Nearly two years ago, Walter Palmer killed a lion bestowed with a name—Cecil. For a while, much of the hunting world, particularly hunting iconic African big game, imploded as if into a death star. For months, people uninformed about lion hunting—who never heard of the Hwange Game Park and who couldn’t find Zimbabwe on a map—issued death threats to Palmer on social media, threatened his business, condemned hunting and raised fortunes for predatory, opportunistic animal-activist groups. Drenched in ignorance and energized by a sense of moral superiority and the need to feel good, they were unmoved by the negative consequences their demands would have inflicted. Unleashing a flash-mob of hatred and intimidation, they professed to value life.
Another Cecil-esque event will occur again, either by the act of a hunter or by an event orchestrated by an anti-hunter in a propaganda hit. We must be prepared to mobilize. I offer eight strategies for crafting our defenses.
Strategy 1: Understand the Moral and Intellectual Terrain. As the NRA explains, American hunters are in a culture war against extremists who do not value reason, logic or consequences. Anti-hunters’ ignorance facilitates self-righteousness. Hunters view defending hunting and conservation as a chess game winnable through reasoning. Consequently, hunters over-value truth and facts and often see the battle through a narrow lens that stifles a comprehensive understanding of hunting’s opponents. We tend to ignore the complexity of human nature, from its need to feel morally superior to its lust for easy solutions and the pervasiveness of predatory opportunistic greed. Anti-hunters are motivated by the opportunity to advance anti-human and anti-conservation ideologies. Hunters are motivated by fact-based speeches and articles by noted hunter-conservationists and the research of NRAHLF.org contributors such as South Africa’s Ron Thomson. Anti-hunters disregard all of this.
In his “Four Quartets,” T. S. Eliot wrote, “Human kind cannot bear very much reality.” Eliot is partially correct. Reality impedes ideological advancement. Anti-hunters grasp this truth; the hunting community does not.
Strategy 2: Use Social Media More Effectively. The modern social-media era presents a complex battleground as hunters are increasingly attacked. It has exposed the hunting community’s tendency to be complacent, unable to present a unified front and, worse, to lack confidence. An example: Powerful forces in the hunting community turned on Palmer before the facts were known. Remember: We must fight fire with fire. A picture is worth a thousand words for us, too. Highlight the consequences paid by entire African communities where children have no clean water or food. Show the decapitated rhinos killed by poachers with a caption, “This is what hunting bans cause!” Illustrate anti-hunters’ vulgar vitriol.
Strategy 3: Shed Our Delusions. While attending a meeting during the 2017 SCI Convention, one statement troubled me. Citing the Cecil scenario, someone said, “The world will not tolerate unethical behavior.” I disagreed. There is no world in any unified sense. The world is incapable of distinguishing ethical from unethical behavior. The Cecil scenario proved my point—not the speaker’s. A hunting community that seeks to appease “the world” and believes it will embrace hunting if hunters are universally ethical will fail. It is delusional to believe well-funded anti-hunting groups and European and American NGOs will accept elephant, rhino and leopard hunting or that they will remove ivory and rhino-horn trade bans once they know the facts. They know what we know. They read the data. They don’t care. They make money based on different arguments. The result: Many of the world’s hunting regions, such as African nations, are being dictated to by people who pay no consequences for being wrong.
Strategy 4: Shift the Paradigm. Focus less on the virtues of hunting and more on the arrogant and deceitful character of those that oppose hunting. Extolling hunting’s conservation virtues is a necessary but insufficient process to persuade the vast middle ground.
For example, we know from studying the facts regarding Cecil and the black rhino hunting auction orchestrated by the Dallas Safari Club that hunting saves animals and people. No rational human being can morally refute these claims, yet such hunting is opposed. Who rejects a rhino hunt knowing that many young rhinos would be saved? Who demands a ban on rhino-horn trade knowing that the result is more poaching, more rhino deaths and more hunger for local populations? Highlight this! Data puts people to sleep. Mutilated animals inspire people to fight those who enable the mutilation.
Paraphrasing Winston Churchill, we know that those who choose animal protection over animal conservation will get neither. We know that the “feelings” business is profitable—the thinking business not so much.
Strategy 5: Focus on the Proper Audience. NRAHLF.org contributor Mark Damian Duda of Responsive Management estimates that 60 to 80 percent of the population is non-committal regarding hunting. Translation: Most of these people can be reached by ethical arguments. Our strategy should be to refute anti-hunters, not expecting to change their minds but rather to persuade those in the middle. As NRA EVP Wayne LaPierre said, the vast majority is on our side.
Strategy 6: Seek Legislation and Enforcement. We must develop strategies, including legal action, to combat the extreme anti-hunters’ sadistic fetish for violence and intimidation. Civil and criminal legal action should be taken in extreme cases by skilled lawyers. We should lobby state legislators to pass legislation assessing criminal and civil liability against those who make credible threats, whether in person or through cyberspace, against hunters, their families and their businesses.
Strategy 7: Don’t Avoid the Fight. Many hunters maintain a low profile when confronted by anti-hunters. Our strategy should be to make anti-hunting extremists pay a price for their misinformation, greed, narcissism and the unethical consequences of their beliefs. Avoidance is interpreted as weakness, and weakness invites aggression. Nature’s one constant is life-and-death brutality. The mountain lion does not co-habit with the whitetail deer, waiting for a dinner of locally-sourced, gluten-free, organic steamed broccoli.
Strategy 8: Unify with a Central Resource. Our focus must be on persuasion—not the same as spewing data. We must use people who are intellectually agile enough to deconstruct future anti-hunting attacks in concise, simple language. We must highlight the anti-hunters’ lack of morality and the consequences of their policies. We must craft arguments that align the virtues of wildlife conservation with human enrichment. We must give ourselves the words to fight back, starting with taking advantage of the articles posted on NRAHLF.org that provide sound talking points while telling the positive stories about what we hunters do for conservation—and where our hard-earned dollars go.
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About the Author Michael Sabbeth is a lawyer, writer lecturer and consultant in Denver, Colo. Please see his book, The Good, The Bad & The Difference: How to Talk with Children About Values, available at Amazon.com.