The National Rifle Association says it's about defense of the Second Amendment. But more and more, it's about doing harm to man's best friend.
It started late last year, when Ohio state Sen. Gary Cates (R-West Chester) and state Rep. Shawn Webster (R-Millville), a veterinarian, made a final end-of-session push for their bill that would have increased dog-license fees and required county dog shelters to keep dogs with microchips for a longer period so the owner might be found. The NRA came in at the last minute and gunned down the legislation.
Sen. Cates told the Columbus Dispatch: "The NRA got brought in by the breeders and their lobbyists. I did not have my first conversation with the NRA until yesterday. At no time did they testify on the bill. But the well got poisoned, and I couldn't get enough votes to pass it."
In the 2009 legislation session, the gun group has been going state to state setting its sights on public policies that would crack down on abusive puppy mills. They actively lobbied against an Arizona bill requiring that puppy mill producers are subject to inspections by county enforcement agents at any time during regular business hours. They are working hard in Indiana and Minnesota to derail bills that would limit the number of dogs confined in puppy mill cages and set basic standards of care for exercise, flooring, and veterinary treatment. The Arizona and Minnesota bills have been shelved, and an NRA-backed amendment would gut Indiana's legislation.
It's a mystery why the NRA cares so much about defending the status quo when it comes to puppy mills. It can't be a core issue for gun owners. The NRA claims that the puppy mill bills would impact hunting dogs, but surely most sportsmen would want their dogs raised humanely by responsible breeders, not treated like a cash crop. A dog who lives in a filthy wire cage with no exercise, socialization, or human interaction might not end up being a very good hunting partner out in the field, after all.
It may just be that the NRA has a knee-jerk opposition to any animal protection issue, no matter how modest or common-sense. Or the group may be fighting to be relevant again, as it fired blanks in the last election cycle.
One thing is for certain: The NRA's extreme obduracy will weaken the organization in the minds of mainstream voters. Gun-owning Americans do not favor animal cruelty and other reckless behavior toward animals. When the group reflexively defends practices such as puppy mills, the use of toxic lead ammo, and the black market trade in bear parts, it is way out-of-step with middle America -- and with its own gun-owning constituents. The NRA will shoot itself in the foot by chasing its supporters, lawmakers, and core voting blocs in the opposite direction.
And that puts the NRA exactly where it deserves to be -- lumbering backwards to the past.