As the saying goes, “Some of my best friends are hunters.” Another close friend is a high muckety-muck in the National Rifle Association. All this is preamble to the following opinion, which does not come from someone who wishes to see the Second Amendment undermined or hunting outlawed. But you can love the Constitution, respect hunters and endorse sensible and safe conditions all at the same time.
Where I live, it’s a rare day when I don’t hear gunfire. And it isn’t unusual to hear it all the day long, from predawn to late dusk. Often these gunshots entirely encircle my property. Now, I understand that this is a rural community with lots of wild critters scampering through the brush and trees, but we humans live here, too. It’s a fact. There are moms and dads, kids and grandkids, all sorts of people who actually live in homes, walk their dogs, stroll their grounds, weed their gardens, sit on their porches.
A few years ago a bullet fired from the edge of my property lodged in an exterior wall just inches away from my daughter’s head as she sat peaceably in a rocking chair. It was reported to the Rappahannock authorities and the shooter was identified. Because he was a neighbor and a minor, we decided not to press charges. The adult supervision should have been better. Had that bullet strayed a few inches I would have been at my daughter’s funeral and that young man would have been in prison.
We who live with guns and around guns know the lethal power they employ. Bullets that miss their moving targets in nature don’t just evaporate in thin air. They keep traveling, far and powerfully.
Approximately 1,000 people in the U.S. and Canada are accidentally shot by hunters every year. Although some other forms of recreation cause more fatalities, hunting is one of the few activities that can endanger the entire community, not just the willing participants.
Virginia hunting accidents in just the past decade include a 2003 Bland County case in which a man was wounded by a hunter who mistook him for a deer. In 2007, a man was struck by a stray bullet while driving on a rural road in Roanoke County by a hunter who missed a deer. In Rockbridge County in 2009, a hunter was fatally shot by his hunting partner, the same year that three students were collecting frogs for a biology class along a Franklin County-owned trail when one of them, a female, was fatally shot in the chest and another, a male, was shot in the hand by a 31-year-old shooter who thought they were deer. He was charged with manslaughter and reckless handling of a firearm.
Rappahannock County is replete with hunting accidents over the years. My good friend Bill Fletcher, who is on the other side of this argument, remembers this story from the family tales of his youth. Mr Cumberland Marshall Johnson , born 1796, died in 1848 in a hunting accident. He was wearing a thick black coat and was mistaken for a bear and shot by Mr. Madison Fletcher.
At some point we must admit the obvious: Rappahannock County is no longer a wilderness area. Hasn’t been for some time. More than 7,000 people reside here. On weekends we are visited by many more. This is a community first. A hunting ground second.
Can we not have one day in the week free of incessant gunfire? Can we not expect at least one day in the week when we are not fearful of taking early morning or evening walks on our own property? Can we not enjoy at least one day in the week without fearing that our dogs might not be mistaken for foxes, turkeys or other small game? Is it too much to expect one day of peace and quiet in the spectacular natural environment we call home?
To my hunter buddies, I say, “Come on, give us a break.”