Dave Gilson

Dave Gilson

Senior editor

Senior editor at Mother Jones. Obsessive generalist, word wrangler, data cruncher, pun maker.

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Dave Gilson is a senior editor at Mother Jones. Read more of his stories, follow him on Twitter, or contact him.

More Americans Watch Birds Than Hunt

| Thu Feb. 21, 2013 7:01 AM EST

We haven't heard much about hunting during the ongoing debate over gun violence. Perhaps that's because hunting is widely seen as a traditional, enjoyable, and safe pastime, even among the majority of Americans who have never donned camo and hunting orange. Or perhaps that's because most hunters don't need AR-15s or high-capacity magazines. Or perhaps it's because hunters are a minority among the 80 million or so gun-owning Americans.

How many hunters are there? In 2011, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (PDF), 15.7 million Americans older than six went hunting. That's nearly 29 million less than went fishing, and 3 million less than went out to watch birds. Back in 1955, about 10 percent of Americans hunted; today it's around 6 percent. Overall, the number of hunters began to dip in the '90s but has slowly increased in the past few years.

number of US hunters

Who hunts? The FWS's latest survey finds that hunters are 89 percent male and 94 percent white. More than half are 45 or older. Nearly 60 percent live in small metropolitan areas or rural areas. Similarly, about 80 percent of all gun owners are men, and they have been getting older as their numbers have fallen. (Around 35 percent of Americans say they own a gun.) A recent National Rifle Association (NRA) survey of its members found that nearly half identify as hunters and that they, like hunters in general, are largely from small towns and rural areas.

What do they hunt? More than 80 percent of hunters go after big game such as deer and elk. About 4.5 million hunt small game such as squirrels; 2.6 million hunt ducks and other birds, and 2.2 million go after other animals like feral pigs.

What do they shoot? Ninety-three percent of hunters use rifles or shotguns. In 2011, they spent more than $4.3 billion on firearms and ammunition. That makes them a significant part of the nearly $12 billion US firearms market, but they're not driving it. A 2010 survey by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) found that most Americans buy guns for protection; less than a 30 percent of those who recently bought a gun got it for hunting. Which may explain why the NRA has been focusing less on hunting and more on protecting the market for lucrative assault rifles and handguns. Just 6 percent of semi-automatic rifle owners told the NSSF that they were primarily used for hunting.

reasons for buying gun

How do non-hunters see hunting? In a 2011 NSSF survey, 73 percent of respondents said they had no interest in ever going hunting. Yet even if they don't do it themselves, most Americans have a positive view of hunting: 74 percent said they approve of it. But hunting isn't America's most popular wildlife-related recreational activity: It's fishing, which 98 percent of Americans have no problem with.

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Celebrating Our Metrosexual, Baby-Kissing, Gun-Toting Presidents

| Mon Feb. 18, 2013 7:11 AM EST

Happy Presidents' Day! Why not celebrate by browsing MoJo's archives of presidential-themed photos, music, and trivia? 


Q: Which president suffered from severe sleep apnea and was known for falling asleep in public?

A: Find out the answer when you take our quiz about our sickest* presidents. (*Sick as in ill, that is.)


Q: Which president owned Jesse James' original pistols?

A: See these 13 photos of presidents holding guns.


Q: Which less-than-cuddly president is thought to have invented the tradition of politicians kissing unsuspecting babies?

A: Read up on the history of presidential child-smooching.


Q: Which presidents were name checked in a song by They Might Be Giants?

A: Listen to the answer in this musical roundup of 44 songs for 44 presidents.


Q: Which president's tax returns revealed a $60 dividend from a frozen yogurt chain?

A: Search for frozen assets in this review of presidential tax forms.


Q: Which fashion-conscious future president was once called "Jane-Dandy" and "Oscar Wilde" by his colleagues?

A: Dig the most metrosexual presidents of all time.


