We can't have it both ways with hunting. Can try of course, but we kid only ourselves. As long as we still attach a value or worth to nipping out into the countryside and slaughtering an unsuspecting Bambi, then so must we accept a corresponding accident rate. Collateral damage, call it what you will; it's an inevitable consequence of such a high-risk pastime. Blunder at a cocktail party and you go home early. In a hunting party? You kill someone.
Recent cases only highlight the dangers. The latest involved a bloke described as a modern day mountain man, an instructor in all sorts of bushcraft-type activities, who shot dead his best mate. Whatever else, it reminded us that, when the name of the game is killing something, there can be no margin for human error. Which is a problem, when you think about it. What it really means is that, as long as we have hunting, we're certain to have hunting deaths.
In the wake of a coroner's call for stricter penalties for those who cause hunting fatalities, there's been much debate about the merits of a mandatory manslaughter charge. Coroner Wallace Bain even went as far as suggesting all members of a hunting party should be equally culpable for each other's actions. Yet hunters already go to jail for accidentally shooting people, that's well documented. And mistakes are still being made.
As Mountain Safety's Mike Spray pointed out last week, in 2010 Hamilton man Andrew Mears shot dead Rosemary Ives after mistaking her head-lamp for a deer's eyes while spotlighting. He went to jail for manslaughter: "He (Mears) went to prison; everyone in the hunting community knew he went to prison, yet there were four more deaths (after that). So is a more serious charge of manslaughter going to stop one deer hunter dying a year? I honestly don't think so."
Of course it won't. The only way to stop hunting fatalities is to stop hunting. You can't have one without the other. People can scream blue murder all they want about the rights and wrongs of the issue but it's pretty straightforward, really; there will always be mistakes. That's one of the things we can be certain of with humans. Even the rule demanding clear identification of the target doesn't prevent someone clearly misidentifying a target.
An issue that does need tidying up, however, is the one that allows hunters to operate in areas open to the general public, such as national parks. Hunters killing their own is one thing; the accidental targeting of campers, trampers or adventurers is on another level altogether. If a bunch of blokes want to risk all in the pursuit of killing something, fine. But the rest of us shouldn't have to depend on their sense of judgement to stay alive.
People talk about an escalating hunting problem. I'm not so sure that's the case. You don't have to delve too far back to get to a time when hunting tragedies were considered accidents and no charges were laid at all. Now? Well, I'm guessing the increased urbanisation of New Zealand and the dwindling relevance of hunting makes such deaths seem far more unnecessary. And, of course, there's no such thing as an accident anymore.
Fair enough, even hunting advocates agree that one death is one too many for a pastime in which those who follow the rules should always be able to feel safe. That's a worthy and understandable stance. In an ideal world no hunters would be killed. In the real world, though, as long as folk are wandering about with guns and shooting things for fun, they're occasionally going to shoot each other. And no manner of increased jail-time or penalties will change that.
» Read more of Richard Boock in the Sunday Star Times.
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- Auckland Now