Last week, the National Rifle Association publicly came out against the ballot measure in Florida to phase out greyhound racing, urging members to vote “no” on Amendment 13 in November. That’s about as strange as an assault weapon discharging a cantaloupe or an orange from its barrel. It brings political wackiness to a new level.
The ballot measure has nothing to do with firearms or the NRA. You can read over the short ballot measure a hundred times, forward and backwards, and you won’t find a reference to assault weapons, waiting periods, or arming teachers in schools. You won’t find anything in there about a tax on guns or a limit on ammunition. And greyhounds are not used for hunting bears or raccoons when they’re not racing around an oval, so that dog won’t hunt either.
Marion Hammer, Florida’s top NRA staffer, doesn’t like that the ballot measure, which amends the state constitution, because it includes language declaring that “the humane treatment of animals is a fundamental value of the people.”
We have news for Mrs. Hammer. Almost identical language has long-existed in the state constitution. And it has never had any bearing on any future laws that the legislature or the people have enacted. Nor would Amendment 13. In fact, every ballot measure in Florida amends the constitution, so the document is hardly some brief, pristine declaration of fundamental rights and basic governing principles.
At a time when gun issues are a highly charged, controversial issue — with the NRA at the center of the controversy — it is astonishing that the group would stray from its lane and urge the defeat of a measure to help dogs. More than straying from its lane, it’s more akin to crossing an eight-lane highway, making a U-turn, and going in an entirely different direction. We are quite sure that NRA members didn’t pay membership fees to see their dollars diverted to an effort to deny better lives for dogs.
What’s more, the NRA has complained about politicians pandering on gun issues and trying to impose their will on law-abiding gun owners. Its leaders invoke the value of “freedom,” and the group necessarily calls for limits on what the government can impose on citizens.
Well, why then would the NRA continue to support a government mandate that pari-mutuel gaming facilities are required to run dogs at tracks when the bleachers are empty and the track owners lose money on the enterprise every day?
The fact is, very few people want to watch greyhound racing, which is already banned in 40 states. The “handle” — the amount of money wagered at tracks in Florida — has declined precipitously. Since 1990, the amount wagered on greyhound racing in the Sunshine State has declined by 74% and tax revenue from dog racing has dropped by 98%. In 2016, Florida dog tracks lost a combined $34.8 million on racing. According to a study commissioned by the legislature, the state is also losing money — between $1 million and $3.3 million annually — because regulatory costs exceed the pittance that’s dribbling in to state coffers.
As a business, greyhound racing is a heap of dog mess. It’s as moribund and shady as any business you’ll find, proppedupby siphoning off profits from other gambling at the pari-mutuel complexes and still going through the motions of putting dogs in starting gates because the state requires it.
That racing requirement was imposed when casino-style gambling expanded in Florida and greyhound breeders and others in the industry exerted their muscle to require the pari-mutuel facilities to continue to race even as the fans themselves raced for the exit signs. On some days, racing dogs even outnumber the fan base.
We know that as many as 8,000 greyhounds endure lives of confinement at Florida tracks, kept in warehouse-style kennels in rows of stacked metal cages that are barely large enough for them to stand up or turn around. The trainers confine the greyhounds 20 to 23 hours a day.
Since the state began tabulating greyhound deaths at tracks in 2013, 458 dogs have died. On average, a greyhound dies at a Florida dog track every three days.
Surely the NRA, in a world where the gun-control movement is surging, has more important things to worry about than blocking a measure to end greyhound racing. Some may cynically say that the NRA stands ready to capitalize on ammunition sales if the industry reverts to its old way of dispensing with used-up greyhounds: shooting them in the head and then burying them.
We don’t believe that. The actual reasons for NRA opposition areway more far-fetched, relying on a blend of extreme paranoia and a keen mis-reading of the American affection for dogs.