James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Saturday, February 18, 2006

An ex-hunter's view on the Cheney shooting

It seems that everybody with access to a computer, a typewriter, a microphone or even a quill and a dab of ink has had his or her say on Dick Cheney's screwup with a shotgun.

Most of what has been said lacks essential background.

The problem is that none of the commentators I've heard or read knows anything at all about hunting or firearms. Zip. Nada. And without some basic knowledge, and much preferably with some experience of guns and hunting, it is all but impossible to make a legitimate assessment of what happened in that hunting party.

For the most part, the more liberal commentators have made accurate comments about the basic situation in which the shooting took place. And some folks from both left and right have at least guessed correctly that the vice paranoid was in the wrong.

First, what those fat cats were doing is not hunting, as most hunters know it. It's strictly a rich person's game played over the centuries by members of the old aristocracies and by the Imperial Brits in India and other imperialists in various other subject places. You raise some birds or other creatures in captivity, seed them around an appropriate hunk of land and then walk along and kill them when the critters, lacking experience of the wild, conveniently pop up to make targets of themselves. (Sometimes, of course, you send out your “boys” to drive the critters toward you.)

That's a side issue, however.

At the age of 18, my father lost his left leg below the knee to a careless hunter who was not part of his hunting party. Not many years later, he received a bullet in his other foot under similar circumstances, and that slug remained in the foot until he died of a heart attack several decades later.

Neither incident stopped him from hunting. That and fishing were the great passions of his life. But they made him a very careful hunter, and utterly intolerant of anyone who handled a gun carelessly. The people with whom he hunted shared his attitude wholeheartedly.

I learned to hunt under his tutelage. I was seven or eight when I got my first .22 rifle, and probably 10 when I was given my mother's old .410 single-shot shotgun. Until I was in my teens, however, I was allowed to hunt only in my father's company.

During the years I hunted with him, I saw my father and one of his brothers and/or a friend or two actually order other hunters from the fields. No kidding. It was not a matter of territory, but of safety. Whether the offenders were hunting (for the first and last time) with my father's party or were strangers hunting in some other part of the forest or fields, they were told in blunt language to get the hell out of there and not come back.

The offenses were things such as tossing a loaded shotgun over one's shoulder and keeping a thumb or finger on the trigger, leaning a loaded gun against a fence or fence post while people were crawling through the fence and, yes, shooting without being aware of the positions of others in the area. Surprisingly, the force of will behind the orders was such that the careless ones always left.

There are some pieces on the Net now saying that Cheney was much closer to his victim than those in his party claim. There is talk about other questionable statements from the witnesses. I don't know whether the critics are right or wrong, though it seems possible.

What I do know is that Dick Cheney is totally to blame for the shooting. The rule is simple: You do not shoot unless you can see that no living thing but the intended target is within the range of your shot. There are no exceptions to the rule, and no excuses for breaching it.

Cheney took the blame in his belated public statement, but there's still an aura of “aw, not really” about the descriptions from the hunting party. Make no mistake, it is his fault and no one else's that he shot a man. If this had happened where we hunted in the early 1950s, my old man and my uncle John and any of several other guys would have told him to unload his gun, pack up that instant and get out of the field and never again show up with a firearm anywhere where others were hunting.

Oh. As for the belated and peculiar nature of the revelation of the incident: That seems entirely in keeping with Cheney's outlook on life and the imperial stance of the entire Bush crowd. They believe that what they do, even in our names, is none of our business. It was handy to hound Bill Clinton about his sexual activities, but now that the Bushies wear the purple, we and the press should keep our ears plugged, our eyes covered and our mouths shut except to say “Yessir, how much sir?”

Letters to the editors in various publications show that some fools think that's fine and that the press should stop demanding to know what's going on. Other folks think Cheney is scum, and careless besides. No news there. Personally, I'll go with scum, but that's not news either.