At its most benign, the political divide gouged by the Second Amendment separates city dwellers—to whom handguns are the choice of urban predators—from rural sportsmen who take long-arms into the woods. I’d like to think these two camps could learn to agree to disagree—each conceding the legitimacy of the other’s interests and the legitimacy of local laws that accommodate them.

President Obama’s news conference Tuesday, in which he announced some fairly toothless measures to makes firearms a little harder to come by than they are now, sent me to the website of the National Rifle Association, which makes it clear unimpeded access to weaponry is sacred and that hunting has nothing to do with it.

Isn’t the Second Amendment just about protecting guns for hunting?

No, said the NRA, answering its own question, “The Second Amendment is not about hunting at all. The Second Amendment is about protecting the right of a free people to defend that freedom and to protect their families and communities from threats.” 

And the NRA is right. The Second Amendment says: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” There’s no mention of a right to venison.

The NRA came down hard on Obama after he made his announcement. “The American people do not need more emotional, condescending lectures that are completely devoid of facts . . . ,” said the NRA. “We will not allow law-abiding gun owners to be harassed or intimidated for engaging in lawful, constitutionally-protected activity—nor will we allow them to become scapegoats for President Obama’s failed policies.”

And as hunting has nothing to do with any of this, the constitutionally protected activity the NRA speaks of must be the watchful waiting of locked-and-loaded patriots who can’t be sure where the next threat to liberty will come from but intend to confront it armed.

I’m trying to put myself in the shoes of the NRA’s less ideological members, the many who are less concerned with tyranny than with deer season. “The fight to protect Second Amendment rights has the benefit of protecting this American sporting tradition,” says the NRA, putting in a good word for the hunters. But if an extreme reaction against the NRA’s Second Amendment absolutism is coming—and every massacre amps up the pressure for change—hunters might wind up with new laws they abhor.  

I wonder when some sensible gun owners will think it’s time to speak for themselves. Kathleen Parker is by conventional definitions a conservative columnist, but in her latest syndicated column—carried by the Tribune Wednesday—she found Obama’s changes modest and reasonable, and she wondered, “Isn’t it possible to reduce the number of guns in the wrong hands without surrendering our Second Amendment rights or invoking the slippery slope of government confiscation?”

She answered her own question: “Of course it is—and we can.”

Surely a lot of gun owners agree with her. Surely the forests and fields of America are crossed by multitudes of hunters who don’t fear their republic teeters on the brink of tyranny. If these sportsmen were ever to conclude that the NRA’s absolutists post the greatest long-term threat to their favorite recreation, they might think of making a separate peace with the gun-control advocates those absolutists loathe. Extremists have a way of making reasonable people focus on whatever it is they have in common.