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Turning kids into killers

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A new Wisconsin law begs the question: How low will hunting lobbyists go?

In an effort to revive a dying sport, states across the country are loosening hunting restrictions and putting loaded weapons into younger and younger hands. The Wisconsin law, which went into effect this month, lowers the state’s hunting age from 12 to 10. Since 2004, more than a dozen other states have also changed their laws to allow younger children to hunt. According to the Associated Press, 30 states do not even have a minimum hunting age.

But teaching children how to kill can be downright dangerous—and not just to Bambi and his friends.

In 2008, the Tulsa World in Oklahoma (a state that has no minimum hunting age) analyzed reports compiled by the International Hunter Education Association of hunting-related injuries and fatalities. Of the more than 6,650 hunting accidents included in the group’s database since 1994, nearly 35 percent involved hunters who were 21 years old or younger.

An analysis by Milwaukee’s Journal Sentinel found that young hunters were more than twice as likely to cause accidents as other hunters. During the 2007–8 hunting season in Georgia, four of the five fatal incidents involved children or teenagers. Among those killed was an 8-year-old boy who died after shooting himself in the chest with a shotgun.

While these were clearly accidents (“waiting to happen,” some would add), some young hunters have deliberately taken aim at other human beings. Earlier this year, the nation was shocked by news reports about an 11-year-old Pennsylvania boy who allegedly shot and killed his father’s pregnant fiancée. According to the reports, Jordan Brown’s father had given his son a youth-model 20-gauge shotgun for Christmas. Jordan used the gun to win a turkey shoot on Valentine’s Day and then, allegedly, to kill 26-year-old Kenzie Marie Houk execution-style as she slept.

All the students involved in school shootings in recent years first “practiced” on animals, and many of them were hunters. In 1998, 13-year-old Mitchell Johnson and 11-year-old Andrew Golden of Jonesboro, Ark., took the hunting guns belonging to Golden’s grandfather and used them to ambush their fellow students, killing four girls and one teacher.

David Ludwig, who is serving a life sentence for shooting and killing his 14-year-old girlfriend’s parents in Lititz, Pa., when he was 18, was an avid deer hunter. Photos on Ludwig’s blog showed his grinning face as he disemboweled the bloody deer he had just shot. In 2006, the Pennsylvania Game Commission launched the Mentored Youth Hunting Program to encourage more young people to hunt.

It’s no secret why hunters are taking aim at state hunting laws. Hunters are fast becoming an endangered species. The number of hunters in the U.S. dropped from a peak of 19.1 million in 1975 to just 12.5 million in 2006. Between 2001 and 2006—the last year for which national figures are available—hunters’ numbers fell by 4 percent.

But is handing an immature 10-year-old a gun the answer? In a letter to the Wisconsin State Assembly, the Wisconsin Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics says, “No.” The group reminded lawmakers that young children are not “developmentally ready to safely handle a gun while hunting” and warned that causing harm to another living being—intentionally or not—can lead to “long lasting emotional disability for the involved child.”

Putting both children and the community as a whole at risk just to boost declining hunting numbers is appalling. In this culture of escalating violence among teens and even children, do we really want to desensitize young people to suffering, give them guns and teach them how to kill?

Martin Mersereau is the director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ Cruelty Investigations Department, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.

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Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

September 21, 2009 at 7:58 pm

Posted in hunting

Tagged with , , ,

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