Tuesday, February 14, 2006

"I shot a man in Texas, just so I could lie"

As I've said (elsewhere, if not here), I'm not a hunter. I've never been hunting. But even I know, just from having a friend who had guns, and whose father made sure I understood gun safety, too, if I was gonna hang around their house, that the shooter is always responsible for what, or who, he shoots.

And that when you're hunting, you are always responsible for where you point the gun. And the safest place to be is behind the guy with the gun raised to fire. Which means that person cannot turn around and point at what ever's behind him, even if he was trying to shoot it, and it was trying not to get shot, as most animals are.

The White House blamed the 78-year-old man whom Vice President Dick Cheney shot during a weekend quail hunting trip in Texas for the incident, as officials struggled Monday to explain why they waited nearly 24 hours before making the news public.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan tried to absolve Cheney of blame for shooting wealthy Austin lawyer Harry Whittington, saying that hunting "protocol was not followed by Mr. Whittington when it came to notifying others that he was there. And so, you know, unfortunately, these types of hunting accidents happen from time to time."

Several hunting experts were skeptical of McClellan's explanation. They said Cheney might have violated a cardinal rule of hunting: Know your surroundings before you pull the trigger.

"Particularly identify the game that you are shooting and particularly identify your surroundings, that it's safe to shoot," said Mark Birkhauser, the incoming president of the International Hunter Education Association, a group of fish and wildlife agencies. "Every second, you're adjusting your personal information that it is a safe area to shoot or it's not a safe area to shoot."

Safe-hunting rules published by the National Rifle Association and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department echo Birkhauser's advice.

"Be absolutely sure you have identified your target beyond any doubt," the NRA says in the gun-safety rules on its Web site. "Equally important, be aware of the area beyond your target. This means observing your prospective area of fire before you shoot. Never fire in a direction in which there are people or any other potential for mishap. Think first. Shoot second."

On its 10 Commandments of Shooting Safety, Texas Parks and Wildlife lists being sure of your target as the third commandment. "Know what is in front and behind your target. Determine that you have a safe backstop or background."
This is a no-brainer. Think about the comedies where somebody is swinging a gun wildly, and everybody ducks as the muzzle goes by. It's funny because it's a movie. In real life, it's called "recklessness." Even if you are an "experienced" hunter, as Cheney is supposed to be.

Whittington shot a bird and went to get it, breaking from Cheney and Willeford. Armstrong said Whittington then came up from behind without signaling, and as a covey flushed Cheney wheeled and fired his .28-gauge shotgun, hitting Whittington.
"Wheeled and fired" is simply not what you do, unless you're on the battlefield and think the enemy is behind you, or you think you're Dirty Harry.

Hunters don't hunt that way. And they don't blame the other hunter for "walking up behind them." When a man has a gun, where else do you want to be but right beside him, or behind him?

But apparently, that's their story, and they're sticking to it:

Ms. Armstrong and Ms. Willeford said the accident was largely the fault of Mr. Whittington, who had reappeared alongside two of his hunting companions without giving proper warning. Mr. Cheney, who was carrying a 28-gauge shotgun, had already begun to fire and sprayed Mr. Whittington.
Ms. Willeford, whose husband was also at the ranch, said in an interview after visiting the victim at the hospital that Mr. Whittington accepted responsibility for the accident. "He understands that he could have handled it better," Ms. Willeford said. "Harry should have let us know he was back there."
This still leaves us with the same question: when a man has a gun raised, where's the safest place to be except behind him? Whittington was 30 yards behind Cheney. Should he have shouted, as Cheney had his gun raised already? And why didn't Cheney make sure he knew where Whittington was before discharging his weapon?

Because no one in this Administration ever makes a mistake, except to trust others?

Anybody who doesn't know that much about hunting safety, is too dumb to....well, we'll see how that plays out.

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