Q: Which recent president has inspired thousands of Americans to name their baby girls after him?

A: Check out these charts on baby names honoring presidents (and Sarah Palin).


Bonus: See if you can make it through this video without experiencing motion sickness.

"Variety" Gazes at Hollywood's History of Violence

| Thu Feb. 7, 2013 7:06 AM EST
Flick slick looks at sick pics Variety

In June 1968, Bill Bell, a writer for Days of Our Lives, penned a short open letter to the TV and film industry and printed it in Variety. Spurred by the "insane, violent" deaths of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, Bell called upon his colleagues to "recognize our responsibilities and take decisive steps to temper and hopefully eliminate violence from our programming." Bell argued that much onscreen violence was not simply gratuitous, but artistically bankrupt. "As a writer, I know that…you can have conflict without violence," he wrote (emphasis his). "And that invariably it is finer drama."

The letter is reprinted in a new, glossy issue (digital version here) of the venerable showbiz rag that explores the claims, expressed most recently by the NRA's Wayne LaPierre, that the entertainment industry deserves some of the blame for mayhem like the Sandy Hook massacre. Instead of shrugging off the criticism, Variety editor-in-chief Timothy M. Gray embraces it and even echoes Bell's message in his opening note: "Don't underestimate your power or responsibility…When asked about violent or demeaning content, some in Hollywood shrug, 'It's what the public wants.' But there is a fine line between catering to the public and pandering to their basest instincts."

Variety asked nearly 50 "thought leaders" in the biz and on both sides of the gun debate to weigh in on the topic. Predictably, their perspectives vary widely. Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan defends violence as an essential part of his creative palette, a means for developing rich characterization or doing something "funny or simply cool." Retired Army Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman insists that "very, very sick" video games and movies are driving "sick, sick kids" to commit mass murder. Variety contributor Chris Morris recommends that video game makers impose a temporary ban on releasing violent games immediately after mass shootings. Patti Davis recalls how her dad, Ronald Reagan, responded to sanitized TV bloodshed: "My father used to interrupt my viewing of TV shows like 'Gunsmoke' and 'Wyatt Earp' to tell me what would really happen if a bullet hit that cowboy in the shoulder or the leg. As I watched the wounded man grip his shoulder, my father would make sure I knew that in real life, his shoulder would have been blown off."

A recurring question is why "liberal Hollywood" churns out so much violent content. "Hypocrisy," snaps Mike Hammond of Gun Owners of America. Money is the most common answer. "I think that more than being liberal, Hollywood is capitalist," says Tim League, owner of the Alamo Drafthouse theater chain and an NRA member. Peter Debruge, Variety's senior film critic, offers a critical look at the movie rating system, which has been handing out PG-13s to intense flicks like The Dark Knight Rises, ensuring that they will become blockbusters. No one mentions Hollywood's long history of teaming up with the gun industry to make their wares seem simply cool. But Los Angeles Undersheriff Paul K. Tanaka offers reassurance that Hollywood executives "are responsible human beings. Does anyone really think they're interested in creating more violence?"   

These responses are accompanied by images from more than a century of virtual mayhem, from The Great Train Robbery to The Walking Dead. There are also plenty of graphics on media and violence—including some of Mother Jones' data on mass shootings, which is provided without a credit. (C'mon, isn't Hollywood obsessed with intellectual property rights?) There's no clear takeaway from all this except that Hollywood, or at least Variety, is taking violence Very Seriously. (A full-page photo of MLK flanking Gray's introduction brings the point home.) Yet the entertainment industry ass-covering is outweighed by an honest discussion of the tension between creative freedom, social obligations, and business models.

Gray exhorts his friends in Hollywood to "take action now," even if it takes a generation. It's not exactly clear if he's talking about pushing for more gun laws or producing more of the "finer drama" Bell called for nearly 45 years ago. Yet his sense of the pace of cultural change suggests that in a few decades, this issue of Variety may not be a relic.

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