Inside the Outdoors: Outdoors fans face familiar, sometimes conflicting, election choices
The intersecting issues of firearms regulation, public lands, and conservation funding.
“Stop me if you’ve heard this one.” That’s an opening that often leads to a joke. While elections these days are no laughing matter, the expression is appropriate, considering some of the choices facing us in this November’s elections. At the risk of spoiling the suspense, we have heard this one before.
Just as in other recent elections, there is a cluster of interrelated issues of deep interest and importance to Minnesotans who are passionate about the out-of-doors. It is the intersecting issues of firearms regulation, public lands, and conservation funding. The two major political parties that essentially control our state government have some significantly different ideas on these issues. Ironically, a vote to support one issue can potentially be a vote against another.
It may be over-simplifying, but it has for a long time seemed like one of the major state parties—the GOP—is most inclined to limit interference with gun rights, on personal privacy grounds. Conversely, based on its campaign platform, that party may care less about—and may actually be hostile to—ensuring that hunters and others who value outdoor recreation have access to places to enjoy them. The other major state party—the DFL—would be more likely to impose additional restrictions on some firearms purchases, yet seems more inclined to support conservation or environmental measures. And therein lies a dilemma for many voters.
Firearms regulation is one of the most divisive issues in today’s politics. The divide between supporters and opponents has actually become wider during the last quarter century. For example, back in 1999, National Rifle Association (NRA) Chief Executive Officer Wayne LaPierre testified before Congress that gun buyer background checks even at gun shows—essentially universal background checks—would be acceptable to the organization as a step toward potentially reducing gun violence. Congress did not act on that invitation, and today that offer is off the table, as the gulf between the two sides has widened.
For its part, the Minnesota DFL’s platform supports what it calls “reasonable gun control that promotes public safety and crime prevention.” This could be expected to include more comprehensive buyer background checks before gun purchases, and a so-called “red flag” law intended to prevent gun purchases by those deemed unstable, or potentially violent. The GOP’s platform advocates a state constitutional right to carry a firearm, less restriction on concealed carrying of a firearm, as well as more assured protection from liability if a person uses deadly force with a firearm.
I have some good friends—target shooting buddies, who are also avid hunters—who subscribe to the idea of a “slippery slope” when it comes to gun regulation. They fear that the enactment of almost any restriction on firearms could eventually lead either to the confiscation of their firearms, or making ownership sufficiently difficult that it would amount to the same thing. I happen to believe that with our nation’s history and our sporting traditions—traditions in which firearms are an integral part—this would be highly unlikely. But I am willing to admit that both of our positions are untested.
When it comes to conservation, the environment, and recreational opportunity, there is a similarly stark contrast. The GOP platform broadly claims to support policies that would allow us to “enjoy and protect our natural resources.” But some line items in its platform clearly run counter to that. One would create obstacles to landowners wanting to sell their land for conservation purposes, such as for state Wildlife Management Areas, federal Waterfowl Production Areas, or for preservation by such nonprofit environmental groups as The Nature Conservancy.
According to a “no net loss” policy, unless other lands in public ownership reverted back to private ownership, no sales of private lands for new conservation or recreational purposes would be allowed. Apart from this concept’s impact on those who might benefit from added recreational opportunities, as well as preservation of wildlife and natural resource values in general, what lawmaker has a right to tell a landowner what he or she can do with their own land?
The GOP platform also advocates repeal of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution. This amendment was passed—after a 10-year effort—by voters in the general election of 2008. It imposes a state sales tax of 3/8 of 1% in order to provide a stable and reliable source of funds for conservation and outdoor recreation purposes, as well as selected arts and cultural initiatives.
A board made up of state lawmakers and members of the public provide input on projects and expenditures that are worthy of funding from this revenue source. This marriage of outdoor and cultural interests was necessary to finally get the idea “over the finish line.” Both Republicans and Democrats supported the idea. The amendment was not permanent, but was a 25 year commitment that expires in 2034, and could be extended by voters at that time. But the GOP 2022 platform advocates ending the experiment 12 years early, something the conservation and outdoor recreation community in Minnesota—and the DFL—do not support.
Voting in a democracy is a weighty responsibility. It’s one that no one should take lightly, or do without getting the facts needed to make responsible choices. Making it even more difficult are choices that may be conflicting within one’s own array of interests and values. Like these.
Who said democracy would be easy?