Guest Commentary

American Hunters and Shooters Association Responds to its Critics

AHSA says ignore NRA-generated attacks and concentrate on common sense gun laws and conserving wildlife habitat.

By American Hunters and Shooters Association Advisory Board, 9-19-08

  AHSA President Ray Schoenke (left) and the AHSA Advisory Board (From lett, Bruce Smith, Barry Smith, David Stevens, Mike Mowbary, and Jody Powell) on a weekend dove hunt. Photo courtesy of AHSA.

Editor’s Note: If you visit NewWest.Net regularly, you know I’ve frequently written about the gun issue, the National Rifle Association (NRA), and the rival organization, the American Hunters and Shooters Association (AHSA). Every time I mention AHSA, commenters claim the group is nothing but a front for anti-gun groups or the ultra-liberal wing of the Democratic Party, or both. To address these concerns, I asked the ASHA to respond in detail to these claims. The Advisory Board of the AHSA prepared the following guest commentary exclusively for NewWest.Net.--Bill Schneider

The recent national Slash and Burn: Why Does the National Rifle Association Leadership Support Congress’s Biggest Opponents of Conservation?”, a report prepared by the American Hunters and Shooters Association (AHSA) to shed light on NRA’s dismal conservation record, has once again fired up the old McCarthy-style, NRA-attack machine.

Rather than question the accuracy of the report, AHSA critics, once again dredge up old character attacks of AHSA leadership and guilt by association innuendo. In the past the AHSA leadership has not responded to the ridiculous NRA attacks, but now may be the best time to publicly respond to the absurd allegations that many NRA apologists on the internet feel compelled to repeat.

Quite simply, the NRA has lost touch with American hunters and shooters.  What was once a mainstream organization that represented the views of a majority of gun owners has lost its way. Had NRA been fulfilling its stated responsibility there would be no need for an alternative organization like AHSA.

The NRA leadership knows we are right and that is why their attacks are based upon half-truths, innuendo and character assassination. That being said, let’s look at some hard facts.

Ray Schoenke, AHSA president, has been a gun owner and avid hunter all his life. He has been fortunate enough to have hunted all over the world. He owns a 300-acre hunting farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and is an outspoken advocate for preserving and protecting our precious wild resources. His notable professional football career with the Washington Redskins in the 1960s and 1970s as well as his success in building a multi-million dollar insurance business opened doors for Ray in the powerful world of Washington DC politics. Washington DC policy makers, including two presidents, have sought Ray’s counsel on conservation and business issues.

Critics say that Ray is anti-gun because he has made campaign contributions to some high profile Senate Democrats who are not considered pro-gun. What the critics don’t mention is that Ray has spent millions of his own dollars supporting pro-gun candidates like Congressman John Dingell, challenging Maryland’s notorious anti-gun governor Paris Glendenning, answering the call to serve on the governing board of the Civilian Marksmanship Program, serving on the transition team of Republican pro-gun Maryland governor Bob Ehrlich and, covering much of the start-up costs of AHSA.

Ray’s wife Nancy is also connected politically. Like many wives of gun owners she is an independent thinker and does not like guns. She took a seat on the board of the Brady Campaign but soon became frustrated with the group’s lack of progress. Ray told her that progress would not be made until gun owners were allowed to bring their common sense perspective to the table. As a result, Nancy closed the family checkbook, resigned from the Brady board, and encouraged Ray to start AHSA.

Bob Ricker, AHSA executive director, is a recognized expert on gun policy issues and the gun rights movement. He has served as a former assistant general counsel for NRA and top lobbyist for the firearm industry. From the nation’s capital to the west coast, Bob spent more than twenty years successfully representing gun makers and leading gun rights organizations before the United States Congress and various state legislatures.

Following in the traditions of the National Alliance of Stocking Gun Dealers (NASGD) Executive Director Bill Bridgewater and former Smith & Wesson CEO Ed Shultz, Ricker believes that the greatest threat to gun rights could be found in the reluctance of the gun industry to clean up its own act. Ricker’s courage in speaking out for change led some extremists to attempt to intentionally distort his motives.

When many of the nation’s largest cities started suing the gun industry, Bob’s expertise was called upon to defend the industry despite the fact that he no longer worked for the gun-makers. As we all know, witnesses can face perjury charges if they do not tell the truth, and Bob’s testimony cut both ways. In some cases it helped the firearm industry; in some it hurt. Critics have tried to allege that Ricker’s testimony meant he was a turncoat.

The fact remains Ricker took an oath to tell the truth and some bad actors within the gun industry got hurt. That does not mean he’s anti-gun; it means he’s honest. Some also criticize the fact that like most expert witnesses involved in litigation he was paid a reasonable rate for his time spent on the case. What the critics won’t say is that Bob was paid the same rate by both the industry and the city plaintiffs for the time he spent in court.

Many of AHSA’s critics like to mention that John Rosenthal an AHSA founding board member was also the founder of Boston based Stop Handgun Violence, a gun violence prevention group that has advocated some of the nation’s strictest gun laws. John, an avid skeet shooter, came to the shooting world in an unusual way. He’s a very successful urban real estate developer and saw first-hand how gun crime was not only destroying his city but also his business investments. Like Nancy Schoenke, he too served on the Brady board until frustration set in. John quit Brady and helped finance and build AHSA. In the spring of 2007, John resigned from the AHSA board over some fundamental policy issue differences and is now devoting his efforts to Stop Handgun Violence.

Critics also like to dredge up the old John Lott, a conservative pro-gun lecturer and author, allegation that AHSA is merely front group for the Democratic Leadership Council. Lott, ever the conspiracy theorist, reasoned that because the AHSA’s internet technology consultant, DCS Congressional, was located in the same large Washington DC office building as the DLC that AHSA was just a front group. The fact is DSC Congressional does cater to some high profile Democrat leaders, but its client list also includes pro-gun stalwarts like Ohio Governor Ted Strictland, House Agriculture Committee Chair Collin Petersen and Iowa Congressman Leonard Boswell. Moreover, the office building where DCS congressional is located is also the home base for the national Young Republicans and former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.

Finally, some assert that AHSA is funded by George Soros and the Joyce Foundation. Again, lies that have no basis in fact.

Bottom line, if you are a hard-core NRA supporter you are probably not going to like AHSA. AHSA’s base is made up of those gun owners yearning for something more than the tired old “my way or the highway” philosophy. AHSA’s leadership understands NRA’s slash and burn tactics and we believe most straight-thinking hunters and shooters do, too.

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