What policies does Trump have in store for hunters?
Monday, November 21, 2016
Well, the 2016 elections are behind us, and Donald Trump is now our new president-elect. Regardless of what you may think of the man, we can all agree his election will have many far-reaching impacts on the United States.
So, what does his victory mean for sportsmen and women? This article is a tentative attempt at answering that question.
Since Trump has never held elected office before, it's difficult to predict the specifics of a Trump presidency. The fact that he has publicly held many different (and sometimes contradictory) political positions in the last few decades further complicates things. For these reasons, you should take the predictions in this article with a grain of salt.
However, there are several reasons to believe a Trump administration would be a boon to sportsmen and women.
First, we can glean important bits of information from his stated policy positions on his campaign website and from interviews he and his son, Donald Jr., have given over the course of the campaign. Specifically, I referenced to the Constitution and Second Amendment section of the Trump campaign website, interviews he conducted with Field & Stream and Peterson's Hunting, and interviews Donald Jr. did with SilencerCo and Wide Open Spaces when writing this article.
However, perhaps even more importantly than their stated policy positions and the answers they gave in interviews, Trump and his sons "walk the walk" when it comes to guns and the outdoors. While Trump is not a hunter, he is a gun owner and has a concealed carry permit — no easy feat in New York City — and his sons Eric and Donald Jr. are both serious hunters.
They all clearly understand and are personally invested in many of the issues near and dear to the hearts of sportsmen and women. Donald Jr. is a particularly knowledgeable and well-spoken advocate for gun rights, hunting and conservation.
Nominating a judge to replace Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court will likely be one of Trump's first priorities when he assumes office. Since Supreme Court justices serve for life, Scalia's replacement has the potential to influence the judiciary for many years.
This is particularly important because the wrong replacement of Scalia has the potential to "flip" the 5-4 balance of the court from conservative to liberal, possibly resulting in decisions overturning landmark pro-gun cases like District of Columbia vs. Heller and McDonald vs. Chicago — both of which recognize and protect the right of individuals to own firearms — down the line.
Trump has publicly stated that he would nominate a replacement in the mold of Scalia, and he backed that up by releasing a list of potential candidates for the Supreme Court who appear to fit the bill. If he ends up nominating one of those candidates (or someone similar), it is likely the Republican-controlled Senate will approve the nomination. This would ensure Scalia — who wrote the court's decision in the 2008 Heller case — will be replaced by another justice friendly to the Second Amendment.
It's important to note that anything can happen here. There is no guarantee Trump will nominate anyone from the list of candidates he previously published. Even if he does, it is also not certain the person would be confirmed by the Senate.
Finally, Supreme Court justices sometimes have a way of behaving in unexpected ways after they are seated on the court. For instance, President George H.W. Bush nominated Justice David Souter with the expectation that he would be a conservative justice. Instead, Souter ended up being one of the most liberal justices on the court, much to the chagrin of Bush. As Harry Truman once said: "Whenever you put a man on the Supreme Court, he ceases to be your friend."
So, while the election of Trump will probably result in a pro-Second Amendment justice replacing Scalia on the bench, nothing is guaranteed.
Appointing a Supreme Court Justice that supports the Second Amendment is not the only way Trump could impact gun rights in the United States. Trump and his son both made many statements during the campaign indicating their support for the Second Amendment in general. Specifically, Trump indicated his support for a national concealed carry law as well as opposition to "assault weapon" bans, gun-free zones, waiting periods and magazine restrictions.
That being said, he hasn't always felt that way about gun rights, and his opposition to an "assault weapon" ban in particular is a complete reversal of his views from just a few years ago. Hopefully, his recent statements reflect the genuine positions he will take as president.
Additionally, aside from signing a bill enacting national concealed carry, it's not completely clear how he can realistically directly impact these matters. Fortunately, even if he does nothing, that is still a dramatic improvement when compared to a president actively calling for an "assault weapon" ban or restrictions on magazines.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Another important, though often overlooked, aspect of a Trump administration with regards to sportsmen and women is the administration of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The agency has a tremendously important role in managing wildlife populations and habitat in the United States, as well as issuing import permits for animals hunted outside of the U.S.
While many great people work for the agency and it does incredible things for hunting and conservation, the agency has made a number of controversial decisions unpopular with hunters in recent years. For instance, the reclassification of certain African lion populations as endangered, the suspension of import permits for elephant legally hunted in Zimbabwe and Tanzania, and the overall handling of wolf populations in the continental U.S. were all met with resounding disapproval in the hunting community.
However, Trump said the USFWS director he appoints will "ideally be a hunter." Donald Jr. reiterated his father's point by saying a Trump administration would ensure that hunters and conservationists would lead the agency, and that they want USFWS to encourage hunting as a conservation method both in the United States and abroad.
Trump has said repeatedly that he does not support the transfer or sale of our federal public lands to the states. Like many others in the hunting community, he thinks doing so would result in the sale and eventual loss of these lands to common citizens.
However, Donald Jr. did acknowledge there are many problems with the way our federal lands are managed. Rather than transferring these lands to the states, he said a Trump administration would push to change current management practices and spend current budgets more efficiently. In a nod to one of the chief complaints of federal land-transfer proponents, a key part of these changes would involve giving the local people more of a say in exactly how these lands are managed.
Hopefully, these changes would result in healthier habitats, healthier wildlife populations and happier local citizens who are fully invested in properly managing federal land instead of bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.
Another interesting aspect of a Trump administration is the possibility that we'll see a change in the legal status of suppressors. Suppressor ownership is at an all-time high in the country, and many states permit suppressors for hunting.
Not surprisingly, support is growing for legislation like the Hearing Protection Act of 2015 that would remove suppressors from regulation under the National Firearms Act. Since President Barack Obama was almost certain to veto the bill, the Hearing Protection Act of 2015 went nowhere in Congress.
However, things are looking different on that front after Donald Jr. signaled the potential for support for such a measure in a Trump White House during a recent interview. With that in mind, there is a good possibility that Republicans in Congress would push a similar bill through in 2017 or 2018 for Trump's signature. If that happens, there is a good chance law-abiding Americans will be able to purchase a suppressor after simply completing a background check in the near future.
Trump and his surrogates said a lot of the "right" things in order to win votes from sportsmen and women during the presidential campaign. That's all well and good, but the time for action is quickly arriving, and we'll soon see how much he meant what he said.
It won't be easy, but with Trump as president and with Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, there is a real opportunity for making some tangible and lasting gains for conservation, hunting and gun rights in the next few years.
Just because the election is over does not mean you can sit back and rest. On the contrary, now is the time to remain engaged. Contact your elected representatives in Washington, D.C., and encourage them to support gun and hunting-friendly measures.
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