Exclusive Interview: Ten Questions For Jim Zumbo

1. It seems your comments exposed a gaping divide between black-rifle enthusiasts and hunters. Why weren’t you aware of this … Continued

1. It seems your comments exposed a gaping divide between black-rifle enthusiasts and hunters. Why weren’t you aware of this before?
I’ve never had a fascination for firearms. If I wasn’t in the business of writing hunting articles, I’d own a half dozen guns or less. To me, a firearm is a tool, like a carpenter’s hammer. I go to the range only to sight in before hunting season.

When I go to the SHOT [Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade] Show each year, you won’t find me in the big firearms exhibits. I don’t investigate new guns. Instead, I’ll be talking to people about decoys, camo apparel, game calls, hunting boots, knives, and other hunting accessories. That being the case, when I wrote the blog, I was completely ignorant of the rising interest in black rifles among varmint hunters, and I had no idea of their popularity.

2. If you could address every one of your critics, what would you say?
I would tell them to please accept the apologies that I’ve offered, and let’s move forward. I’m working to correct what I said. I’ve made a statement to the Second Amendment Foundation, reiterating my unwavering support of the Second Amendment, and I publicly rebutted statements by U.S. Senator Carl Levin [ that used Zumbo’s remarks in support of his anti-gun position ], exposing his real agenda as an aggressive anti-gun politician. My rebuttal letter was sent to Vice President Dick Cheney, and I requested that it be placed in the Congressional Record.

And to those who believe I now must support the Second Amendment as an “absolutist,” let me say I’ve been a supporter for more than 40 years. I joined the NRA in 1963, and have been a member ever since. I still am.

3. What have you learned about black rifles and black rifle owners?
I’ve learned that there’s an extremely large following of people who own black rifles for home defense, shooting competitions, just plinking, and hunting. I’ve also learned that many of my pals own black rifles.

A few weeks after my blog statement, when I was giving hunting seminars in Oregon, a man approached me and said he’d been deer hunting and came upon a camo-clad man carrying a black rifle. The hunter was immediately fearful, thinking he’d stumbled into a meth lab or a marijuana patch. The man with the black rifle waved him over, and the hunter approached, very much on guard. As it turned out, the camo-clad man was also hunting, and shared information where he’d located fresh deer sign. The two men hit it off, and are now close friends.

4. What really happened during that coyote hunt that spurred you into making detrimental remarks about black rifles on your blog?
I had just finished dinner. I was tired from a long day of hiking in strong winds, and was about to go to bed when I decided to write a blog. My agreement with Outdoor Life was to do three or four blog entries a week. At that point, I was receiving one or two dozen comments from my blogs, or less. I was trying to come up with a blog subject that evening, and one of the young guides mentioned that there was a “huge” following among black rifle enthusiasts for prairie dog hunting. I was genuinely amazed, and decided that might make a suitable blog subject, generating a bit more traffic than I’d been getting. As we all know, my word selection was inflammatory. The rest is history.

5. You’ve been defending the 2nd Amendment during your entire writing career. Have your feelings about 2A changed in any way?

My feelings are as strong as they’ve ever been to support the Second Amendment. They’ve never wavered. However, I’d like to say that the First Amendment was central to this controversy as well. Many people said it was unfair that my opinion, which is guaranteed by the First Amendment, offering the right of free speech, was trammeled upon. A common phrase I heard was: “How can we uphold the Second Amendment but trash the First?” One person said he laid in rice paddies in Vietnam to protect our constitutional rights. Other military personnel offered similar comments, including a general and several high-ranking marine officers. Hundreds of other people were disappointed at the hostility toward me, and quoted the First Amendment. Many newspaper editors said the same in editorials across the country.

I’d like to offer this point. The amendment that guarantees me the right of free speech also guarantees my adversaries a right of free speech. That’s what makes America so great. We can criticize anyone we want for whatever reason. But when some individuals and organizations sought to end my career because of my Constitutionally-protected opinion, many people said they had gone too far.

