Who was responsible for the accident in Texas. Was it Cheney? Or was it Whittington, who wandered into the line of fire without Cheney's knowing he was there?As a licensed hunter, I personally find Mr. Cheney's behavior disgusting and reprehensable. I know if I were involved in a similar mishap I could well be facing [at the least] involuntary manslaughter charges. I won't hold my breath waiting the that to happen in Cheney's case.
"In hunter education, we have the four cardinal rules, and among them is: 'Know your target and beyond,' " said Thomas Baumeister, education bureau chief for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks in Helena, Montana. "We drill that into these young hunters. You need to know where your target is, what's in front of your target and what's beyond your target. It's the hunter's responsibility before he pulls the trigger."
(The other three cardinal rules are: Always treat your gun as if it were loaded, always point the muzzle of your gun in a safe direction, and always keep your finger off your trigger until ready to fire.)
Do accidents happen in hunting? Yes, they do. And, in a way, they may be more likely to happen among shotgun hunters seeking birds than among rifle hunters going after big-game animals.
"Because a shotgun is used on game that jumps up in front of you and takes rapidly to the wing and you have to make a split-second decision on whether to fire, it is a lot different than sitting on a hillside and looking at a buck for five minutes, trying to decide whether or not to take that deer," he said.
"You have that added element of surprise in shotgun hunting. But we teach young hunters don't just focus on the bird, you focus on the surroundings -- where the dog is, where your partners are," he said.
When Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally peppered his 78-year old hunting partner Harry Whittington while quail hunting in Texas last weekend, he set off a series of chain-reaction events that have raised the hackles of hunters.
The first - and most expected reaction - was from our friends at The Brady Center. Their response was characterized by some pro-gun organizations as a "joyous dance in the blood" by Jim and Sara Brady. Having been shot (unfortunately, not by shotgun pellets), I can't find any reason to cheer about someone else getting blasted, but I'm not making a living off my having been shot, either.
Jim Brady's quip "now I know why Dick Cheney keeps inviting me to go hunting" was a good ad-lib, but it pointed out a simple fact about "the Brady bunch" - anytime something bad happens with firearms, it's good news for their fund-raising. They're clearly not disinterested observers.
Unfortunately, they're so plugged-in to the mainstream media that the Brady Center was being quoted before all the pellets had been removed from Mr. Whittington.
A series of responses sent to me by concerned - and angry - readers has pointed out that the Vice-President's accident was roughly the equivalent of having won the Powerball lottery.
Shooting accidents among hunters are not unprecedented, but they're certainly far less frequent than anti-firearms groups would have you believe.
It seems appropriate to measure hunting accidents in Texas. In 2004, there were 1.1 million hunters and a total of 29 hunting accidents. That works out to 2.7 accidents per 100,000 licenses sold. In that total, only four were fatalities.
Of those accidents, shotguns account for the large majority of the accidents - 19 of the 29 (65%). A goodly amount of that total is due to the fact that bird hunters are in close proximity to each other, the guns fire hundreds of pellets rather than a single projectile, and the shot spreads from the instant it leaves the barrel. In other words, wandering from an assigned shooting lane - something Mr. Whittington admits he did looking for a downed bird in tall grass - exponentially increases the chance of being hit by pellets. Fortunately, those pellets are very small for dove and quail. Very small, incidentally, is approximately the size of a pinhead.
Rationalization aside, however, one fact remains: Vice President Cheney took a snap-shot and struck another hunter.
If he were a young hunter, he'd be watching as his parents locked away his firearms until he could demonstrate that he was responsible enough to be allowed out in the field again. Unfortunately - for all of us - he's in a higher-visibility position, so the entire hunting and firearm industry's feeling the heat from his accident.
As hunter education trainers have pointed out, Mr. Cheney should have stopped hunting until Mr. Whittington was back in position. When a hunter drops out of the line formation generally used to move across hunting areas, all hunters should stop until he's back in position.
He also violated the basic rule of hunting: "be sure of your target - and beyond" when he turned and fired - and the shooter's always at fault.
Because hunting incidents like this one are classified as "accidents" there will be no charges filed against Mr. Cheney.
Unfortunately, a man who should serve as one of the best spokesmen for hunters and shooters as anything but the "Bubba" caricature normally hung on sportsmen has been rendered impotent by a momentary lack of judgment.
No, Mr. Cheney won't be charged, but all hunters have been convicted