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Wharton: Guns-rights crowd misfires in targeting columnist
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

I met Jim Zumbo about 30 years ago, during a canoe trip on eastern Utah's White River. He was a Vernal-based Bureau of Land Management wildlife biologist starting to pursue an outdoor writing career.

Our paths would cross many times, mostly at outdoor writer meetings. And, though we might have disagreed on topics such as wolf introduction in Yellowstone, I respected him.

That is why I was saddened to see him lose his television show and longtime gig as Outdoor Life's hunting columnist over comments made in a blog.

Zumbo said what he viewed as assault rifles had no place in hunting.

"We don't need to be lumped into the group of people who terrorize the world with them, which is an obvious concern," he said on the blog, adding that game departments would do well to ban the use of these types of rifles.

Zumbo seemed to offer little more than an opinion on a rifle and concern for the image of hunters.

But gun owners quickly turned on him.

Despite a quick apology, the damage was done. Zumbo lost his television show and Outdoor Life column.

"We respect Mr. Zumbo's First Amendment right to free speech, and we acknowledge his subsequent apology and admission of error," wrote Todd Smith, editor-in-chief of Outdoor Life. "However, Outdoor Life has always been, and will always be, a steadfast supporter of all aspects of the shooting sports and our Second Amendment rights, which do not make distinctions based on the appearance of the firearms we choose to own, shoot or hunt with."

The whole flap disgusts me.

I am a gun owner in support of the Second Amendment. I like that the National Rifle Association promotes gun safety and the shooting sports, but its support of anti-conservation lawmakers disturbs me. After all, what good is my shotgun if the politicians supported by the NRA continue to give anti-conservation politicians a pass if they oppose gun control?

When an ethical hunter like Zumbo gets fired for offering an opinion on the ethics of using a type of rifle, it is a sad commentary on the increasingly right-wing nature of gun owners and magazine editors who view even the mildest criticism of a firearm as an assault on the Second Amendment.

The discussion should not be about whether assault rifles should be banned. It should be about hunter ethics. To ask an ethical question about using a type of rifle to pursue game does not make a person an anti-hunter or opponent of the Second Amendment.

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* TOM WHARTON can be contacted at wharton@sltrib.com. His phone number is 801-257-8909. Send comments about this column to livingeditor@sltrib.com.

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