Anyone paying attention to the sheer number of bills endorsed this legislative session by the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and their well-heeled, out-of-state allies has to wonder at the broad scope and somewhat desperate tone of their proposals. They’ve advocated the use of slingshots and silencers and sought to amend the Constitution to disenfranchise voters on wildlife issues so that Maine’s animals become a private preserve instead of a public resource, and now they’d like to give firearms to children. Say what?

You’d think that children with guns couldn’t be a good thing because kids lack the maturity to handle firearms, and the result could well be injury or death. Well, think again.

LD 156, a bill that would lower the hunting age from 10 years to 8 was the subject of a hearing held recently by the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee, with the majority of the committee later supporting an amended version. Most of the bill sponsors were either members of SAM or highly rated by that organization. The same is true of at least nine of the committee’s 13 voting members, including the chair and co-chair. In fact, two committee members serve on SAM’s board of directors.

This was not a grassroots movement. It’s part of a national effort mounted by a coalition of out-of-state, well-funded organizations that wield considerable influence. Called innocuously enough the Families Afield program, it was established by the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, and the National Wild Turkey Federation, allied with the NRA and the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. Why? Because the number of hunters is declining almost everywhere, so younger children are being targeted since kids who start hunting early tend to continue as they get older.

Legislation has been passed in other states, and now the coalition wants to pass it here in Maine. They are also interested in the revenue and fees derived from hunting, including the purchase of equipment like the Crickett rifle, which comes in bright colors (including pink) designed to appeal to children, disguising the fact that what looks like a toy is really a deadly weapon. Instead of being taught compassion and kindness, these kids are learning how to kill.

But who are these out-of-state organizations? The U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance is based in Columbus, Ohio. The National Shooting Sports Foundation is the trade association for the U.S. firearms industry and is based in Newtown, Connecticut, where 26 children and teachers were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School just before Christmas in 2012. The National Wild Turkey Federation is located in Edgefield, South Carolina. The Washington D.C.-based National Rifle Association is the country’s most influential gun lobby. Also based in Washington is the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, which has legislative branches in nearly every state. Their Maine legislative caucus consists of Sen. Thomas Saviello and Reps. Michael Shaw and Stephen Wood. All three are highly rated by SAM; in addition, Saviello is a cosponsor of LD 156, and Shaw and Wood sit on the IFW committee that heard it.

All of this is part of a concerted effort to shape and manipulate our laws by out-of-state organizations, and it makes for a cozy, not to say incestuous, relationship that gives abundant representation to those who hunt and denies it to those who don’t. Ironically, this is the same kind of “from away” money and influence that SAM publicly objected to during last November’s bear referendum. Now, when their own interests are at stake, their silence is deafening.

Giving guns to kids would increase the risks of accidental death and severe injuries to young children. The motor skills of eight-year-olds are not fully developed, and they are at a stage of emotional development where their thoughts and feelings can change rapidly. These developmental realities of eight-year-olds point clearly to the danger of giving them firearms, even when they are closely supervised by parents.

Chandler Woodcock, commissioner of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (and a former member of the IFW committee) expressed the department’s opposition to the bill as written but then proposed eliminating all age restrictions and requiring a mandatory safety course for all hunters. Firearm safety is always a good idea, but having no minimum age at all is not only reckless, but a sure recipe for disaster that will significantly increase the tremendous potential for accidental injury and death.

It’s pretty clear what SAM and its out-of-state, deep-pocketed allies are up to. They want to increase the diminishing ranks of hunters, and they apparently don’t mind endangering our children to do it.

Don Loprieno of Bristol has served on the boards of the Boothbay Region Humane Society, the Wildlife Alliance of Maine, and the Maine Friends of Animals.