WASHINGTON – For all the talk about the National Rifle Association as the key player in defeating gun control proposals in the Senate last week, the hunting and wildlife lobby also played a significant role.
Safari Club International touts itself as a lobbying leader on Capitol Hill for hunters’ rights and wildlife conservation. Between 2011 and 2012, the group gave nearly $400,000 to congressional candidates, including $2,000 to Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, and $1,000 to his counterpart, Sen. Mike Crapo. The Idaho pair was among 14 senators, and several Safari Club beneficiaries, who threatened a filibuster on gun control legislation pushed by President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats.
Also receiving Safari Club funds, according to campaign contribution filings, was North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, one of five Democrats who voted against a bipartisan expanded background check proposal. She received $1,000 from the group’s political action committee based in Tucson, Ariz., on March 6.
The Safari Club, along with the NRA and a host of other hunting and wildlife organizations, sent a letter to Senate leadership earlier this month urging cautious, “constructive” steps toward gun control reform. Chief among their recommendations was changing the background check system to better catch felons “without criminalizing private transfers.”
Safari Club spokesman Nelson Freeman said the group favored a Republican-backed alternative to the bipartisan plan that beefed up the National Criminal Instant Background Check System but did not close the so-called “gun show loophole,” in which firearms purchasers are exempt from checks at certain events.
“It wasn’t clear what would have qualified for a gun show,” Freeman said of the bipartisan bill. He said members were concerned the laws could affect everything from the large-scale Safari Club convention, which draws around 20,000 people, to local Rotary Club swaps.
That amendment also did not receive the 60-vote threshold needed for inclusion in the legislative package.
Background checks remain at staggering levels since peaking nationally in December. In Washington state, background checks conducted by the FBI in March were up 30 percent compared to last year; in Idaho, they were up 25 percent. Monthly totals in both states nearly doubled what they were in March 2010.
While Obama and Senate Democratic leadership have vowed to take up the issue of gun control again in the coming months, Freeman said his organization was satisfied with last week’s outcome.
“Safari Club, and the millions of hunters around the country, feel that their interests were represented by the votes that were taken,” Freeman said.