest rise in price associated with, say, RFID tags. For that matter, we think it is perfectly reasonable for municipalities, especially large ones, to devise regulations so strict that, basically, only law-enforcement professionals wind up able to own guns legally.
But that's not the same as rounding up all the guns and throwing them away. We actually wouldn't like that at all, and for a good reason. It's called hunting. And hunting is important.
Anybody who has ever lived in a wooded area understands why hunting is a good thing. Deer are the most widely hunted animals in North America, and when they are not hunted their populations explode. It is sad to see their dead bodies littering country highways, where they are killed by (and pose a grave danger to) motorists. It is even more sad, if you like animals, to hike through overpopulated areas and see deer in the wild. Too often, the lean and muscular creatures we remember from childhood have been replaced by scrawny, knock-kneed, malnourished little things that look lime they belong to some other species.
We've wiped out most of their natural predators, and moved into much of their habitat. Culling the herd is now our duty, and failing to cull deer is as inhumane as beating a dog or kicking a cat. Hunting isn't the only way to do it, but it is an old, traditional and deeply beloved way.
And there's the problem. American hunting has been in decline for decades. Although there has been a modest nationwide uptick over the last few years, the number of hunting licenses sold in Massachusetts is down 50% over 20 years; Pennsylvania is down 20%, and Michigan 301%. This is especially bad because hunting licenses often generate income for state conservation work. Worse than that, as a report by the National Shooting Sports Foundation summarizes it:
The national hunting base is aging, with fewer young hunters filling the gaps that older hunters create when they no longer hunt.Non-resident hunters, who generate more income for states and businesses, are older still.
Hunters are getting older and not replacing themselves, just like ... well, like churchgoers, coincidentally enough. Per the NSSF, in-state hunters average 41.2 years old, and men outnumber women by 9 to 1. Most churches would love to be this young, and at least a little more male than they are at the moment, but the problem is the same. We expect that it is shared with labor unions
But hunters have a bigger problem. To our surprise, it turns out that there are only about 3.5 million American hunters. This is truly shocking -- it's less than 1% of our population, and far fewer than the number of regular churchgoers. Hunters, all told, only make up a moderate-sized denomination.
We're not joking, here. Although we don't hunt personally (Dad didn't, so we never learned), we support the sport strongly, at least in principle. We sincerely hope that any future regulation on guns will be strict and wide-ranging -- but will also find ways to encourage the training and equipping of a new generation of hunters.