6. How did it feel to see your blog discussed and dissected in mainstream media such as the Washington Post and the Colbert Report? What do you think it meant for hunters?
It made me feel absolutely terrible. The worst was when some people used my words to try to support anti-gun legislation. That made me sick. That’s why I immediately countered with a letter to the Second Amendment Foundation, an appearance on Ted Nugent’s TV show, dialogue on radio programs, interviews, a letter to the U.S. Senate, and other actions.

For hunters, I think it means that there is a very definite divide that we must repair. Gun owners must learn to respect each other, regardless of their interest. To give an inch to anti-gun legislation opens the door to taking away all our guns.

7. Ted Nugent gave you a chance to redeem yourself by having you shoot black rifles and then writing about the experience on his website. How did you get hooked up with him?
Ted Nugent was the first person to call me after the firestorm began. At that point I had no idea what was going on. Ted basically said I “screwed up” (not exactly his words) and that he wanted to “educate” me. He invited me to his ranch. Within a few days I was on a plane. Ted hoped to use me as an example of a hunter who was ignorant of black rifles, turning my ignorance into a positive spin to educate all hunters and shooters. I agreed to do just that. It was a lesson in humility but I believed it was necessary to unify gun owners.

I’ve known Ted for years, visiting with him at the SHOT Show, NRA conventions, at sportsman’s shows. One of Ted’s more salient points was that we do not need to defend the Second Amendment. It is our Constitutional right. He also believes in the word “absolutist” to describe support from all gun owners when anti-gun issues are debated. Some people see Ted as a bit rough around the edges, but no one puts the positive spin on hunting and shooting in the media as he does, and no one reaches more of our youth than Ted.

8. You’ve been a hunting writer for 40 years. Has this experience soured you on the profession?
Not only am I not soured on my profession, I’m overwhelmed by the support I’ve received from my peers. Practically everyone sympathized with what had happened to me.

I’ve also received support from leaders in the industry, as well as from shooters and hunters not in the industry. I have boxes of letters from people from all walks of life, and a large amount of email, together amounting to thousands of communications. The comments were varied, from people who said I was right in my blog and shouldn’t have apologized, to people who said I was wrong but would accept my apologies. Then, of course, there were those who stated in their blogs that they would never accept my apologies. I can’t change that.

Companies that severed relationships with me did so under threat of a massive boycott by my adversaries. That was business; I harbor no grudges.

9. Going forward, what advice would you offer to hunters and black-rifle enthusiasts?
On a chat room during this controversy, I said that hunters and black rifle enthusiasts should tolerate each other. One person took exception to the word “tolerate” and said I should have used the word “respect.” I believe his point was that tolerate means to “put up with.” I’m not going to get involved in semantics here, but I’d like to suggest that we galvanize ourselves on a united front, whatever we shoot with. It’s time to forget our differences and understand who the enemy really is–the politicians who will work day and night to get their foot in the door and take away our firearms one at a time.

I’ve also heard a number of times during this controversy that black rifle owners are sensitive to anti-gun legislation because so-called assault firearms are continually under attack. It’s believed by some that that sort of sensitivity helped inspire the firestorm surrounding my blog statement. I can understand that sensitivity.

10. What’s the worst thing that was said to you during this controversy?
Some people said I was unpatriotic. That’s outrageous and I resent it. I’ve been flying the American flag in front of my house every day for the 15 years I’ve lived here. I’ve taken our wounded heroes on all-expenses-paid hunts. This year I’ll be doing the same. One young man lost both legs in Iraq when a mortar round exploded close by. He’s going antelope hunting with me this fall, and I’ll push his wheelchair. I don’t know him personally; I met him at a waterfowl hunt in Maryland last fall. I visited Walter Reed hospital this winter and talked to wounded warriors who lost upper limbs, observing how they are taught to shoot with prosthetic devices. I’ll be taking some of them hunting as well. I love our country and the brave military who fight for it. Anyone who believes otherwise is patently wrong.