The Zumbo Flap

The Knox Report

From The Firearms Coalition


The Zumbo Flap

By Chris Knox

(March. 5, 2007) As you have probably heard by now, Jim Zumbo is no longer the hunting editor at Outdoor Life. The veteran hunting writer made an extraordinarily ill-advised and uninformed blog entry calling AK- and AR-pattern rifles “assault rifles” and “terrorist rifles,” and opining that game departments should ban them from the hunting fields.

The resulting firestorm was as swift and furious as it was predictable.

AR-15 and AK owners and Second Amendment activists of every stripe (and with every level of vocabulary) piled on. The gist of the Internet reaction was to call for a boycott of any company that sponsored Zumbo or carried his writing.

It was amazing that a hunting writer could be so ignorant of the tools of his trade, and it was remarkable that it all happened in the Internet and was over before most print media could crank up the presses. But it was the secondary reaction to the Zumbo meltdown makes the story truly newsworthy. Within days major sponsors and partners with long-term relationships had walked away. Outdoor Life, Remington, Cabela’s, NRA publications and others dropped Zumbo like a hot rock. The mainstream media covered the actions of the firearms and hunting industries and of the NRA. Their angle was the spectacle of the “gun culture” eating one of its own as an example to anyone who dared to step out of line.

Whether Zumbo’s 42-year career is over remains to be seen. Things change quickly in the Internet. This drama may have another act.

It’s impossible to judge the long-term implications of the Zumbo affair, but for the short term, the incident shines a light on some problems we gun owners face within our own community. Here’s a partial list:

  • Some gun owners do not understand the tools they use. If Brother Jim had understood his “sporting rifle” as well as he should have, he would have known that a wood-stocked Remington Woodsmaster autoloading “hunting rifle” is functionally identical to a military-look AR-15. He would have known that except for selective fire, the differences between most military rifles and “sporting arms” are cosmetic. If Jim had understood that, he would have saved himself a lot of trouble. It’s never a bad idea to develop a better understanding of one’s tools.
  • Some gun owners think that the anti-gunners can be appeased by banning or restricting some guns (typically guns they don’t own). I won’t assign motives to Jim’s actions, but if he, like many casual gun owners, thought that trying to appease the anti’s would make them leave him alone, he is wrong. History shows that where one restriction appears, more will follow. Where one gun is banned, more will be banned. It isn’t just hunters who suffer under that delusion. I’ve heard a Metallic Silhouette shooter ask why he should worry about handguns. I’ve heard a trap shooter grumble that “there is no need for anyone to own” a .50 BMG rifle. Every gun owner needs to understand this fact: the other side will ban every gun they can right down to a single-shot .22 and then go after your kid’s water gun. Just because they haven’t come after your wood-stocked, bolt-action scope-sighted Model 70 “sniper rifle” yet doesn’t mean they don’t want it.
  • Some gun owners are hell-bent to confirm the negative stereotypes that the popular media uses to portray us all. The reaction from some of the Internet firearms community was embarrassing. Jim Zumbo wrote a foolish – even stupid – blog entry. There may be ways that Jim Zumbo can make good the damage he’s done. But I have to wonder how those who were and are howling for Zumbo’s blood can clean up the damage they do to the gun rights movement by portraying all of us as bloodthirsty knuckle-draggers.

Jim Zumbo has some make-up work to do and it’s going to take more than a planned hunt with Ted Nugent using AR-15s. One tangible step would be to spend a few months boning up on the Second Amendment and then walk the legislative beat. Hunters need knowledgeable advocates with a solid gun-rights background, which I hope Mr. Zumbo will develop.

We know Jim has the courage of his convictions – when he understands the issues. He proved it when he and three other writers left the Outdoor Writers Association to form the Professional Outdoor Media Association after OWA made an unholy alliance with anti-hunting organizations. Properly informed, Jim Zumbo could be a good voice for hunting interests in the gun rights discussion, and a counterweight to groups such as American Hunters and Shooters Association which preaches “reasonable approaches” to the gun issue but is actually an anti-gun front group.

The power of the gun-rights movement is in coalitions. We won’t build a strong coalition by antagonizing natural allies.