People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals for years had waged a strident anti-circus campaign. PETA charged that it was cruel to train and force circus animals - specifically elephants - to perform.
Circus attendance declined amid the protests. It probably wasn't so much a matter of the public agreeing with PETA as it was not wanting to expose children to the often abusive and profane ranting of protestors who surrounded the entrance. Taking a youngster to the circus required running a gauntlet of screeching, intimidating wackos.
Last week the Greatest Show on Earth surrendered and folded its tent.
Buoyed by its circus victory, PETA now sets its sights on two other activities it abhors and vows to exterminate: hunting. If you think poking an elephant with a stick got PETA worked up, imagine what it thinks about shooting a deer or a dove.
PETA has a strong ally in the anti-gun faction. Even the Humane Society, despite the generally good work it does, is latently anti-hunting.
For decades outdoorsmen have tended to sit idly by and allow extremist groups like PETA and anti-gun advocates to spout propaganda and mold public opinion, aided by an often biased or uninformed media.
One major exception is the NRA, which refuses to be cowed and bullied. On a state level the politically-astute Tennessee Wildlife Federation likewise is willing to wade into the fray.
More organizations and individuals need to become politically active if hunting, fishing and the shooting sports are to survive. Well-organized and well-funded groups are crusading against them, and if outdoorsmen don’t push back, the activities we cherish will gradually be legislated out of existence. That's PETA's stated goal.
A classic example of how outdoorsmen can unite to fight back was their battle with the U.S. Corps of Engineers a couple of years ago. The Corps was blithely on its way to closing Kentucky and Tennessee tail-waters to boat access when an unprecedented angler uprising knocked it for a loop.
Incensed fishermen, supported by the TWRA and the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, made it known that they opposed the Corps’ heavy-handed plan. Small, scattered groups of fishermen initially didn’t get anywhere. But their ranks grew and their voices became louder until they couldn't be ignored by the media. That in turn sparked a political response. Elected officials, including U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, put pressure on the Corps and it backed down.
The lesson: If enough fishermen hadn’t become united and vocal, forcing the media and politicians to acknowledge their position, tail-water fishing would have been lost.
An estimated one million Tennesseans hunt and/or fish. In 2010 a "Right to Hunt and Fish" Amendment to the state constitution passed by a 9-to-1 margin. That means nine out of ten Tennesseans support hunting and fishing, even if they don’t all participate.
That’s a lot of clout that can be exerted on politicians and the media to get a fair shake against PETA and its misguided minions, and outdoorsmen getter start using it.
Otherwise hunting and fishing are destined to go the way of the circus.