Monday, February 13, 2006

A Hunter's Responsibility

Okay, I feel guilty.

After 154 days of writing, I finally took a couple of days off without posting anything. I promise it will not happen often. I can't say that I have a particularly good excuse. I played computer games, spent quality time with my wife and cats, and watched mindless television.

But, I am back to work now.

I did not want to write about Cheney's hunting accident. However, the more I read about it the more I found a valuable analogy for describing the morally irresponsible elements of the political policies that Cheney defends. It provides a useful way to illustrate why the Bush Administration decision to “pull the trigger” and send the Army into Iraq was morally irresponsible.

The culture in Montana is such that every boy is expected to learn how to hunt, and to venture off into the wilderness with gun in hand. I followed tradition, taking hunters safety class when I was 12 years old, then going out that fall and participating in a ritual.

In that class, one of the things I learned is that a responsible person takes care to make sure that situations do not come up that can result in an accident. Any time a person gets killed or wounded while hunting, it is because somebody was not exercising as much caution as they could have.

By analogy, a person is not at risk of falling off of a cliff if he stays far enough away from the edge. The closer one gets, the greater the risk of going over the edge. A person who goes over the edge has violated the rule against getting too close. Some people who do not go over the edge violate the same rule, but they get lucky -- like Cheney would have been if his shot had gone off two feet further.

This is the foundation for moral rules such as a prohibition against pointing a gun at somebody, even if you are certain that it is not loaded -- because it creates a situation that is too close to the edge, where accidents get people maimed or killed.

This is the foundation for the moral requirement to lock weapons up, and to store ammunition in a separate location, because failing to do so creates a situation close to the edge, where a child (including a visiting child for the person who has no children of his own) can get hold of the gun and kill somebody.

The irresponsibility inherent in this hunting accident is fittingly symbolic of the moral irresponsibility of Cheney's policies with regard to executive power. Cheney handles the weapons of state with the same disregard for others that he used while hunting. The main difference is that when one wields the powers of government with such irresponsibility, the damage ends up being a lot more severe than a few pellets in the face.

How many innocent civilians will be picked up off of the street, hauled off to secret prisons, tortured, then released months or years later with a quickly mumbled apology when the Administration finds out that it got the wrong person?

If we look at the War in Iraq, I am willing to grant the Bush Administration the benefit of the doubt -- that they thought they had a legitimate target in their sites when they pulled the trigger and launched the invasion. However, they took no care to ensure that they were right. As a result, they scattered bombs and bullets around the country of Iraq, leading so far to the deaths of over 30,000 Iraqi citizens (and an untold number of wounded).

Also, many of the protections that are embedded in the Constitution can be viewed as rules protecting people, just like the rules that hunters are supposed to follow. The state's obligation to get an indictment before charging a person with a serious crime, or to get a warrant based on probable cause before searching a person's property or listening in on his phone calls, are no different that the hunter's responsibility to make sure that no innocent person is standing where he wants to shoot.

It is reasonable to expect that where we find people behaving irresponsibly in one area, they are likely to behave irresponsibly in others. The lawyer that Cheney shot is a good representative of innocent people that Cheney and the rest of the Bush Administration have killed, maimed, imprisoned, and tortured because they failed to adequately check their facts before taking action.

I also notice how Cheney is unwilling to accept moral responsibility for his wrongs. Rather than admit that he was wrong to pull the trigger when he did, the Bush Administration is telling us that it was his victim's fault for not announcing where he was.

I have also read the attempt to deny Cheney's moral responsibility for this accident by claiming that accidents like this are unfortunately an inherent part of hunting, bringing up statistics on the number of people killed or wounded in Texas while hunting.

Yet, this is as irresponsible as claiming that traffic accidents are an inherent part of driving, thus the person who runs a red light and smashes another car, or whose breaks fail because of poor maintenance and slaughters a herd of pedestrians, is not to be blamed for his actions.

Yet, every responsible hunter knows that the person who pulled the trigger is the one who is morally responsible for where his shot ends up. It is his responsibility to make sure that whatever leaves the barrel of his gun does not end up in somebody else's body. If the shot ends up where it was not supposed to, this is the responsibility of the person who chose to pull the trigger.

Cheney's hunting partner ended up spending some time in the hospital. He has been lucky, when we compare his fate to other innocent victims of Cheney's recklessness.

Additional Issue

There are two side issues associated with this case that deserves mention.

(1) There is the pathetic attempt to blame the victim. It is apparently not Cheney’s obligation to make sure that he has a safe shot before he pulls the trigger; it is everybody else’s responsibility that they stay out of Cheney’s way while he fires his gun in whatever direction pleases him.

Sorry, but no. It is always . . . always . . . the shooter’s responsibility to make sure that he has a safe shot and to not pull the trigger until he has that certainty. Cheney broke this moral rule.

Exactly this same moral responsibility applies to the decision to send in the U.S. Army into another country – an obligation to make sure that the person pulling the trigger understands what the real situation is. Bush, Cheney, and the rest of the administration failed that test of moral responsibility as well.

Hunters' Safety instructions across the country will be trying to teach their students, "The shooter is responsible for knowing that he has a clear shot." It would be a benefit to the potential victims of those who do not remember this rule if Cheney would admit that he was wrong and that it is an irresponsible dodge to try to pin the fault on the victim.

There was also in this an attempt to absolve Cheney of moral responsibility by saying that hunting accidents happen all the time. Running red lights also happen all the time. Yet, this does not absolve the driver who ran the red light of the responsibility to make sure that the light is NOT red when he drives into the intersection.

(2) The press seems to be most upset about the fact that they were not told promptly that Cheney accidentally shot somebody. Press secretary Scott McClellan was peppered with questions from journalists at the White House press briefing over the failure to tell the press promptly about the accident.

This is nothing but a petty turf war. It is not news. Little of significance, as far as I can tell, hinges on the White House decision to allow the rancher report the news and allow the press to pick it up from there. The White House press corps seems sore that they did not get the scoop – that it went to a small local paper in Texas and those who read the Associated Press dispatches.

To the individual members of the White House press corps this may seem significant. I see no reason to see it as anything but petty.

1 comment:

The Silicon Gadfly said...

Bravo. I've read many posts on the quail incident, but yours is the first to truly succeed in going beyond the sordid incident to the greater implications. I've posted a link to your entry on my blog in hopes of increasing its visibility.