NRA should not be gunning for dogs, Amendment 13

Published 10/11 by Martin Irby

Political behavior and outcomes have never been more unpredictable, but it was still head-snapping news to learn that the National Rifle Association (NRA) has taken a public stand against the ballot measure in Florida to phase out greyhound racing.

Amendment 13, put on the ballot by an overwhelming vote of Republicans and Democrats on the state Constitutional Revision Commission (CRC), has not a thing to do with firearms or the NRA. 

The NRA’s Marion Hammer said she panned the ballot measure because it includes language declaring that "the humane treatment of animals is a fundamental value of the people."

Almost identical language has long-existed in the state constitution, and it’s never been a threat to hunting or any other use of animals. And the CRC put Amendment 13 on the ballot precisely because the issue of greyhound racing is already repeatedly mentioned in the state constitution. This ballot measure settles the issue once and for all time.

At a time when gun issues are a highly charged, controversial issue in our nation – and the NRA heavily under fire at the center of this controversy – it is astonishing that the group would stray from its lane and urge the defeat of a measure to help dogs.

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.

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 almost empty, and the track owners are forced to 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. 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 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. 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, the racing dogs even outnumber the folks in the stands.

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 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. 

But I don’t believe that. The actual reasons for NRA opposition are way more far-fetched, relying on a blend of extreme paranoia and a keen misreading of the American affection for dogs.

Marty Irby is the executive director at Animal Wellness Action in Washington, D.C.