While the country is outraged over the killing of Cecil the Lion, it’s worth revisiting Christina Larson’s article from our January/February 2006 issue on why hunting is a great American pastime — and why it takes a progressive government to save it.

Most American hunters aren’t Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer, of course. They’re hunting quarry like pheasant, duck, and deer, not lion. But with so much land in private hands, it’s often a question of access. This makes for a rare cultural issue where an American tradition is threatened not by government intervention but by overprivatization. Larson writes:

In American politics, few causes are more potent than those defending threatened heritage symbols. Real or perceived attacks on school prayer, the pledge of allegiance, and the etiquette of saying “Merry Christmas” have all been whipped into political maelstroms. That’s largely because conservatives recognized, and then exploited, a latent but largely unorganized anger. A comparable frustration exists among hunters over land access. But conservatives haven’t tapped into it because the source of this anxiety isn’t a liberal bogeyman, like elitism or big government. Instead, it’s the closing-off of private property and sale of public land, something many on the right defend. That means progressives could find themselves in the unexpected position of being the champions of hunters. Those states that have effectively slowed or reversed the hunting decline have done so with programs that use government to open up private lands voluntarily to public recreation. This time, it may be progressive government that holds out the best hope for preserving an American tradition.

For an in-depth look at the decline of hunting and the advantages of preserving it, read the whole piece here.

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Matt Connolly works for a labor union in Washington, D.C. Previously he was an editor at the Washington Monthly.