If a state wide survey were conducted asking all citizens if children of any age should be allowed to hunt, most people, concerned with the safety of the children as well as those around them, would probably think it wasn’t a good idea. Yet a measure to allow exactly that was approved this past week by Maine’s legislature and signed by Governor LePage.
How did this happen? The bill (LD 156) was first heard before the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee, and was sponsored by one of its members, who, like most of the Committee, is also a member of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. Naturally, LD 156 was approved, as is always the case with this group when bills like this are submitted.
Because of SAM, supported by their out-of-state allies, next year, instead of having to be ten years old as is true now, kids of any age –any age – can legally hunt within 20 feet of an adult supervisor, a stipulation that will be difficult to legally enforce before an accident occurs, and virtually impossible to prove afterwards. The bill was not about making sure that kids knew about firearm safety though that’s a good thing to learn, nor was it about spending quality time with their parents, an experience that need not be accompanied by a weapon. It was about increasing the ranks of young hunters and reversing a national, downward trend.
What organizations supported this bill?
-The United States Sportsmen’s Alliance based in Columbus, Ohio.
-The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for the U.S. firearms industry, located in Newtown, CT.
-The National Rifle Association, the country’s most influential gun lobby, based in Washington, D.C
-The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, also based in Washington D.C, which has legislative branches in nearly every state, including Maine. Two of their representatives in fact sit on the IFW Committee, and, of course, voted for the bill.
With all this out-of-state influence, both logistical and financial, one waits in vain for the usual hue and cry against organizations not based in Maine accused of manipulating our opinions and controlling our actions. The silence is deafening.
And it’s not as if there wasn’t opposition to the bill. Excerpted below, for instance, is testimony that was expressed to the Committee. Note that this opinion was about the original legislation which proposed that the hunting age be reduced from ten to eight; now, the law eliminates any age requirement at all.
“LD 156 would increase the risks of accidental death
and severe injuries to young children. The motor skills
of eight year olds are not fully developed, but still
developing, and they are at a stage of emotional development
where their emotions, thoughts and feelings can change rapidly.
In addition, eight year old children have not yet developed
the ability to exercise patience in a consistent way. These
developmental realities of eight year olds point clearly to
the danger of giving them firearms, even when they are closely
supervised by parents. According to the most recent data, more
than 3,000 children are treated for accidental shootings in
emergency rooms each year. Shootings are likely to inflict greater
harm than other types of injuries. Half of the youths treated for
gun injuries at two Colorado trauma centers required intensive
care, compared with less than a fifth of those with other types
of injuries, according to a study published in 2013 in the Journal
of the American Medical Association. Thirteen percent of those gun
victims died,compared with fewer than 2 percent of the children injured
in other ways. David Hemenway, director of Harvard University’s injury Control Research Center, says that when children are shot accidentally,
it is usually someone around their own age holding the weapon or, often, older brothers.”
This testimony, focusing on the safety of children, made no difference to the Committee and the fate of LD 156. What did make a difference was the intense lobbying by national hunting organizations, as well as the blatant cronyism of the Committee itself.
Even that, however, would not have been enough without the apathy of the public and their willingness to let their voices be silent and permit nothing less than the hijacking of their own democracy.