As everyone has no doubt heard by now, we had a tragic shooting at an elementary school not too far from here Friday, 14 December, 2012. It happened in the town in Connecticut next to where my wife grew up and where her parents still live, so it was particularly shocking for us. Karen and Rachel have put 28 beautiful hearts out on their trees in front of the house.

I’m about to send a big mailing to all of our Encyclopedia of Sustainability authors (around 900 of them) and have been trying to think about a positive, holiday-y “end of the year wrap-up” message to send to everyone (not to mention the PDFs of their articles that everyone has been waiting anxiously for). A tragic event like this has not made it easy to be especially cheery, but it has got me thinking about how guns and nature are related (believe it or not). Here goes:

A lot of us here in the US are thinking about guns more than ever now, and I was thinking, too, that the deadlock we’ve battled in the past over gun rights is the same deadlock we need to get over regarding environmental matters as an “us vs. them” thing – not just here in the US but everywhere where there are problems that seem intractable (which, let’s face it, is probably everywhere!).

For instance, I personally think that a lot of people who are adamantly against any gun controls of any kind (and there are a lot of them) think that people want to take all of their guns away. This is simply not true, but I think it’s the fear of a “give them an inch and they’ll take a yard” mentality. Most people, on the right and left, will agree that sensible gun laws are a pretty common-sense idea. (I’ve just heard that soon-to-be-former Massachusetts senator Scott Brown has just become the first Republican to back an assault rifles ban, which of course is good news and helps to explain how he managed to get elected in a “blue” state such as this.) To paraphrase senator Chuck Schumer from New York, it’s not the hunting rifles or even the handguns I have a problem with (given reasonable background checks, of course) – it’s the military-style assault rifles. It’s really the same thing as limiting the freedom of speech by not being able to shout “Fire!” in a movie theater. We have to be somewhat flexible about rules that were written up over two hundred years ago.

“What does this have to do with Sustainability?” you’re probably asking. A lot, actually. Many people in the environmental community are hunters, or know hunters, and know that there is a place for guns used for hunting that are used responsibly.

For example, I can thank my dad, a hunter (although lately not a very successful one – sorry dad!) for my lifelong love of nature. He is a Texan through and through, despite having lived in Connecticut for nearly four decades, and took me deer hunting as a kid growing up in Michigan. I eventually realized that I didn’t need a gun to enjoy being outside, and to this day I still enjoy going on (gunless) hikes with him. He says a lot of his friends from home are adamant about their right to bear firearms. But I certainly have no problem whatsoever with hunters.

My point is, if we ever want to get anywhere with environmental improvement, not to mention gun controls, I think it’s important to reach out to hunters and fishermen, too: not just members of the usual “green” organizations, although of course they’re important, too. Groups like Ducks Unlimited have done tremendously good work preserving precious wetlands. Yes, the cynic in me could say that they’re simply acting out of self-interest (if there are no wetlands, there is no duck hunting). But I honestly do think that many members of the hunting and fishing communities are not only nature-loving people but responsible gun owners to boot, who would welcome a discussion about gun controls and how to improve the environment for all of us, hunters or not, if only the environmental community would ask. I think we at Berkshire need to focus our efforts next year on “other groups” like this, as well as to the people who are, as they say, “in the choir.”

Here’s to a wonderful and safe holiday season for all!

-Bill Siever